Nearly one year ago we began debating Cam Newton’s talent, and how he would transition from a simplistic Auburn shotgun, to the complex schemes of the NFL. We wondered if he could still be the same elusive, athletic quarterback when he was asked to play under center, and we wondered about his accuracy.

Nearly one year ago, we were nervous about Newton. We’ve been fooled too many times by golden boy quarterbacks who become either average, or settle somewhere in the vast wasteland between average and career backup.

Nearly one year ago, the Cam Newton debate wasn’t quite as divisive and polarizing as the ongoing Tim Tebow debate, but for a brief time it was close. His supporters compared Newton’s combination of arm strength and speed to the tools possessed by Michael Vick, while those with strong lingering doubts applied the dreaded JaMarcus Russell designation.

Nearly one year later, those haters are wrong. Really, really wrong, and Newton is now the 2011 offensive rookie of the year after getting 47 out of a possible 50 votes.

I have no problem admitting that I was one of the doubters, and I’ve already ate my delicious crow.

After being the No. 1 overall pick despite doubters like yours truly, Newton could have been excused for starting his professional career slowly. There was that whole lockout business, after all, and a rookie whose accuracy and footwork were thought to be sub par wasn’t allowed to have contact with his coaches until late July.

Then all Newton did was start his career the way no other rookie quarterback has ever started their career, throwing for 422 yards in his debut. It was the most passing yards by a rookie in his first game.

A week later he did even better, throwing for 432 yards against Green Bay, becoming the first QB in league history to pass for 400 or more yards in his first two starts. That early pace led to 4,051 yards overall this year, another rookie record.

Not bad for the next JaMarcus Russell.

Newton doesn’t like Purple Drank, and he’s not lazy. He’s creative, and we saw that expected offensive imagination through his legs. He added 14 rushing touchdowns to his 21 passing TDs, establishing another rookie record for the most combined touchdowns (35). Those legs also led to another historic first, and Newton became the first rookie to have at least 10 touchdowns on the ground, and through the air.

The future is bright in Carolina, and it’ll get blindingly bright if another elite receiver like Justin Blackmon is added through the draft to play alongside Steve Smith.

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