INDIANAPOLIS — Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was named the NFL’s top rookie Saturday, capping a season in which he threw for more yards than any rookie in NFL history.
Newton won Pepsi’s Rookie of the Year Award, determined by fan voting, as well as AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Newton, the No. 1 overall pick last year, set several league and team records, beginning with a 422-yard passing performance at Arizona that was the most prolific debut for a rookie quarterback. Newton finished the season with 4,051 yards, breaking the mark the Colts’ Peyton Manning (3,739 yards) had held since 1998.
The announcements came Saturday evening at a red-carpet awards show at the Murat Theater, televised on tape delay Saturday night on NBC. The Offensive Rookie of the Year Award was the first one announced.
“Throughout that whole highlight reel, I felt like I was about to pop this button because my heart was pumping so hard,” Newton said. “It’s unbelievable to go through a season and have so much success with so much support. It was great.”
Newton received 47 of the 50 first-place votes for offensive rookie in balloting by sports writers. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who led the Bengals to the playoffs, received the other three first-place tallies.
Newton said he “absolutely” kept tabs on Dalton as the season progressed.
“I was a student of the game throughout this whole year, from what Andy Dalton did and all the other rookies,” Newton said. “And it was just amazing, not just the success that I had but what everybody else had.”
Besides the passing records, Newton also rushed for 14 touchdowns, the most by a quarterback in league history. He became the first player in league history to finish with at least 500 yards rushing and 4,000 yards passing.
Newton thanked his teammates, coaches, fans and owner Jerry Richardson for giving him a chance.
Many draft analysts thought Newton was too big a risk to take No. 1 because of character concerns and his success in a simplistic offense at Auburn.
Newton was asked if he had a message for his critics.
“I really don’t have nothing for them because it’s not at the end of the road where things are going to stop,” he said. “But to some degree they gave me the edge to keep me going and have that in the back of mind as I was working out and I was preparing.”
While there were plenty of naysayers, former Cowboys scouting director Gil Brandt saw in Newton a rare blend of size, arm strength and speed. Even before the Panthers had secured the top pick, Brandt called team president Danny Morrison with a recommendation.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to get a pick close to the top of the draft. What you need to do is spare no expense and find out everything about Cam Newton,’” Brandt said.
The Panthers did their background work on Newton, meeting with coaches from each of Newton’s three college stops — Florida, Blinn (Texas) College and Auburn, where Newton won a national championship and the Heisman Trophy in 2010 in his only season with the Tigers.