By the Numbers: Is Johnny Manziel better than Cam Newton?

Johnny Manziel points to the sky in celebration with his teammates after an upset win over Alabama (John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE)

The stories are remarkably similar.  An SEC defense’s nightmare who runs just as well as he passes.  Who bursted onto the scene out of nowhere in his first season as a starting quarterback.  Who defeated the highly ranked Crimson Tide against all odds.

We all remember the incredible season Cam Newton had in 2010.  We watched him run all over SEC defenses.  We watched him set record after record, as he unquestionably had one of the best seasons in the history of college football on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

Now flash forward to 2012, when Johnny Manziel has lead his Aggies to an 8-2 record in his first season under center.  The amazing Johnny Football has run through, over, and around SEC defenses all year, not to mention he can throw the ball a little bit too.  Just check out the number one play in the SEC from last weekend, when Manziel somehow managed to turn a sack/fumble into a touchdown against Alabama.  But how does Johnny Football’s extraordinary season compare to that of Cam Newton?  The Gamedayr Statistics department compared Manziel’s numbers to those Cam Newton put up to determine how good this Johnny Football kid really is.

[Related: Saban unhappy with McCarron after loss to Aggies]

Completion Percentage

In Johnny Manziel’s first ten games as a starting quarterback, he has completed 67.6% of his passes, while Newton had a completion percentage of 67.2% in the first ten games of 2010.  While many offensive systems are based mostly on screens, check downs, and other safe passes, the spread offenses of Auburn and Texas A&M force their quarterbacks to take shots down the field.  Reaching these completion percentages takes real accuracy and timing with receivers.

Passing vs. Rushing

Manziel has thrown for 2,780 yards on 336 attempts, and rushed for 1,014 yards on 156 attempts so far this year.  After ten games, Newton had thrown for 1,890 yards on 183 attempts, and rushed for 1,146 yards on 176 attempts.  The main difference in these numbers is that Newton ran the ball more often than Manziel, while Manziel throws the ball more.  This makes sense from a coaching perspective, based on the two teams’ respective personnel.  The 2010 Auburn team had a two-headed monster at running back in Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, who combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards on the season.  The read option worked to perfection with two quality backs, and a 6-foot-5, 245-pound freak of nature at quarterback.  When you have that type of running game, it’s no wonder why you don’t drop back and throw the ball every down.  Meanwhile, the Aggies’ freshman sensation is just 6-foot-1, 200 pounds—a body type that cannot absorb the beating of repeated runs into enormous defensive linemen.  Therefore, the A&M offense is based more on drop back passing plays with a scrambling quarterback who can extend the play to make throws downfield.


Tim Tebow set the standard for touchdowns in 2007 when he scored a total of 55 touchdowns—32 through the air, and 23 on the ground.  Manziel has thrown 18 touchdowns, and rushed for another 15 this year, bringing his touchdown total to 33.  In the first ten games of 2010, Cam Newton threw 19 touchdowns, and ran for 15.  The numbers are eerily similar.

Finishing Strong

For Manziel to be compared to these great quarterbacks, he will certainly have to finish the season on a high note.  Cam Newton’s final four games came against a tough Georgia defense, eleventh-ranked Alabama on the road, nineteenth-ranked South Carolina in the SEC championship, and second-ranked Oregon in the national title game.  Newton performed well above expectations in perhaps his four toughest games of the year, scoring sixteen touchdowns with only two turnovers.  Manziel may not have a realistic chance to catch Newton in many of the above statistical categories because he will finish the season having played only thirteen games, missing out on the SEC championship, while Newton played in fourteen games.  Nevertheless, Manziel may have his easiest three games of the year still on the schedule.  The Aggies will host an FCS team in Sam Houston State and a .500 Missouri team before heading to a bowl game—likely against a second-tier Big 12 team, all of which do not play much defense.  If Johnny Football can finish the season strong like Cam Newton did, then his name should definitely be among the finalists for the Heisman trophy, and we could be watching one of the best freshman seasons ever.

One more statistic that needs mentioning is the number two.  That is the number in the loss column for Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M Aggies.  In two losses against Florida and LSU, Manziel did not throw a single touchdown, ran for only one touchdown, and threw three interceptions.  That is not how great players perform in big games.  Cam Newton did not lose a game in his 2010 Heisman campaign.  Will the big win over Alabama be enough to cancel out the poor outings against the Gators and Tigers?  Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Statistics and information from were used in this article.

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