Patriots' Cam Newton cracks top 20 in Chris Simms' 2021 QB rankings

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Where Cam Newton, Mac Jones land in Chris Simms' Top 40 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Cam Newton has plenty to prove in 2021 following what was a tumultuous debut season in New England.

The Patriots quarterback struggled as a passer last season, finishing with only eight touchdowns through the air and 10 interceptions in 15 games. That resulted in a 7-9 finish and New England missing the playoffs for the first time in 2008.

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Despite the lackluster campaign, Newton is back to give it another try with a full offseason to prepare this time around. He'll have competition for the starting job with first-round draft pick Mac Jones in the mix, but head coach Bill Belichick seems ready to roll with the veteran.

NBC Sports' Chris Simms is a believer in Newton heading into the new season. He has the former NFL MVP ranked 20th in his Top 40 QB Countdown and while that's a big drop from last year when Newton was 10th, Simms still likes what he brings to the table.

“Cam Newton is still one of the 20 best quarterbacks in football for my money," Simms said of Newton's spot on the list. "It’s not about the quarterback stats all the time, it’s the effect you have on the football game. He’s a little bit of a force of nature that way and I think that sometimes gets swept under the rug. ...

"Cam Newton still has got one of the greatest presence of all quarterbacks on the NFL field. He’s a great leader, he’s a great worker. ... You have to get over the passing numbers at times, and I understand work needs to be done. He’s one of the best running quarterbacks in football still, and his skillset running the football is one of the things that made that not-very-talented offense somewhat of a threat in certain weeks and it certainly made them one of the best running offenses in football.”

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As for Jones, the rookie comes in at 30th in Simms' Top 40 QB Countdown. Not a bad spot to be in for a guy who has yet to play an NFL game.

"Yeah, he's a rookie, but he's an experienced rookie," Simms said. "And I know there's only 17 games in college, but it's all those years in Alabama and playing the tough SEC schedule and everything about that. And all the things you hear right now, listen, it's been nothing but positives. You don't even hear things about first-round picks in New England. They're quietly gushing about him. That just tells you it all. He is the most NFL-ready quarterback to come out in the draft this year, hands down."

With Jones breathing down his neck, Newton will be forced to step up his game from the jump in camp. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels recently expressed confidence that Newton will improve in 2021, saying he "has a different grasp of the offense" than he did last season.

If improvements aren't made, Newton could be passed by Jones in both Simms' rankings and the Patriots' depth chart sooner rather than later.