Ready or not, prodigy Alyssa Thompson cast as soccer's next superstar

Ready or not, prodigy Alyssa Thompson cast as soccer's next superstar

ALYSSA THOMPSON SITS on a white leather couch at the Nike headquarters in Los Angeles, crammed between her two sisters and parents. Thompson’s legs are crossed, her hands pinned between them, a white, crisp Nike sneaker bouncing metronomically in midair. A smile crosses her face like a searchlight, here and gone in a flash.

Some 2,700 miles away, in Philadelphia, the 2023 NWSL draft is about to start without its star. It’s no secret: Thompson, who preferred to stay close to home, is about to become the No. 1 pick and the first high school player to be selected first in league history. A week earlier, Angel City had moved mountains to get the first pick and wasn’t shy about what they planned to do with it. Nearly 50 people, including former coaches, teammates, agents, media and Angel City employees, encircle Thompson on elevated chairs and a smattering of hot-pink and white beanbags.

“Everyone take a deep breath in,” an Angel City FC staffer advises the crowd. “Hold it … breathe out.”

But there isn’t much suspense as NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman comes into frame on the TVs bolted to the walls.

“In the first round of the 2023 NWSL draft,” Berman says, “Angel City FC select … Alyssa Thompson.”

The cameras catch Thompson as cheers erupt around her. She covers her mouth with her hands. While the pick is nothing more than a formality, there is nothing orchestrated in Thompson’s celebration with her sister Gisele.

They lock eyes and smile, a silent, shared moment as their paths diverge for the first time.

A couple of weeks before, Thompson sat on her twin bed in her shared bedroom with Gisele agonizing over the pros and cons list the Thompsons had made about turning pro. She knew she was days late on a decision. “OK, I’ll go pro. Everyone is saying I should go pro. There’s no fighting it at this point,” Thompson said to Gisele, laughing and shrugging her shoulders.

But now, there’s little time for Gisele, or any family and friends. Thompson gets patched through to the live broadcast, wide-eyed and flustered. “My heart is racing,” she says as Angel City staffers hand out scarves and jerseys with “Thompson” and “No. 21” on the back. “This is really surreal, I still can’t process it.”

Off to the side, Angel City co-founder and president Julie Uhrman gets a text from team co-founder and Academy Award-winning actor Natalie Portman: “ALYSSA!” Minutes later, Thompson’s jersey is for sale online.

Thompson has dreamed of this night for years, long before she committed — and decommitted — to Stanford. Before she and her sister became the first high schoolers to sign NIL deals with Nike. Long before she starred for the U.S. team at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and before she debuted for the U.S. senior women’s national team, subbing on for two-time World Cup winner and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Megan Rapinoe.

And now, two months after her 18th birthday, Thompson is so much more than the first overall pick in the NWSL.

She’s the prodigy from Los Angeles who will be the cornerstone of the league’s most compelling franchise, complete with celebrity owners and die-hard fans who turned out to the tune of 19,000 per game last year in the club’s inaugural season. She’s the freshest face of the decade-old NWSL, a league that is attempting to distance itself from abuse and safety scandals that have endangered its very foundation. She’s a fleet-footed forward invading a league that set viewership and attendance records in 2022 and hopes to cash in on new broadcasting rights at the end of 2023. She’s a contender for a roster spot on the USWNT, which will be going for its third straight World Cup title starting in July in Australia and New Zealand.

As the NWSL and women’s soccer demonstrate the importance of investing in women’s sports, Thompson finds herself at the fulcrum of growth and potential for the game. And she knows it.

So why, here on draft night, can she think only about escaping to a sushi dinner with her family?

“I never expected for this to happen,” she says, “so soon.”

After two hours of photo, video and social duties, Thompson returns to the couch. She cozies up to her Harvard-Westlake friends. Her shoulders relax. She turns the group toward a cellphone, a video just for friends. They claw their hands and bare their teeth, pretending to be wolverines — their school’s mascot.

As they growl in unison, Thompson’s smile never fades.

IT’S BEEN THREE WEEKS since draft night when Thompson returns to Harvard-Westlake’s Ted Slavin Field, a field she hasn’t played on with a team she hasn’t played with in nearly two years between youth national team and club soccer responsibilities. She’s arguably more out of place here than at Nike’s headquarters, though she comes out to support her friends and former teammates whenever she is home and free.

She certainly wasn’t going to miss senior night.

As temperatures drop into the low 50s — arctic by L.A. standards — Thompson joins seven other senior girls’ soccer “teammates,” all wearing bright red Harvard-Westlake shorts with black, red-striped jerseys. Parents, siblings and students trickle into the stands minutes after the JV game’s completion.

Posters for all eight seniors line the fence around the field, accompanied by red and black balloons. Thompson approaches her poster, six pictures from various stages of her childhood soccer career, framed by gold glitter. In block letters, it reads: “FEAR THE #5 / HER SHOTS WILL MAKE YOU DIVE / SO EVEN IF YOU TRY / JUST KNOW YOU WON’T SURVIVE!”

Four months ago, she made her senior U.S. women’s national team debut at Wembley Stadium in front of 76,000 against reigning 2022 UEFA Women’s Euro champs England. Now she’s braving unseasonable California cold, sitting happily on the bench, sleeved hands, in front of less than 50 people.

“Just before the draft, we played a game in torrential rain,” says Harvard-Westlake coach Richard Simms. “I turned around, Gisele and Alyssa were standing on the bench. I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ It was a monsoon, [right] before the draft. But they were there, and they’ve always been here even if they haven’t been playing on the team.”

Thompson’s arms are tightly folded across her chest. She waits to be called over the microphone and slowly jogs to Simms, who hands her a bouquet of red and white flowers as “Thompson” booms through the stadium. She embraces him, followed by the other coaches, before high-fiving her way through two rows of cheering teammates and meeting her family at the other end.

“These moments, being here together, will be what matters most to us,” mom Karen says later. “We always try to emphasize some level of balance — even if it’s not the average balance — carving out moments like this.”

Before kickoff against Flintridge Sacred Heart, as Alyssa and Gisele huddle with the team, Thompson’s best friend, Layla, and a few other girlfriends arrive in a huff, a big, white poster board in Layla’s hand with eight pictures of Thompson — none of them featuring her playing soccer. Layla kicks herself for missing the pregame ceremony.

“It’s amazing to witness all of this with Alyssa,” she says. “I’m so proud of her.”

As the night’s temperature continues to drop, Thompson and Gisele join their former team on the bench and watch the game unfold. Their father, mother and youngest sister, 11-year-old Zoe, sit in the stands and watch the entire game.

In less than two months, Thompson will make her professional debut. Later in the spring, Thompson will graduate high school and her friends, like Layla, will leave for college. Thompson will stay home, albeit as a face on billboards in one of the world’s most famous cities.

“Sharing these moments and coming back for these events and making the time is what is important to me,” Alyssa says. “I am still 18 years old; I still want the same things as what an 18-year-old would want. Like being at senior night. And going to prom. I’m still in high school, so I still will act like a high schooler. I’m a pro now, but I still want to do the normal things that seniors in high school get to do.”

Thompson realizes that she might not be able to attend her prom: Angel City has a game that day.

“I don’t want to think about it.”

THOMPSON GREW UP 15 miles north of Angel City’s BMO Stadium in the Studio City house her father, Mario, grew up in. The first place she kicked a ball was in the backyard with Gisele.

Before elementary school, Alyssa and Gisele claimed the backyard as their playground, chasing each other and a soccer ball around before they even got out of pajamas. Mario set up drills with small orange cones, a makeshift obstacle course for his daughters.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” Alyssa says. “We just knew we were having fun learning how to play.”

The goals were simple: 1. Learn how to dribble; 2. Have fun. But the Thompson sisters quickly mastered every drill Mario could concoct. Their dribbling was soon as proficient as their exceptional speed.

“It wasn’t like Karen and I said we wanted to have the first No. 1 draft pick. That never crossed our minds,” says Mario, an elementary school principal. “They have this crazy work ethic, and they’ll do whatever it takes.”

When Alyssa started playing club soccer in elementary school, it was already clear how dominant she was. She needed more of a challenge — athletically and technically — almost immediately. By middle school, she was playing against girls five years her senior.

“When I realized how good I was at soccer was also when I realized how much I would sacrifice because of soccer,” Thompson says. “I remember every dance, sleepover and party that I had to miss. I’ll realize just how important those sacrifices were when I really [make] it. But I definitely — and will always — have FOMO, I think.”

While Thompson tallied those sacrifices, others were counting goals. After her sophomore year at Harvard-Westlake, she won the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year. She’d scored 48 goals and added 14 assists, leading the Wolverines to an 18-0 record, with Southern Section, Division 1 and SoCal Division Regional championships to boot. (There is no state championship for soccer in California.)

“She’s better than everybody,” Simms says. “Alyssa has always been better than everybody.”

Since she was 9, Thompson has played for L.A.’s Total Futbol Academy. Before her sophomore season, she needed to be challenged, so Mario and Karen signed up Alyssa and Gisele — talented beyond her years in her own right — to train with the academy’s U-19 boys’ team. Just one footnote: the U-19 boys’ team competed in MLS Next, the feeder system into Major League Soccer. The speed of play was significantly faster than what Alyssa was experiencing in high school — and exactly what she needed.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thompson sisters didn’t just train with the boys, they joined the team and remained the only girls on the squad. After her first season, Thompson incorporated additional training with private soccer coach Michael Holzer to fine tune her technical skills. Quickly, Thompson became a dominant force and standout scorer against the boys.

“Playing time was 100 percent earned on her part. I did not start her because she was a girl, I did not play her because she was a girl,” Total Futbol Academy coach Mario Gonzalez says. “I played and started her because she earned it. And it was around the midway point where I told her dad, ‘She’s special. There’s something here.'”

The last week in January, Thompson attends her final Total Futbol practice with Gisele. That night, Mario drives his daughters so they could take much-needed naps. Sporting oversized hoodies, the sisters rouse from sleep, their bobbing buns the only anomalies in a sea of dozens of boys on adjoining fields.

For the next hour, the Thompson sisters dart and dive, in and around teammates. Whether they realize a chapter is ending as another begins is anyone’s guess. Right before 8 p.m., they grab their backpacks on the field and start to walk to the parking lot. But before they could exit the field, two elementary-school-aged boys from the academy’s youth ranks stop Thompson. “Can we take a photo with you?” Thompson obliges. As she starts to walk away, a player’s mother stops her: “Can I take a photo with you?”

Looking on from just a few feet away, Mario says, “This has been happening a lot lately.”

THOMPSON ARRIVES AT Cal Lutheran University for Angel City’s first week of preseason practice in early February. In the same facility where the Los Angeles Rams practice, Thompson’s tenacity and speed — the speed that propelled her to the second-fastest 100-meter time in California high school girls track last year — beguile all in attendance.

“She has this quiet confidence about her. She very much knows who she is and what she’s about,” Angel City midfielder Dani Weatherholt says of the 5-foot-4 winger. “I think it’s so admirable for her age because she’s not nervous. She’s not trying to fit in. She’s just her.”

Weatherholt adds, “If she didn’t talk about how she might miss her prom, I wouldn’t know she’s in high school.”

During 7-on-7 at the end of practice, Thompson is awarded a penalty kick. Thompson faces the goal, runs up, and matter-of-factly curls the ball into the lower right-hand corner as Brittany Isenhour dives the other way. She gives a low-five and quickly pivots back into a defensive position. Job: done.

“No doubt she was meant to be a professional player,” coach Freya Coombe says. “She dominates in 1-v-1, and she’s a very explosive player, which gives her the opportunity to beat players and create lots of opportunities on goal. But one thing that we are seeing from her is her willingness and ability to come in and combine with other players and learning to develop that area of her game as well.”

After practice, Thompson sits by herself and ices her hip. One day before, Thompson sat next to her sister, Gisele, after practice.

“If Gisele wasn’t there for some of the practices, I might feel more alone,” Thompson says. “But when she’s not there, I’m like, ‘Oh I wish Gisele was here so I could talk to her.'”

Right before the draft, Angel City and the Thompson family discussed the possibility of signing both sisters after the NWSL introduced a new mechanism to allow players under 18 to enter the league. But the 17-year-old Gisele felt she wasn’t quite ready. So, in an attempt to comfortably transition Alyssa into the pros and get Gisele acquainted with her potential future, Angel City added Gisele to the preseason practice roster. On days that Gisele wasn’t at school or Total Futbol Academy practices, she laced up and took the Cal Lutheran field with her sister.

“I’m trying to be in the moment, trying to finish my junior year,” Gisele says. “I’m watching what Alyssa is going through and how it plays out and just trying to figure out what it might look like for me. She’s kind of the guinea pig right now.”

Alyssa adds, “I like that it’s always been the Thompson sisters. It feels weird when it’s just myself. I don’t really like having the spotlight to myself.”

At the behest of Angel City staff, Alyssa answers questions from a handful of reporters waiting to hear how her first week of practices went. Reporter after reporter asks the same questions she has been asked since draft night. Thompson sits at a long table adorned with black Angel City paraphernalia. “Yeah, for sure,” Thompson repeatedly utters before most of her answers, not only processing the questions but also reminding everyone that she’s only 18.

“She is the next-generation leader of the U.S. Women’s National Team,” Uhrman says. “She’s from Southern California. She’s playing for her home team. She’s 18. There are all these unique storylines around Alyssa.”

As her teammates leave the facility to go to lunch together, Thompson gets into her car, blasts Drake’s album “Her Loss” and begins the hourlong journey home. Resisting the urge of her heavy eyelids, Thompson turns up the volume. Family dinner, homework and — ideally — sleep beckon.

“I want to be with my team,” she says. “I don’t want to just get there and then go, and that’s a lot of what I’m doing right now.”

The guilt and gratitude spill out of Thompson interchangeably. She wants to build camaraderie with her Angel City teammates, but also see friends her age. She wants to go to the mall with friends and eat Korean barbecue, but she has too much work with online classes, speeding toward graduation. She doesn’t even mention prom this time.

“Balancing it all … it’s a good problem to have and I’m happy I have it,” she says. “I just want to do so many things. These are all part of the sacrifices.”

THE NIGHT BEFORE Thompson’s professional debut, she doesn’t sleep. Not a wink.

In less than 24 hours, she plays in her new home stadium for the first time as a professional, in front of more than 15,000 in a friendly against Club America, and she can’t stop tossing in bed. As the sun creeps over Cahuenga Peak, she can’t take it anymore.

She hops in the shower, throws on a Skims bodysuit and jeans, laces up her Nikes and waits for Gisele to wake up. Thompson has only one in-person class today, at 1:45 p.m., no less, but she wants to head in at 9 with her sister. Like clockwork, the sisters hop in their shared black Volvo SUV and turn on Drake.

“I wanted to get stuff done, but I got a big headache [and] stopped,” Thompson says. “I tried to do everything like normal, but I was just so nervous the whole day. Subconsciously, I was like, ‘I have a game today, my first game in front of a bunch of people.’ I couldn’t stop thinking about how everyone was going to be watching.”

Time seems to stand still: during, before and after English class, the hallways, the drive home. Being nervous before a game wasn’t new, but these nerves felt new.

Before leaving the house for BMO Stadium, Thompson walks past the foyer table.

Baby pictures ensconce a sign full of reminders, among them: “Do your best.” “Never give up.” And “Believe in yourself.” Underneath, framed family photos share a space with a pair of cleats and a soccer ball.

“Those are from my first U.S. women’s national team game. The ball is signed,” Thompson says. It’s a breezy way of addressing a ball inked by the U.S. women — a veritable who’s who of global soccer stars and coaches — from her debut. A club she’s now part of.

Thompson’s focus clicks into place. She calls that game unforgettable and exactly where she aims to be.

“I don’t want to not reach my full potential and just be another one of the upcoming people who get forgotten,” she says. “And people say, ‘Oh remember when she was good?'”

Mario drives his daughters to the game, Thompson finally dozing in and out of sleep. Once at the stadium, Thompson tells Gisele just how nervous she was all day.

“I needed to talk about it,” she says.

Nearly 16,000 in a sea of black and pink trickle in as pink smoke fills the stadium. Even as Thompson takes the field, the nerves remain — almost a physical weight at this point. She has never heard roars echo this way.

Five minutes into the match, Club America turns it over near midfield. Thompson possesses, just like those backyard drills with Gisele, and runs into a swarm of three defenders. Something clicks.

I’m just going to take it, she thinks.

“There was so much space for me to get in and dribble, [they] were pushing up so high,” Thompson says. “I noticed and I’m like, ‘I can use my speed against the backline.'”

She turns, dribbles right for them, and is gone in a heartbeat. A fourth defender flails at her. The goalkeeper comes out … and crumbles against Thompson’s pace and skill.

“That’s a move,” she says, “I’ve always done.”

Thompson races into the arms of teammates Jun Endo and Weatherholt before she’s mobbed by the rest of her team. BMO Stadium erupts, drums pounding in syncopation. Amid the chaos, Thompson peeks out and beams. The smile remains as she catches her breath, nerves be damned.

“She took the goal so coolly,” Coombe says after the match. “Like she had played in 100 games in this stadium.”

Uhrman screams and jumps from the sideline. “That took the pressure off. It was her moment to show that she’s here and this is what she can do.”

“I was shocked,” Thompson says. “I didn’t process it until after the game.”

The nerves remain for all 75 minutes. She couldn’t shake that people were looking at her, as the prodigy on a flourishing franchise, the face of a budding league, the potential future of a sport.

“I was thinking about every move,” Thompson says. “If I messed up, what people would think. There was more pressure. I felt like it all came down to this moment.”

Angel City defeats Club America 3-0 with Thompson winning Player of the Match. She clutches a bouquet of flowers, miles from senior night at Harvard-Westlake, and waves to screaming fans. She shuffles between media and social obligations and meeting Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis. At last, Thompson finds her family, youth coaches and a bevy of friends in tow. She’s got plenty of time now.

“All I wanted to do was talk with my family in private without people yelling my name and stuff,” Thompson says. “I just wanted to talk to my family and relax.”

After signing autographs and taking selfies with fans from both teams, Thompson reunites with her family and heads into a field suite. She tells them immediately that it feels like a weight’s been lifted.

“There was so much pressure leading up to my debut. Everyone said, ‘She’s the No. 1 pick. She’s in high school,'” Thompson says. “I wanted to show people I belong. I feel like I belong.”

Two hours after the game ends, and mere weeks before her regular-season debut on March 26, Thompson gets into the backseat of her father’s car with Gisele. They talk about how well she played and how cool the atmosphere was.

Home at last, Alyssa walks into her bedroom with Gisele and they crawl into their adjacent twin beds. For a fleeting moment, she’s but a teenager running on empty. There’s media, virtual school and practice, the burden of expectation — but that’s all for tomorrow.

For now, she’s earned some sleep.

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NFL considering several huge rule changes for 2023: Touchbacks could be modified on both punts and kickoffs

NFL considering several huge rule changes for 2023: Touchbacks could be modified on both punts and kickoffs

Cincinnati Bengals v Washington Football Team
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The NFL’s 32 owners will be getting together in Arizona next week for the annual league meeting and when that happens, they’ll be voting on several potential rule changes for the 2023 season. Earlier this month, we shared some of those rule proposals with you, but those won’t be the only proposals that the owners will be voting on. 

The competition committee released some new proposals on Thursday and if they get voted through, there could be some major changes coming to the NFL in 2023 with the two biggest ones involving touchbacks. 

  • Touchbacks on punts could mean five extra yards for the receiving team. Under this proposal, the receiving team will get the ball at the 25-yard line if there’s a touchback on a punt. Under the current rule, the receiving team gets the ball at the 20. If this rule is approve, it would bring it in line with the current kickoff rule, which gives the receiving team the ball at the 25 on a touchback.   
  • Touchback proposal, Part II. Under this proposal, if a kickoff returner calls for a fair catch anywhere behind the 25-yard line, the receiving team will get the ball at the 25-yard line. This essentially means that any kickoff caught between the goal line and the 24-yard line can be moved up to the 25-yard line as long as the return calls for a fair catch. 
  • Tripping would become a personal foul. Under the current rule, a team called for tripping is penalized 10 yards and if the penalty is committed by the defense, then the offense gets an automatic first down. Under the new proposal, tripping would be a 15-yard penalty and the offense will still get an automatic first down if the defense commits the penalty. 
  • Could soon be illegal to launch from one or both feet. Under the current rule, it’s considered an illegal launch if a player leaves both feet to spring forward and upward into an opponent. Under this proposal, it will become illegal to launch off ONE or both feet, which could make things more difficult for defenders. 
  • Changes to handing the ball forward penalty. This is not a penalty you see called very often, but it could be undergoing two slight changes. Under the proposal, it would be illegal to hand the ball forward to an ineligible receiver beyond the line of scrimmage. Something like this could happen if a QB is being sacked and he tries to hand the ball to an offensive lineman before going down. Also, the proposal states that you can’t hand the ball forward after a change of possession, which means the defense could theoretically be flagged for this if the proposal passes. (And for those wondering, a forward handoff is when a player receives a handoff when they are clearly in front of the player making the handoff). 
  • Possible change to illegal kicking penalty. If you illegally kick the ball, the current penalty is for 10 yards. Under the proposal, the penalty would only be five yards but it would also result in a loss of down. This penalty isn’t called often, but we did see it called back in December when Giants punter Jamie Gillan got flagged for punting the ball off of a bounce (You can see the play here). 

The above proposals came from the competition committee. As for the proposals from earlier this month, those came from the individual teams and here’s a quick look at several of the more notable ones: 

  • Rams want to make roughing the passer reviewable. After a 2022 season with several controversial roughing the passer penalties, the Rams are proposing a rule that would make the penalty reviewable. According to, the competition committee doesn’t sound excited about the change, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see this one voted through. 
  • Lions want teams to be allowed to dress an emergency third quarterback. Under this proposed rule, teams would be allowed to carry 47 active players on game day, but the extra player would have to be a quarterback. Currently, teams are allowed to dress 46 players. The NFL used to allow teams to carry an emergency third quarterback on game day, but the league scrapped that rule in 2011. The rule came up again after the 49ers ran out of quarterbacks in their NFC title-game loss to the Eagles
  • Eagles are proposing an alternative onside kick. Instead of attempting an onside kick to get the ball back, teams would have the option to convert a fourth-and-15 from their own 25-yard line. This rule is being used in the XFL and one team actually converted on the play in Week 1 (You can see it here). The rule was popular enough in the NFL that it was proposed in 20192020 and 2021, but in each case, nothing changed (The rule was voted down in 2019 and the owners decided to table the discussion in both 2020 and 2021, which meant that no vote was held). 

When the competition committee proposes a rule change, the owners are more likely to vote it through. However, it should be noted that the committee didn’t endorse any of the team proposals, so it’s unlikely that any of those will get voted through. 

One other thing the owners will be voting on is to give the NFL the power to FLEX Thursday night games, according to the Sports Business Journal. If this proposal passes, then the league would be allowed to flex games from Sunday to Thursday, but there would be two stipulations: 

  • The flexing could only happen between Weeks 14 and 17. 
  • The games would have to be flexed at least 15 days in advance. 

For a proposal to become a rule, 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners will have to vote it through at next week’s meeting. 

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Are there 32 NFL quarterbacks better than Cam Newton?

Are there 32 NFL quarterbacks better than Cam Newton?

Veteran quarterback Cam Newton was back in the news Tuesday after throwing more than 30 passes in front of NFL scouts at Auburn’s pro day.

It worked not just as an opportunity to help boost the draft stock of his alma mater’s receivers, but also to show that he still had something to contribute at the NFL level.

While Netwon declined to speak to the media in Auburn, he made it clear how he felt beforehand: “Ain’t 32 motherf***ers better than me,” Newton said in a video posted to Twitter.

Which begs the question: Are there 32 quarterbacks better than Cam Newton in the NFL right now?

The former No. 1 overall pick didn’t play a single snap in 2022. He wasn’t exactly a full-time starter in 2021, either, as he was signed off the street to rejoin the Carolina Panthers after Sam Darnold suffered a shoulder injury.

He ultimately went 0-5 during his second stint as the Panthers’ starter, grading below 50.0 in three of those games and going 66-of-122 for 676 yards, three scores and five interceptions. 

Season Team Dropbacks PFF Passing Grade Rank
2021 Panthers 147 46.5 N/A
2020 Patriots 444 67.8 26th of 38
2019 Panthers 99 53.6 N/A
2018 Panthers 558 70.0 23rd of 39
2017 Panthers 641 67.7 T-25th of 31
2016 Panthers 596 69.4 T-22nd of 37
2015 Panthers 692 84.4 5th of 40
2014 Panthers 632 74.7 14th of 39
2013 Panthers 612 71.7 19th of 43
2012 Panthers 588 68.6 18th of 38
2011 Panthers 634 65.1 22nd of 38


Newton’s last full season as a starter was with the New England Patriots in 2020, and he mostly struggled, throwing for 2,657 yards with just 8 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. In fact, three of his eight touchdown passes that season came in the season finale against the Jets, long after both teams had been eliminated from postseason contention.

His 67.8 passing grade in 2020 ranked 26th out of 38 quarterbacks who played at least 20% of their team’s offensive snaps. That number would’ve ranked him 24th in 2022 among 41 quarterbacks under the same qualifier, almost identical to Matthew Stafford, who was dealing with an elbow injury all season.

As for his eight touchdown passes, only Kenny Pickett threw fewer (seven) in 2022 than Newton in 2020 among qualifying passers, and Pickett was just a rookie still figuring things out in the NFL — not in his 10th NFL season like Newton was at the time.

However, the 2015 NFL MVP was always better known for his running ability. Not only did he have 4.5 speed, but he was also 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, making him difficult to bring down even if a defender did manage to grab hold of him. In 2020, Newton ranked third among quarterbacks in rushing yards (592) while leading his position group with 12 rushing scores. 

Unfortunately, his 2021 season was poor by just about every standard, albeit on a much smaller sample size. His overall PFF grade finished at 53.3, which would have ranked ahead of only Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Glennon had he played enough snaps to qualify, and only Glennon had a lower passing grade than Newton’s 46.5. Newton’s 73.8 rushing grade was the second highest of his career, though — even better than his MVP season.

Considering he turns 34 in May and his best years are most likely behind him, Newton would likely be a big-name backup should he sign with an NFL team.

Two possible fits are the Washington Commanders and Baltimore Ravens. Washington would not only provide an element of familiarity for Newton, as head coach Ron Rivera coached him for the majority of his time in Carolina, but they may have the largest hole at the quarterback position, as they are currently planning to start the 2023 season with 2022 fifth-rounder Sam Howell.

Unless the Commanders make another move at the position prior to the start of the season, such as trading up into the top five of the 2023 NFL Draft or adding another veteran via trade or free agency, Newton could be an option should Howell struggle.

Baltimore is also an intriguing option if they are unable to retain 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson. The Ravens favor a system that utilizes a mobile quarterback, as both Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley are excellent ball carriers. Should Jackson move on, Newton’s skill set could land him at least a backup job to Huntley.

So, are there 32 NFL quarterbacks better than Cam Newton in 2023? Yeah, probably. But given Newton’s track record and unique abilities, he would be an upgrade over most teams’ backups.

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Brady becomes minority owner of WNBA's Aces

Brady becomes minority owner of WNBA's Aces

LAS VEGAS — Seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady has acquired an ownership stake in the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces.

He attended an Aces game on May 31 and later sent Las Vegas star Kelsey Plum a jersey and other gifts.

“I am very excited to be part of the Las Vegas Aces organization,” Brady said in a statement Thursday. “My love for women’s sports began at a young age when I would tag along to all my older sisters’ games — they were by far the best athletes in our house! We celebrated their accomplishments together as a family, and they remain a great inspiration to me.

“I have always been a huge fan of women’s sports, and I admire the work that the Aces’ players, staff, and the WNBA continue to do to grow the sport and empower future generations of athletes. To be able to contribute in any way to that mission as a member of the Aces organization is an incredible honor.”

Brady announced his retirement Feb. 1 at age 45. He won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and one with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and owns multiple passing records over a 23-year career.

“Tom Brady is a win not only for the Aces, and the WNBA, but for women’s professional sports as a whole,” Mark Davis, owner of the Aces as well as the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, said in a statement.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert issued a statement that read: “We are pleased to see the incredible momentum around the WNBA continue as evidenced by our recent league and team equity deals. We look forward to welcoming Tom Brady as an owner once the league process and approvals are complete. We have seen Tom Brady courtside at our games and are thrilled he recognizes the value of supporting women’s basketball and the WNBA.”

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McIlroy's epic near ace on 18 caps Match Play win

McIlroy's epic near ace on 18 caps Match Play win

AUSTIN, Texas — Rory McIlroy had every reason to love the long ball Thursday.

Taken to the 18th hole in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, McIlroy unleashed the shot of the tournament. He smashed a drive on the 375-yard closing hole so magnificently that it pitched on the green and rolled out to just inside 4 feet.

That all but clinched his 2-up victory over Denny McCarthy as McIlroy led a parade of top seeds into the final round of group play at Austin Country Club.

“It was good,” McIlroy said with a smile, which was like saying Michelangelo did a good job on the Sistine Chapel.

He capped a rally from 3 down through six holes. McIlroy didn’t take his first lead in the match until another power show — a big drive into the wind on the par-5 16th to set up a two-putt birdie from 18 feet.

Defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who had to make a 12-footer on the last hole to win his first match, had seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch in the middle of his match against Alex Noren for a 5-and-4 victory.

Patrick Cantlay (4), Max Homa (5) and Xander Schauffele (6) also won their matches as four of the top six seeds took a 2-0 record into Friday in a bid to win their group and advance to the knockout stage on the weekend.

The exception was Jon Rahm, who recovered from his opening round loss by driving the green on the par-4 fifth on his way to a 4-and-3 victory over Keith Mitchell. That means Rahm winning his group is in his hands, as Rickie Fowler lost his match.

It capped another blustery day of momentum shifts and uncertain outcomes, typical of this format that is being played for the last time.

Matt Kuchar was on the cusp of tying Tiger Woods’ tournament record of 36 wins, but then he missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the last hole and had to settle for a halve with Chris Kirk.

Cameron Young never led in his match against Corey Conners — they halved 14 of the first 15 holes — until the rising American star made eagle on the par-5 16th, holed a 12-foot birdie on the 17th to take his first lead and then made a wild scramble for par to win.

“Obviously it’s windy and difficult today but there’s enough holes you should still make four, five or six birdies. It’s just keeping myself patient knowing that those are probably coming,” Young said. “I would have liked them to be a little bit earlier, but I’ll take them right where they were.”

The McIlroy drive was the topper, though.

“I was imagining the driver was going to land into the upslope and sort of stay 10, 20 yards short,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t imagine I could fly it on the green.”

As for where it rates, McIlroy laughed.

“I was 1 up and there’s certainly a lot of other ways to make birdie on that hole without having to do that,” he said. “But yeah, it was a great swing and it was great time to do it.”

It came during a week in which McIlroy said to “No Laying Up” that he favored the USGA and R&A proposal to roll back the distance golf balls travel for elite competition. The governing bodies chose not to address the driver.

“I think you’re gonna see people with more well-rounded games succeed easier than what the game has become, which is a bit bomb-and-gouge over these last few years,” he said.

This was more bomb-and-putt, and it was a beauty.

The shot was similar to Robert MacIntyre driving the 18th green at Austin Country Club two years ago when he needed to win the final hole to win his group, and it knocked out top-seeded Dustin Johnson.

McIlroy’s work is not done, and none of the top seeds can be assured to advancing even without having lost a match.

Two players can speak from experience. Cantlay two years ago was 2-0 when he lost on the third day and then faced a sudden-death playoff against Brian Harman — whom he had beaten on the first day — and lost with a three-putt on the second extra hole.

Lucas Herbert was in the same position last year when he lost to Takumi Kanaya and then faced him in a playoff, four-putting the first green.

This is no time to get comfortable.

“Comfort is the devil in golf,” Herbert said. “As much as it is a great position to be 2-0, I got work to do tomorrow.”

Twenty players face the worst day because they have been eliminated, a group that includes Will Zalatoris, the No. 7 seed, and eighth-seeded Viktor Hovland.

Jordan Spieth will need some help. A crowd favorite in Austin, where he played for the Longhorns for three semesters, Spieth was 1 up over PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery when he drove into the water and lost the 13th, went long of the 14th green and missed a short par putt and Montgomery made a 10-foot birdie on the 15th to seize control.

Montgomery won on the 17th hole to go 2-0. Spieth would need to beat Shane Lowry and have Mackenzie Hughes beat Montgomery to have a chance.

Montgomery never fared well in match play when he was at UNLV, though he did just fine in plenty of money games at Shadow Creek with a few high rollers.

With side bets, he recalled having a few putts worth $10,000 or $15,000. He didn’t miss.

“That was a good thing, too, because that was everything in my bank account,” he said.

As for Keegan Bradley, he had a 6-and-5 win which was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. It was his first win in Match Play since 2012 — what followed were nine losses and seven halves — and he only needs to win Friday to win his group.

Next up is McIlroy, who beat Bradley in the Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012 when Europe pulled off a stunning comeback. McIlroy nearly missed his tee time that day because he said he forgot Chicago was in the Central time zone. So is Austin.

“Listen, I know I got a really tough match. It’s Rory McIlroy,” Bradley said. “But I’m playing well, too, so I’m going to go out there and try to win the match.”

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Former Ravens DL Calais Campbell visits Jaguars on Thursday

Former Ravens DL Calais Campbell visits Jaguars on Thursday

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell made an immense impact on the Baltimore Ravens’ defense over the course of the last three seasons, but might not return to the Charm City next year. It was reported that Campbell met with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday by Demetrius Harvey of, a team that he previously played for from 2017 to 2019.

Whether Campbell will sign with Jacksonville is unclear, though the All-Pro lineman has made it clear that he is interested in playing for a Super Bowl contender next season. The Jaguars certainly fit that bill after their impressive showing in January’s playoffs, and could be in for another impressive showing in 2023.

The loss of Campbell would prove to be a huge blow to Baltimore’s defensive front and would be a massive gain for the up-and-coming Jacksonville squad that looks to secure a place atop the AFC in 2023. This visit may not result in a contract, but Campbell’s interest in potentially signing with the Jaguars signals a change of the guard in the conference that reflects poorly on the Ravens, who are still mired by their ongoing negotiations with Lamar Jackson.

Story originally appeared on Ravens Wire

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