5 NFL Players Who Will Suffer From Sophomore Slumps in 2013
5 NFL Players Who Will Suffer Sophomore Slump
When Sade, a four-piece band fronted by its lovely namesake, penned the song “Never As Good As The First Time” in the 1980’s, little did they know of its universal applicability. The song is apropos to love scenarios and the careers of professional athletes, particularly those faced with the pressure of building off of strong rookie campaigns.
Just as the sports landscape is filled with those heartening stories of underdogs who rose from humble beginnings, it is also littered with guys who start off their careers like bolts of lightning, only to burn out like dying stars that crumble from the sky. The NFL has its fare share of those stories: Rahsaan Salaam, a Bears running back from the 1990’s, started off his career by rushing for 1,000 yards. He fell off a cliff in this second year, not even rushing for half of his rookie total.
The most recent example is Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton, who blazed the league during his rookie season by breaking the all-time rushing touchdowns record for quarterbacks as well as the rookie passing record (which was subsequently broken by Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck). He came back with a decent but less spectacular sophomore season, causing fans and pundits to question whether he can lead his team back to respectability.
Those are the breaks for the life of a hotshot rookie. Last season, there were a number of impressive performances by rookies on offense and defense: Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. Let us not forget the rookie campaigns by Luck, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Redskins running back Alfred Morris.
Yet, that was then, and in today’s NFL, where opposing defenses have a penchant for turning star players into non-factors, slumping second year campaigns are not out of the norm. Throw in the fact that injuries incurred in the first year could have a lingering effect into a player’s second year. Or, like Newton, players may find themselves in situations where there’s a dearth of talent surrounding them. Whatever the case, these five offensive players are likely candidates to suffer the dreaded sophomore slump, making fans long for the 2012 versions of these players, like a favorite oldie.
Tacuma R. Roeback is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TacumaRoe, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+
5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Okay, hear me out. The Indianapolis Colts were a nice surprise thanks largely to Luck’s ability to be the dynamic playmaker that everyone expected him to be. He did so with a solid set of receiving options: future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne, up-and-comer T.Y. Hilton and talented tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. The Colts' emphasis in the 2013 draft was to upgrade their offensive line. It’s understandable that the Colts would focus on their offensive line, considering that Luck was the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the NFL last year and that their rushing attack was mediocre.
Yet, Indianapolis failed to significantly upgrade its receiving and running back positions, which were areas of need. They did add deep threat Darrius Heyward-Bey through free agency, but he is prone to the two “I’s”: injury and inconsistency.
Sure, Wayne is as steady as they come at receiver, but he’s 34 years old, making him eligible for the NFL’s version of AARP if such a thing existed. Hilton and Allen offer a lot of promise as playmakers. Yet, lead running backs Vic Ballard and Donald Brown do not scare anybody. Both averaged 3.9 yards per rush attempt.
Luck is a fine quarterback who will dazzle Colts fans for years, but will his weapons ever evolve to the point where they are on par with the studs that the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots or the Cincinnati Bengals field? We shall see. For now, his inclusion on this list is because of the lack of elite offensive talent around him.
4. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Who? Well, as the kids say, you better ask somebody. The Cleveland Browns supplemental draft pick from last year was an absolute “win” for the much maligned team. Gordon gave the Browns its first legit deep threat since Webster Slaughter, who last played for the Browns 27 years ago (wowsers!).
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver posted impressive numbers for a guy who got kicked off the Baylor University team in 2010 and missed the entire 2011 college season. Last year, he caught 50 balls for a team-leading 805 yards and five touchdowns (not great, but very good considering where he emerged from). And according to Browns great Reggie Rucker, Gordon is just figuring out how to run routes in the NFL. When he puts it all together, the result could be a remarkable. Dude could be deadly.
Unfortunately, his sophomore year could be more frustrating than his first. Blame his organization’s instability and the uncertain future of starting quarterback Brandon Weeden. Gordon flourished with Weeden, who was selected in the first round last year by the outgoing administration of Mike Holmgren, as the signal caller. Despite new Browns President Joe Banner naming Weeden the starter going into camp, he faces some competition for his job.
Cleveland signed veteran quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer, meaning there will be an open competition at the position this summer. Replicating the success of what Gordon had with Weeden last year will be difficult considering that both will have to learn a new offense. What’s more, newly-signed slot receiving wonder Davone Bess will pilfer balls away from Gordon. Make no mistake, Gordon is on his way, but 2014 is the year he will likely take off.
3. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
For any running back, living, retired, dead or residing in purgatory, 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns is a stat line to absolutely envy. It all made for an unlikely story: that Morris, a sixth-round rookie draft pick, would finish second in the league rushing, surpassing all 11 running backs drafted ahead of him.
That just doesn’t happen. Ever.
The Redskins caught lightning in a bottle with Morris, the perfect back for head coach Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme. It begs this question: can he replicate the success he had last year? History and circumstance say no. The NFL will be focused on stopping Morris next year.
The Redskins are also in the process of retooling its offense, relying less on the option attack it employed that got Robert Griffin III banged up. While risky, the option opened things up for Morris. He had huge holes to run through because defenses were so concerned about RGIII and his 4.4 speed. The new Redskins offense will feature Griffin throwing from the pocket, allowing defenses to lock in on Morris. A 1,000-yard season is likely for Morris. But a 1,600-yard season? Probably not.
2. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Speaking of RGIII, the only thing that marred his magical 2012 season were the frightening hits he took. I couldn’t imagine being his relative and watching defenses tee off on him like they did last year. That man’s knee got twisted up like a Stretch Armstrong doll. Thankfully, he is expected to make a full recovery from knee reconstruction.
Yet, he appears on the sophomore slump list because it is unlikely that he will post the same rushing numbers from his rookie season. Griffin is expected to helm a redesigned offense where he will try to win from the pocket, relying less on his feet. He also doesn’t have the weapons that will ensure a huge statistical jump in his passing numbers.
The Redskins’ most dangerous receiver, Pierre Garçon, is injury prone. Wideouts Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson are talented but unproven. Tight end Fred Davis is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon. And, at 33, Santana Moss is ancient for the receiver position — liver and onions, anyone?
What the Redskins have are a competent set of weapons, but they don’t pose the same threat as the ones fielded by division rivals the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles. Griffin was responsible for 27 combined touchdowns last year. Yet, injury, circumstance and a lack of elite positional talent suggest that he will be hard-pressed to surpass or meet those incredible 2012 numbers.
1. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What does 1926 combined rushing and receiving yards and 12 touchdowns bring you? Increased scrutiny by opposing defenses. Martin will face more eight-man fronts than he did last year, when he only faced them on just 16.3 percent of his carries, below the league average of 23.25 percent, according to ProFootball Focus. Clearly, defenses were afraid of being burnt by quarterback Josh Freeman and dazzling wideout Vincent Jackson.
Defenses won’t make the same mistake next season. While the Buccaneers were right to focus on retooling its secondary and defensive line this offseason, they do not possess legitimate threats other than Martin and Jackson. Mike Williams is a solid player, but he only had his best season because of the presence of Jackson and Martin. What’s more, Tampa Bay failed to find a long-term answer at tight end. And with the drafting of Mike Glennon, the Bucs are not sold on Freeman, who had an uneven 2012.
The Bucs will face top tier defenses like the San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots this season, in addition to their NFC South mates. Those defenses will be dead set on subtracting Martin, negating the possibility of a repeat 1,900 yard season.