NFL Handicapping: Does a Sophomore Slump Await Second-Year Quarterbacks?
by Ricky Dimon - 8/12/2013
For receivers, the trend is to make their breakouts in year three of their careers. Running backs are generally expected to excel right away before wearing down sooner rather than later, depending on their workloads. For quarterbacks…who the heck knows?
Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks from the same class (2004), both put up almost identical numbers—respectively—in their first and second seasons as full-time starters. Same goes for Jay Cutler and Christian Ponder. Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan took minor steps back in their second years, whereas Josh Freeman enjoyed a meteoric rise in season two. Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez made minor improvements (yes, Sanchez was actually going in the right direction at one point—although he really had no option in year two after a horrid rookie campaign). So what’s in store for the 2012 class heading into its sophomore season?
Odds in parentheses indicate my predictions likelihood of enduring the worst sophomore slump in his respective trio of players.
2012 breakout stars
Robert Griffin III, Redskins (+120) - Injury may be the only thing that can stop RGIII. He is coming off a season in which he passed for 3,200 yards, rushed for 815 more, and accounted for 27 touchdowns while leading Washington to a surprising NFC East title. His supporting cast on the offensive side of the ball is young and presumably only getting better. Injury, though, may stop him. It did in a playoff game against Seattle, when RGIII played on an already-bum knee and promptly tore an ACL. The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner status is not entirely clear, but he is expected to be ready for Week 1. If he wants to last anything close to a full regular season, RGIII has to stop with the recklessness.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks (+130) – While RGIII and Andrew Luck arrived with much pomp and circumstance, Wilson’s emergence made for one of the greatest rookie quarterback classes of all time. Seattle’s signal-caller passed for 3,118 yards, racked up 489 on the ground, and accounted for 30 total touchdowns. He led the upstart Seahawks to the playoffs and to the brink of the NFC Championship Game. Unlike last season, expectations are suddenly great for both Wilson and his team. Playing in a tough NFC West to go along with road dates against Houston, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and the Giants, the ‘Hawks won’t have an easy time of things.
Andrew Luck, Colts (+300) – Seattle was not, however, the surprise team of 2012. The Colts were the feel-good story of the entire NFL, making a ridiculous improvement from 2-14 to 11-5 on the arm of Luck and the inspiration of head coach Chuck Pagano—who returned from a bout with cancer to take over the helm for an improbable playoff game. On paper, there is no reason to think Luck and company will do anything but improve. Everyone is back, and the young corps has a year of experience under its belt. Really the only cause for concern is that it’s rare for just about everything to go so perfectly for the same team two years in a row. Not that the Colts were more lucky than good last year, but perhaps other teams are in line for more “luck” than Indy in 2013. At the same time, though, Luck does not take the same kind of beating to which RGIII and Wilson are susceptible.
Room for improvement
Nick Foles, Eagles (-175) – A disastrous season in Philadelphia saw Foles get on the field for seven games while backing up the oft-injured Michael Vick. Foles threw for six scores, rushed for one, and was picked off five times. If there’s any good news for the Eagles, it’s that they have a new regime with Chip Kelly as head coach, and their offensive line cannot possibly be any worse or suffer as many injuries. The problem for Foles is that he has almost no chance of being the full-time starter over Vick in Kelly’s west-coast offense. Once again it will be difficult for the former Arizona Wildcat to find a rhythm…if he even sees the field at all.
Brandon Weeden, Browns (+225) – The Browns went 5-11 and Weeden compiled a 72.6 passer rating in his rookie campaign. Considering that Weeden threw zero touchdowns and four interceptions in his first game while Cleveland lost its first five contests, those numbers are actually decent. But they must get better in a hurry, because time is not on Weeden’s side. Despite going into just his second NFL season, the former Oklahoma State standout is already 29 years old. The Browns’ four most crucial offensive components—Weeden, Trent Richardson, Greg Little, and Josh Gordon—are all in the first three years of their careers, so they are presumably all on the rise. With four of its first six games at home against pedestrian opponents, Cleveland should get off to a far better start and gain some confidence.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins (+250) – He’s married to Lauren Tannehill, so nothing else really matters. But for the purpose of this discussion, let’s get into his on-field exploits. The former Texas A&M Aggie passed for 12 TDs, ran for two, and was picked 13 times. In his last three games he tallied four touchdown passes compared to just one interception. Reggie Bush is gone, but Mike Wallace was brought on board as another pass-catching weapon, and young running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have showed signs of promise. The Dolphins’ first four opponents of 2013 ranked among the 12 worst pass defenses last season, and Tannehill—as always— also gets to face the New England Patriots twice.
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