Cam Newton and the 4 NFL Sophomores Who Will Struggle in 2013

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2012

Cam Newton and the 4 NFL Sophomores Who Will Struggle in 2013

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    Success in the NFL as a rookie is hard to come by—sustained success is an even more difficult task. Rookies like Cam Newton can come into the league, showcase their potential and even go to Pro Bowls, but even the best of rookies must be special to avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump."

    Players can struggle in their second season for a number of reasons. Coaches get the offseason to review a whole season of tape. Coaching staff and player turnover creates a new environment. New expectations create pressure to perform and oftentimes players see an expanded role on their team in the second year of playing.

    Here are five players who will struggle in their sophomore year in the NFL.

Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton took the league by storm in his rookie season in 2011 and established himself as an electrifying playmaker who could make plays with his big arm or with his athleticism.

    Newton appears to have a bright future in the league, and his play answered questions that anyone may have had about his validity as a No. 1 overall selection in the draft. That doesn't preclude him from struggling in his second NFL season.

    While many expect Newton to continue to evolve and get better as a quarterback, the case of Sam Bradford is important to keep in mind.

    Bradford, much like Newton, was the No. 1 pick in his draft class and took over the starting job at quarterback from day one. Both quarterbacks lived up to the hype and put up good numbers on their way to claiming the award for top rookie.

    Here's how their passing stats from their rookie seasons compare:

    Bradford: 354-of-590, 60 percent, 3,512 yards, 18 TD, 15 INT

    Newton: 310-of-517, 60 percent, 4,051 yards, 21 TD, 17 INT

    Newton's numbers are slightly better but still comparable. Bradford struggled to match those numbers and couldn't stay healthy in his second year as a starter. His completion percentage dropped to 53.5 percent, and he only threw six touchdowns in 10 starts while throwing just as many interceptions.

    With Bradford's contemporary case of a sophomore slump, Newton could follow suit.

    The counterpoint to the Newton-Bradford comparison is that Newton was also a threat on the ground and rushed for a record 14 touchdowns in addition to his solid passing numbers. While that's a valid point, it doesn't guarantee that he'll avoid the sophomore slump.

    In 1997, Kordell Stewart enjoyed success in his first year as the starting quarterback and his numbers strike a stirring resemblance to Newton's first year of starting.

    Stewart: 21 TD, 17 INT, 88 carries, 476 yards, 11 rushing touchdowns

    Newton: 21 TD, 17 INT, 126 carries, 706 yards, 14 rushing touchdowns

    Stewart followed up his sensational debut as starter with an abysmal 11-touchdown, 18-interception season and only found the end zone on the ground twice all season. As teams have a full season of tape to break down and gameplan around his running ability, it will be difficult for Newton to duplicate his success in 2012.

Blaine Gabbert

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    Blaine Gabbert was no Cam Newton in his rookie season—his debut as the Jaguars quarterback was mediocre at best.

    The No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft struggled to lead the team's offense and often looked lost, as he only completed 50.8 percent of his passes. That being said, Gabbert was at least able to limit turnovers, averaging less than an interception a game and only throwing 11 on the season.

    Jacksonville brought in Chad Henne to solidify the quarterback position, and that may prove to be a good move. With the additions of Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson at wide receiver, the team will need to get better numbers from its passing attack as it tries to put more talent around running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

    Gabbert was able to manage games to some extent in his rookie season. He will need to show that he can be an offensive catalyst, and that may be asking too much of Gabbert at this point. With more pressure to make plays, it will be hard for Gabbert to improve his middling completion percentage, and he could throw more interceptions than he did in his rookie campaign.

Doug Baldwin

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    Doug Baldwin was one of the biggest surprises as a rookie last season.

    Baldwin went from an undrafted free agent out of Stanford to the best weapon not named Marshawn Lynch in the Seahawks offense. Baldwin led the team in receiving with 788 yards on 51 receptions and four touchdowns.

    Baldwin's rookie season was a great story but a repeat performance could prove to be difficult. In 2011, Baldwin relied on big plays to bolster his numbers and had 19 receptions of 20 yards or more. A comparison that could be made for Baldwin is Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams.

    Williams put in a great rookie season with 65 receptions, 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. Williams was powered by 18 plays that went over 20 yards.

    Williams followed up that spectacular season by getting off to a slow start in his sophomore season and saw his numbers decline in nearly every category. A less explosive Williams put up a line of 65 receptions, 781 yards and three touchdowns with only nine plays over 20 yards.

    Williams struggled to repeat his performance because he didn't make as many big plays and was paired with a struggling quarterback. In Baldwin's sophomore season, he will need to continue to break big plays and do so with a quarterback situation that is still very much in the air.

DeMarco Murray

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    DeMarco Murray single-handedly turned the Cowboys season around when he took over as the starting running back as a rookie in 2011. The third-round draft choice paid huge dividends, as he produced jaw-dropping numbers with his big-play ability.

    Murray's first start came against the St. Louis Rams with the Cowboys sporting a 2-3 record and in desperate need of a threat in the running game. Murray answered the call in a big way by rushing for 253 yards on 25 carries and one touchdown. The game was the second-most rushing yards by a rookie in any single game.

    The impressive starting debut started a four-game tear in which Murray averaged over six yards per carry in every game and he picked up the bulk of his 897 yards on the season. However, Murray struggled down the stretch as his yards per carry dropped considerably to just 3.48 yards per carry over the final four games of the season.

    Murray could have a bright future in the NFL, but he'll need to figure out how to consistently produce if he wants to avoid a LeGarrette Blount-like sophomore slump in 2013. Blount appeared to be a featured back of the future after his rookie season in which he ran for over 1,000 yards in 13 games. He struggled to produce in 2012 and now faces questions about his validity as a true featured back in the NFL.

Jabaal Sheard

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    Jabaal Sheard was one of the most underrated rookies in the 2011 draft class, as he ranked only behind stud outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Von Miller in sacks among rookies.

    Sheard highlighted a talented young Browns defensive line and gathered 8.5 sacks from his defensive end spot. Sheard was a consistent starter who played well against both the run and pass, but his sophomore effort could fall short of the expectations his rookie season created.

    With fellow sophomore defensive tackle Phil Taylor out for an extended amount of time with a torn pectoral muscle, Sheard will be the focal point of most blocking schemes in 2013. Taylor had a great rookie season in the middle and often times left Sheard with only one-on-one blocking to beat to get to the quarterback.

    As the team's best and only pass-rushing threat off the edge, he should see plenty of double-teams and special attention from running backs. We could see a dip in numbers for the second-year defensive end.