Second-year NFL players are extremely hard to figure out, especially when put in the context of fantasy football drafts. Each year, however, there are always a handful that take that next step to superstardom.
The sophomore slump doesn't apply to every player in the league, so it's always fun to see rookies take the lessons they learn in their first go-rounds and use them as blueprints for year two.
This year there are three standout sophomores who should be given serious consideration in any fantasy draft.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton had an impressive debut with the Bengals last season. The rookie from Texas Christian University made the Pro Bowl last year, throwing for 20 TD and 13 INT while amassing an impressive 3,398 yards in the air.
It certainly helped having fellow rookie Pro Bowler A.J. Green catching passes for him, as well as Cedric Benson being reliable on the ground.
I don't see the Dalton-Green dynamic losing any spark this season. While doubters point to Dalton's arm strength as a point of concern, he put those worries to rest this preseason on a 50-yard bomb to Green.
Dalton is a good pick in the middle rounds as a reliable backup signal-caller for your team.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
Murray burst onto the scene for the 'Boys last year in Week 7 with his famous 253-yard performance. Although he got hurt in Week 14 and didn't finish the season, the rookie from Oklahoma still ran for 897 yards at an impressive 5.5 yards-per-carry clip. He also caught 26 passes out of the backfield, proving he can be a dual threat for Dallas.
The talk in preseason has been promising, as well. Gregg Rosenthal, via NFL.com, says that Murray is the key offensively for Dallas this year, not wideout Dez Bryant.
Murray is healthy, so expect good things out of him in 2012.
Smith was drafted by the Ravens for the sole purpose of stretching the field. Joe Flacco hasn't had many players of Smith's caliber to work with in his first few years in the league, but the two clicked instantly last year. (Smith's 74-yard TD catch in Week 3 was the longest TD pass of Flacco's career.)
After he posted 841 yards and seven touchdowns last year, I don't see Smith slowing down. I actually expect an increase in production for the speedy receiver.
Expect Flacco to be looking his way early and often this year.
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