Andy Dalton and 8 Second-Year Players Just Not Making Necessary Leaps
Andy Dalton started out the 2012 season on fire, but he's gradually been trending in the wrong direction the past few weeks. He's far from the only second-year player in the NFL who isn't making the necessary leap, though.
Rookies are expected to struggle, but players usually make huge strides in the right direction during their sophomore campaigns.
That's not the case for these would-be studs.
It's far too early to panic and call these players busts. That said, the level of consistent production has been lacking so far for these young athletes, and if they don't shape up in a hurry, the "B" word will become more and more popular.
Greg Little: Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns
If Greg Little could just learn to hang on to the football, he'd be one of the brightest young stars at the wide receiver position in the NFL.
Last year, in his rookie season, Little tallied 14 dropped passes (the second-worst total in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus). So far through six games, Little has dropped six passes—a ratio that's actually worse than last year's.
It's a darn shame, too, because Little's size, speed and athleticism make him a threat to take every caught pass the distance. All that means nothing, though, without the ability to catch the ball.
Marcell Dareus: Defensive Tackle, Buffalo Bills
Marcell Dareus was one of the second-year players I was eager to watch in 2012. His rookie campaign was a smashing success, and I assumed the best was yet to come.
I was wrong.
Pro Football Focus has Dareus ranked No. 76 out of 82 total defensive tackles this season.
Through six games this season, Dareus has only managed six solo tackles, and though he does have two sacks to his name, he's been amazingly invisible on the Buffalo Bills defensive line.
Perhaps Dareus is suffering from the dreaded sophomore slump that may or may not exist, but there's no denying he is not performing like the Bills expected him to when they invested a No. 3 overall pick in him last April.
Tyron Smith: Left Tackle, Dallas Cowboys
Tyron Smith was stellar last season as a rookie right tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, earning the third-highest rating from Pro Football Focus out of all the tackles in the NFL.
He only allowed eight sacks and 20 quarterback hurries, and through the entire season, Smith only tallied seven penalties.
Then, the Cowboys switched Smith and Doug Free, turning the young man into a left tackle, and most people thought the transition would be seamless. In fact, ESPN.com's Dan Graziano had Smith as his No. 13 player in the NFC East before the season began.
Let's just say that the switch hasn't gone as well as the team had hoped.
So far, through five games, Smith has only one sack, but he's also allowed 12 quarterback hurries and has committed eight penalties. His sub-par performance has caused PFF to rank him No. 48 in the NFL—a far cry from the No. 3 ranking he earned in 2011.
Jimmy Smith: Cornerback, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens were counting on Jimmy Smith to become a key player for them in 2012, and now that Lardarius Webb is out for the season with an ACL injury to his left knee, he's even more important to the team's success.
Unfortunately for Smith and the Ravens, he's has regressed badly in his second year after showing signs of being a good player in his rookie season.
Opposing quarterbacks aren't afraid to pick on Smith this season, and he hasn't done anything to discourage them from doing so. He has already committed five penalties through six games and has missed six tackles as a reserve player, according to Pro Football Focus, and is listed as their second-worst cornerback.
Smith needs to step up his game. If he can't do so, the Ravens defense will suffer greatly the rest of the way in 2012.
Blaine Gabbert: Quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars
Blaine Gabbert was supposed to make incredible strides in a positive direction under new offensive coordinator Bob Bratowski in 2012.
So far, the only strides he's taking are sideways, and he was pretty bad to begin with.
His completion percentage has improved (to just under 55 percent from around 50 percent in 2011), his yards per attempts have improved (from 5.4 yards to 5.5 yards) and his interception to touchdown ratio has improved (from 12/11 to 5/3), but he's going nowhere fast.
Simply put, Gabbert is a below-average quarterback who hasn't shown the kind of franchise-changing abilities teams expect when they invest a first-round draft pick.
Mark Ingram: Running Back, New Orleans Saints
Perhaps no second-year player has been as disappointing as Mark Ingram.
The former Heisman Trophy winner has failed to crack the starting lineup for the New Orleans Saints, and it's not hard to see why.
Through five games this year, Ingram has averaged a pitiful 2.9 yards per carry, rushing for just 106 yards on 37 carries. He isn't hitting holes with any authority or burst, and defenders have been able to bring him down without much of a fight.
Out of all the players on this list, Ingram is the closest to being labeled a bust at this point in their careers.
Cam Newton: Quarterback, Carolina Panthers
Instead of improving upon his phenomenal, record-breaking rookie campaign, Cam Newton has been regressing as a quarterback and leader for the Carolina Panthers.
His completion percentage is down, his touchdown/interception ratio is down, his quarterback rating is down, his yards per carry is down and he's getting the ball into the end zone less in 2012 than he did last season.
Worse still is the fact that Newton's team is 1-4 to start the season, and Newton's anti-clutch play at the end of the past two games has a lot to do with their record.
Furthermore, Newton's behavior after losses has become something of a joke, as his sulky, childish attitude has made headlines on more than one occasion. Steve Smith at one point had to berate his young quarterback on the sidelines for sitting off by himself with his head down (h/t Charlotte Observer).
Newton clearly has regressed, but he has all the physical tools to turn things around for himself and his team, provided he changes his attitude and approach to the game.
Andy Dalton: Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton is trying to do too much right now for the Cincinnati Bengals, and if he doesn't relax and let the game come to him, he and his team won't make a repeat appearance in the playoffs in 2012.
Through six games, Dalton has thrown a whopping nine interceptions. Last season, Dalton only threw 13 picks all year, and he started every single game.
His team is now 3-3, having just lost to the Cleveland Browns, of all teams, and in the last three games, Dalton has tossed six interceptions.
He is clearly pressing and not taking what defenses are giving him underneath. He seems to be perpetually looking for the big play instead of being content to methodically move the chains—a long-term strategy that will only hurt him and his team.
Dalton has a bright future ahead of him, especially with a receiver like A.J. Green, but he needs to go back to basics and focus on taking care of the football.