RG3 and the 'Sophomore Slump:' Can He Avoid It Like Previous NFL ROY Winners?
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There is no denying the added pressure placed upon an NFL Rookie of the Year winner to not only live up to the hype in their second season, but to avoid the ill-fated "sophomore slump." Such will be the case for last year's winner—Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The same can be said for musicians, authors, film directors, college students and professional athletes. Most are expected to live up to the hype surrounding their first effort and meet or exceed the expectations of others the second time around.
If they don't, they are tagged as another casualty of the "sophomore slump."
With the advance of video technology, NFL teams now have entire media departments with their own video crew for games. They can dedicate cameras to individual players, especially quarterbacks, and have the ability to look back at game performance—frame-by-frame, slow motion, stop, rewind, etc.
NFL teams can watch for signals and look for "tells" or cues—anything that may provide insight that will prevent them from making the same mistakes of previous opponents or they themselves may have made.
RG3 ran the pistol formation offense in 2012; it provided a triple threat to opposing defenses. With the combination of his passing and running acumen, he accounted for 4,215 yards and 27 touchdowns. Teams will make every attempt to figure out a way to stop this high-octane performance in the upcoming season.
In the 45 years of awarding the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, only seven quarterbacks have won. Three have that held that distinction in the last three years and from 1971-2003, no quarterbacks won the award.
Having said this, with statistics provided by The Football Database website, I spent some time researching the winners of the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award since 2002 to see whether each winner had experienced a "sophomore slump".
Surprisingly, most had fallen short in their second NFL season as this list will indicate. The year listed is the winner's sophomore season.
2003—Clinton Portis. The Denver Broncos running back missed three starts due to injuries to his chest and later in the season his ankle—yet he managed to exceed the performance of his rookie season. His statistics were nearly identical, despite 13 starts.
2004—Anquan Boldin. The Arizona Cardinals wide receiver missed five games with a knee injury and his stats suffered significantly. He accounted for 750 fewer yards and one TD compared to eight in his rookie season.
2005—Ben Roethlisberger. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback missed four games to various knee injuries and his stats were slightly lower in nearly all categories. His pass rate increased from 98.1 to 98.6.
2006—Cadillac Williams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back finished his sophomore season with the same number of starts, but he had fewer carries, 400 fewer yards, lower yards per carry average and scored fewer rushing touchdowns (one vs. six) his rookie season. Williams did have 10 more receptions.
2007—Vince Young. The Tennessee Titans quarterback improved upon his passing yards and completion percentage but threw fewer touchdowns (12 vs. nine) and more interceptions (17 vs.13). His pass rate improved from 66.7 to 71.1.
2008—Adrian Peterson. The Minnesota Vikings running back started six more games resulting in 419 additional rushing yards. However, he scored fewer touchdowns (12 vs.10), averaged nearly a yard less per carry and returned only one kickoff as opposed to 16 returns his rookie year.
2009—Matt Ryan. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback missed two games with a turf-toe injury but threw for six more touchdowns (22 vs. 16). He had fewer passing yards, a lower completion percentage, threw more interceptions and his pass rate declined from 87.7 to 80.9.
2010—Percy Harvin. The Minnesota Vikings wide receiver/kick returner played in five additional games his sophomore season, yet his receiving stats hardly improved. He had 11 more catches for 78 yards with a lower average per reception and one fewer touchdown. On kickoff returns, Harvin had fewer returns, yards, touchdowns and lower average per return.
2011—Sam Bradford. The St. Louis Cardinals quarterback missed six games with an ankle injury in his sophomore season. Bradford had fewer passing attempts, completions, lower completion percentage, nearly 1,400 fewer passing yards, 12 fewer touchdowns and his pass rate declined from 76.5 to 70.5.
2012—Cam Newton. The Carolina Panthers quarterback had fewer pass attempts, completions and a lower completion percentage. He improved upon his interceptions (12 vs. 17), increased his passing touchdowns (21 vs. 19), and his pass rate improved from 84.5 to 86.2. Newton accounted for 35 additional rushing yards but six fewer rushing touchdowns.
Overall, a majority of the former NFL Rookie of the Year winners experienced a "sophomore slump." While several players missed games due to injuries, others saw an increase in playing time. Regardless, through a combination of factors mentioned, is a "sophomore slump" unavoidable?
In RG3's case, I think teams will have done their homework, studied game tape and deciphered some of the team's patterns and intricacies. Teams will have a different approach as to how to contain the offensive output of RG3.
Combined with Griffin's return from an offseason filled with rehabilitation from knee surgery and a certain warning from team doctors to avoid unnecessary contact, which is nearly impossible in today's NFL, it will be highly unlikely we see statistics better than RG3's rookie season.
As an ardent fan and writer for the Washington Redskins, I simply believe the "sophomore slump" in the NFL is not necessarily an indicator of a less-than performance, it means the bar has been elevated to a level where expectations are higher and not as easily attainable.
Sure, there is always room for improvement, but RG3 already holds several NFL rookie records.
Personally, I hope I have to eat my words.
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