10 Worst Sophomore Slumps in NFL History
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While we usually expect some growing pains from rookies, sometimes they burst onto the scene with a huge season.
With expectations then duly raised, some settle down to a more expected production, some keep up their torrid pace and some find their productions slide down into an abyss we call "the sophomore slump."
While we can debate whether a "sophomore slump" is really a sure thing (I happen to think we have proof that it is not), we have seen it happen from time to time.
The following pages cover a list of some of the biggest slides.
Rick Mirer, QB, 1993 and 1994
Rookie Year: 274 of 486 for 2,833 yds, 12 TDs vs. 17 INTs, 56.4 completion percentage
Sophomore Year: 195 of 381 for 2,151 yds, 11 TDs vs. 7 INTs, 51.2 completion percentage
Rick Mirer was part of the first major quarterback debate I really paid attention to regarding the NFL draft. The argument was between him and Drew Bledsoe, who eventually went to the New England Patriots first overall.
Mirer went to the Seattle Seahawks with the second overall pick.
During their rookie season, both quarterbacks started for most of the season (Mirer all 16 games and Bledsoe 13), and from both a statistical and wins/losses point of view, they were a wash.
Mirer did set all-time NFL rookie records for attempts, completions and yards (all of which were surpassed by Peyton Manning when he arrived in the league) and was only the third rookie quarterback since 1970 to be the starter for all his team's games.
He also finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.
1994 was a whole different world for Mirer.
The only positive part of Mirer's second year is he threw more touchdowns than interceptions. That's also the only time in his entire career he achieved that.
However, his touchdowns overall fell, as did his passing yards by almost 700 yards. He also saw his completion percentage tumble from a mediocre 56.4 percent to a barely tolerable 51.2 percent.
Mirer never climbed back out of that hole and continued to struggle for the rest of his 10-year career.
Tim Couch, QB, 1999 and 2000
Rookie Year: 223 of 399 for 2,447 yds, 15 TDs vs. 13 INTs, 55.9 completion percentage
Sophomore Year: 137 of 215 for 1,483 yds, 7 TDs vs. 9 INTs, 63.7 completion percentage
Tim Couch was supposed to be the Cleveland Browns' savior. Selected first overall in the 1999 NFL draft and kicking off three quarterbacks in a row (he was followed by Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith), Couch was coming off a great college career and took over the starting quarterback job from Ty Detmer in the second game of his rookie year.
The problem was that Couch was behind a very inexperienced offensive line, which led to him taking too many hits.
Those, in turn, culminated in a myriad of injuries during his career, especially when they cost him half his second season as starter, when he missed nine games with a broken thumb.
Given that his completion percentage had actually gone up, it's possible that Couch might have had a solid sophomore year, but we'll never really know.
As it stands, he was a big disappointment in part because he was hurt and never able to build on that solid first year.
Michael Clayton, WR, 2004 and 2005
Rookie Year: 80 catches for 1,193 yards and 7 TDs
Sophomore Year: 32 catches for 372 yards and 0 TDs
Michael Clayton was drafted in the middle of the first round during the 2004 NFL draft and immediately put up some great numbers. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended up with three different quarterbacks (Brian Griese, Brad Johnson, Chris Simms), it didn't seem to phase Clayton.
The Bucs went 5-11. They lost a ton of close games due to missed field goals and were much better than their record indicated.
2005 saw the addition of Cadillac Williams (who went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year) and a 5-1 start, but then an injury to Griese and some struggles by Simms made the waters rough for a time, though they did end up with an 11-5 record.
All the while, Clayton failed to follow up his fantastic rookie season with even a halfway decent sophomore season. He had offseason knee surgery and stayed dinged up all season, including turf toe which made him miss the final regular-season game and the Bucs' playoff appearance.
It's not as if the yards weren't there in the offense, since 10-year veteran Joey Galloway topped 1,200 yards (the first of three 1,000-yard seasons in a row). Clayton just couldn't get the separation or win contested balls like he did the previous season.
Clayton never returned to his first-year form, only topping 400 yards one more time and never accumulating more than a single touchdown in any season after.
Rashaan Salaam, RB, 1995 and 1996
Rookie Season: 296 carries, 1,074 yards, 3.6 YPC, 10 TDs
Sophomore Season: 143 carries, 496 yards, 3.5 YPC, 3 TDs
Rashaan Salaam had a tremendously successful college career, capped with a Heisman Trophy and a selection by the Chicago Bears in the middle of the first round.
He was an instant hit for the offense, and his 1,074 yards were a big help in nearly getting them into the postseason (they were left out because of a lost tiebreaker with the Atlanta Falcons).
However, the following season, Salaam was hampered by injuries and fumbling issues
Those problems, as well as problems with marijuana, would ultimately end his career very early on.
The writing was sort of on the wall that rookie season. His sub-four yards per carry and nine fumbles probably spelled doom anyway. The injuries and drug use just sped it up.
Still, from a 1,000-yard runner, who could score, to a guy who couldn't even top 500 yards, Salaam went from the penthouse to the outhouse in short order.
Sam Bradford, QB, 2010 and 2011
Rookie Year: 354 of 590 for 3,512 yds, 18 TDs vs. 15 INTs, 60 completion percentage
Sophomore Year: 191 of 357 for 2,164 yds, 6 TDs vs. 6 INTs, 53.5 completion percentage
Sam Bradford had tremendous success his rookie season, including scoring 11 touchdowns in his first eight games (tying a record for a rookie with the likes of Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning), had 169 consecutive passes in a row without an interception (the most ever by a rookie) and surpassed Manning's record for most pass attempts by a rookie.
He was also just the third rookie quarterback to start all 16 of his team's games and pass for over 3,000 yards (joining Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning).
Unfortunately, his sophomore season was marred by injury and inconsistency. Bradford had to deal with several injury issues, including a high ankle sprain, but his overall stats were lackluster even without the bumps and bruises.
Bradford saw his completion percentage and touchdowns drop precipitously, something which was a surprise as the media felt that new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would help make the offense (and Bradford) potent.
The overall talent along the offensive line (Bradford was sacked 36 times in 10 starts), combined with the second new offense in as many years and underwhelming options at wide receiver contributed to Bradford's poor showing in 2011.
Brandon Lloyd couldn't replicate the success he'd had with McDaniels in Denver, Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson were never more than serviceable, and Danny Amendola wasn't the player he became in the past year.
Bradford needed weapons, and his production suffered because he lacked them.
Matt Ryan, QB, 2008 and 2009
Rookie Year: 265 of 434 for 3,440 yds, 16 TDs vs. 11 INTs, 61.1 completion percentage
Sophomore Year: 263 of 451 for 2,916 yds, 22 TDs vs. 14 INTs, 58.3 completion percentage
With his first pass, Matt Ryan became the first rookie quarterback since 2000 to throw a touchdown his very first pass attempt. In October, he became the first Atlanta Falcon to win Rookie of the Month, the first Falcons rookie quarterback to throw for 3,000 in a season and only the 10th Falcons quarterback ever.
Ryan was the second-highest vote getter in Pro Bowl voting behind only Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. He and fellow rookie quarterback Joe Flacco both led their teams into the playoffs.
His second season is the one most people point to when they talk about the mythical "sophomore slump". While his touchdowns went up, so did his his interceptions, while his touchdown totals went down. His yards per attempt went down as well from 7.9 to 6.5 yards.
Ryan's QBR also dropped from 74.09 to 56.57, and his QB Rating dropped from 87.7 to 80.9 between the two.
Clearly, "Matty Ice" has more than recovered, but his second season was a disappointing one—especially in comparison of the rookie year.
Franco Harris, RB, 1972 and 1973
Rookie Year: 188 carries for 1,055 yds, 10 TDs, 5.6 YPC
Sophomore Year: 188 carries for 698 yards, 3 TDs, 3.7 YPC
Franco Harris ended up in the Hall of Fame after a career where he had six straight years with 1,000 yards or better (eight total) and acquired four Super Bowl rings.
For his rookie season, Harris topped 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, as well as winning the NFL Rookie of the Year Award.
His second year looked a lot like someone who might have been a flash in the pan.
Harris struggled a ton in his second season as teams focused on him, and in general, the entire Pittsburgh Steelers offense struggled a bit.
Of course, Harris bounced back for the aforementioned streak of 1,000-yard seasons.
Mike Williams, WR, 2010 and 2011
Rookie Year: 65 receptions for 964 yds, 11 TDs, 14.8 YPC
Sophomore Year: 65 receptions for 771 yards, 3 TDs, 11.9 YPC
Mike Williams hit the league in 2010 and had a very big first season, using his big size and sure hands to become a real red-zone threat as well as a consistent target for quarterback Josh Freeman who was in desperate need of one.
Ironically, Williams (a fourth-round pick) was supposed to be the slow-developing receiver while second-round pick Arrelious Benn was the guy they hoped would be the tool Freeman was looking for.
Williams scored the most touchdowns in one season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his stats for 2010 led all rookie wide receivers.
In Williams' second year, he took a sizable step back, not just because his yards fell, but because he stopped being able to find a way to score touchdowns.
Williams got back on track in 2012, and if Josh Freeman can take the next step forward, Williams could become an even bigger weapon this year.
Terry Miller, RB, 1978 and 1979
Rookie Year: 238 carries for 1,060 yds, 7 TDs, 4.5 YPC
Sophomore Year: 139 carries for 484 yards, 1 TDs, 3.5 YPC
Terry Miller had a great rookie season for the Buffalo Bills in 1978, but finished second to fullback Curtis Brown in his sophomore season. He also saw his receptions cut in half and scored just a single touchdown.
By his third year, Miller was relegated to kick return duty.
Ndamukong Suh, DT, 2010 and 2011
Rookie Year: 10 sacks, 1 INT, 48 tackles, 17 assists, 1 forced fumble, 3 passes defensed
Sophomore Year: 4 sacks, 0 INT, 26 tackles, 13 assists, 0 forced fumbles, 0 passes defensed
Ndamukong Suh lived up to his rep in 2010, as he made a real nuisance of himself across the league in his rookie season. He was the first Detroit Lion chosen for the Pro Bowl as a starter since Barry Sanders (though he didn't play due to a shoulder injury).
Suh also scored a touchdown and attempted an extra point.
In his rookie season, Suh was also named to the All-Pro Team and was the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
A combination of things happened to decrease his effectiveness in 2011. The rest of the team around him struggled to draw attention away from Suh, leaving offenses to double- and triple team him. Suh was also suspended for two games due to "stomping" on Green Bay Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Suh has also been criticized as being one-dimensional, especially by analyst and former defensive lineman Warren Sapp. Sapp isn't totally wrong, as Suh tends to show very little variety in his pass-rushing moves over the first three years of his career. That said, he has the athletic ability and strength to overcome that quite often.
Suh's overall stats fell, though the attention did help some of the surrounding players make plays. Ultimately though, they were never the threat he was, and so, the overall defense was not as good as it could be.
In 2012, with the emergence of Nick Fairley, Suh rebounded. But his sophomore production was a big drop-off from his rookie work.
Andrew Garda is the former NFC North Lead Writer and a current NFL analyst and video personality for Bleacher Report. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.