Which NFL Rookie Standout Will Have Sophomore Slumps in 2014?
Every year in the NFL, there are a number of rookie players who have an immediate impact on the game and become overnight stars.
Of course, stardom can dim quickly in professional sports. While a new year is sure to bring another crop of first-year phenoms, it seems that each year at least a few of the previous year's rookie standouts are destined to experience a fall.
We're talking, of course, about the dreaded "sophomore slump".
Which 2013 rookie studs are in store for a second-year setback in 2014? That is a question we will try to answer over the next few pages.
To get to our answer, we will examine the rookies who shined the brightest last season, try to determine which of those players overachieved in Year 1 and also consider coaching changes, scheme changes and potential injury risk.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
39 receptions, 445 yards and two touchdowns
Former Notre Dame star Tyler Eifert was widely considered the top tight end prospect in the 2013 draft and appeared to have found a good home in the Cincinnati Bengals offense with the 21st overall pick.
Eifert made the most of his role in a very stacked receiving corps, leading to very respectable production. However, it could be his role in Cincinnati's offense that causes his production to dip in 2014.
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has already voiced his intent to focus on the ground game. "If you can't run, you can't win a lot of games," Jackson recently explained, via The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy.
This philosophy bodes well for fellow 2013 rookie Giovani Bernard but not so much for Eifert. He is primarily a pass-catching tight end and ranked 46th at the position in run-blocking, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
This may lead to less playing time for Eifert, who will have to compete with the likes of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham for receptions when he is on the field.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
284 carries for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns
Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy performed well enough in 2013 to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He certainly played a big role in helping to secure a surprise playoff berth for a Packers teams that was without quarterback Aaron Rodgers for nearly 10 full games.
While I don't predict a drop in Lacy's effectiveness or physicality when running the football next season, I do see a slip in his production due to a reduced role.
A healthy Rodgers could very well mean a return to a pass-oriented offense (the Packers still ranked sixth in pass offense last season, averaging 266.8 yards per game). Lacy may also have to share backfield duties with fellow 2013 rookie Johnathan Franklin, who was placed on injured reserve partway through the season.
#Packers put RB Johnathan Franklin on injured reserve. Suffered concussion on Sunday.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 27, 2013
Franklin, a fourth-round pick out of UCLA, was given little opportunity prior to his injury but did manage one big game (13 carries for 103 yards and a score) against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3.
Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2,608 yards, 19 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and an 89.3 passer rating
Former North Carolina Stat signal-caller Mike Glennon was one of the more impressive rookie quarterbacks to take the field in 2013. He certainly played well enough to warrant consideration for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' future plans.
However, there is a chance that Glennon's future doesn't lie with the first-team offense. According to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, new head coach Lovie Smith and new general manager Jason Licht are highly likely to bring in some sort of competition for the job, either through the draft or free agency.
Even if Glennon does wind up with the starting job, the Buccaneers are likely to go through a period of adjustment with the new regime and opposing teams will have an entire offseason to study his game film.
I fully expect a few second-year growing pains from Glennon should he remain atop the depth chart, though I certainly believe he has the talent and drive to potentially emerge as the top quarterback out of the 2013 draft class over the long haul.
Tyrann Mathieu, FS, Arizona Cardinals
68 tackles, 1 sacks, 9 passes defended and 2 interceptions
The problem for Arizona Cardinals 2013 rookie standout Tyrann Mathieu is that he may have a difficult time even seeing the field early in 2014 due to the knee injury that ended his introductory NFL campaign.
#Cardinals rookie DB Tyrann Mathieu is out of surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL, per source. Told it went very well, very smooth.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 14, 2013
The other problem is that once he does see the field, it may be quite a while before Mathieu's performance returns to the same level that made him a household name at LSU and a budding pro star with the Cardinals.
According to a report by ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss, the fact that Mathieu suffered injuries to both his ACL and LCL lessens the chances of a return to pre-injury level. Citing orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal Elattrache, Weinfuss explains that only about 50 percent of football players return to pre-injury level after serious LCL injuries.
I am certainly not willing to bet against Mathieu making a full and successful recovery in time. However, the chances of him matching or exceeding his rookie campaign in Year 2 appear slim due to the injury, which is extremely disappointing for such a promising (and exciting) player.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots
32 receptions for 466 yards and 4 touchdowns
Cincinnati product Kenbrell Thompkins looked very promising at times during his rookie campaign and may be a part of the future of the New England Patriots.
I believe that Thompkins will continue to play a role with the Patriots, but I do not expect massive growth in production due to the fact he is catching balls from Tom Brady. Instead, I think he will produce about the same as he did in 2013, even if he plays a full season (Thompkins missed four games last year).
This isn't necessarily a bad thing for the Patriots or for Thompkins, but I do see a reduced role in his future thanks to the return of a healthy Rob Gronkowski (Thompkins did not top 60 yards in a game or score after Gronkowski's return in Week 7) and Danny Amendola (hopefully they stay healthy).
I fully expect the Patriots to find a replacement for Julian Edelman in free agency or the draft, should he not return so I don't believe it will affect Thompkins' role.
Patriots and WR Julian Edelman were unable to reach a deal today and he will test the market.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2014
Instead, I think Thompkins remains a 500-yard, three-to-five-touchdown role player, which will probably be seen as a disappointment even if it is part of the "Patriot Way".