Which 2nd-Year NFL Players Are Headed for a Sophomore Slump?
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."
A few weeks ago, we took a look at some of the 2013 rookie standouts who might just be headed for that slump. That, of course, was at the onset of free agency.
Now that the dust has begun to settle (relatively speaking) on this year's free-agent frenzy, it is time to take another glimpse into the future of the potentially falling.
While some of the names and situations on our list will naturally make a return appearance, the moves made over the past several weeks have created a few notable changes (Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon, for instance, is no longer a slump candidate, as he appears to be out of the starting picture, according to SI.com's Chris Burke).
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.
Eric Fisher, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Started 14 games at right tackle
Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher might not have become a household name in 2013, but the former Central Michigan standout was the first overall pick in last year's draft.
The fact that Fisher also managed to start 14 games for a playoff team that completed a massive turnaround is also noteworthy.
However, it is also worth noting that Fisher did not perform exceptionally well at right tackle as a rookie and is set to cover the left tackle position next season.
Last year's starting left tackle, Branden Albert, was acquired by the Miami Dolphins during free agency. This leaves Fisher, who was ranked just 70th overall among tackles by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) last season, in a difficult position.
According to SB Nation's Ryan Van Bibber (h/t Joel Thorman of SB Nation), head coach Andy Reid has confirmed that Fisher will take over at left tackle. There, he will likely face each opponent's top pass-rusher, which may expose even more weaknesses in his game.
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.
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 team 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.
Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals
68 tackles, one sack, nine passes defended and two 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 two appear slim due to the injury, which is extremely disappointing for such a promising (and exciting) player.
The fact that the Cardinals lost defensive field general Karlos Dansby in free agency isn't going to help Mathieu any whenever he does return.
don't know if this has been out there since twitter broke. hearing Dansby to Browns, 4yrs/$24m. $10m year 1, $14m guaranteed.— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) March 11, 2014
Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers
77 tackles, 11 passes defended, four interceptions
Rookie safety Eric Reid, a first-round pick out of LSU, emerged as a force on the back end of the San Francisco 49ers defense last season.
While Reid might not have gained the national attention of guys like Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso or New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, he was still one of the top rookie defenders of the year. He started all 16 games for the 49ers and ranked 16th overall among all safeties for the season, according to Pro Football Focus.
However, some of Reid's success might just have been a product of the talented defensive backs around him, some of whom departed in free agency.
Fellow safety Donte Whitner, who signed with the Cleveland Browns, was ranked sixth overall by Pro Football Focus. Cornerback Tarell Brown, who signed with the Oakland Raiders, was ranked 32nd overall at his position.
Donte Whitner's four-year deal with the Cleveland Browns is worth $28 million.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 11, 2014
The 49ers did bring in veteran safety Antoine Bethea to help offset their losses, but the San Francisco defensive backfield is going to look quite different next season. It will be interesting to see if Reid's play takes a step back because of it.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots
32 receptions for 466 yards and four 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).
The Patriots also found a way to retain wide receiver Julian Edelman in free agency, which further crowds a receiving corps that may be again bolstered in the draft.
Instead of improving with a full schedule of games, 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."