College Football Players Headed for Sophomore Slump in 2014
Freshman standouts turn into sophomore disappointments every season, even if they didn't necessarily get worse or hit the proverbial "second-year wall."
Take, for example, the best freshmen wide receivers in 2011 and 2012. Those players—Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Alabama's Amari Cooper—both put up considerably lower numbers in their second collegiate seasons, but a lot of that was out of their control.
For Watkins, the emergence of DeAndre Hopkins as one of the best wideouts in America played a large part. For Cooper, Alabama's desire to spread the ball around (and some questionable play-calling) kept the ball out of his hands more often than he might have liked.
The following players won't be worse in 2014 than they wore in 2013. But because of the personnel, coaching or situational changes around them, they might find it difficult to put up as good of numbers as they did as freshmen last season.
Sound off below, and tell me who I missed.
WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
Freshman Stats: 85 rec, 1,174 yards, 7 TD
Tyler Boyd could be this year's version of Amari Cooper and Sammy Watkins. He won't be any worse for the wear as a sophomore—i.e., he is still one of the five best receivers in the country—but the situation around him might dictate a worse statistical season.
There are two predominant reasons for this.
Devin Street, another one of the best wide receivers in the ACC last season, is gone from the opposite side of the field, which will allow teams to roll their coverage onto Boyd. This might mean more overall targets for Boyd, but less of them will be targets of quality.
On top of that, strong-armed quarterback Tom Savage, whose game complemented Boyd's ability to get down the field, is gone to the Houston Texans of the NFL. Sophomore Chad Voytik has a pretty nice arm and showed a good rapport with Boyd in the bowl win over Bowling Green, but it is fair to predict at least a little bit of a drop-off.
WR Amba Etta-Tawo, Maryland
Freshman Stats: 31 rec, 500 yards, 2 TD
Amba Etta-Tawo came on at the end of his redshirt freshman season, racking up 387 of his 500 yards in the final five games of the year.
There's a reason for that.
Maryland lost both of its best receivers/offensive players—Stefon Diggs and Deon Long—to season-ending injuries against Wake Forest in October. This opened a void in the Terps' receiving corps, which allowed Etta-Tawo and Levern Jacobs (the team's leading receiver in 2013) to get consistent reps and become steady contributors.
Both Etta-Tawo and Jacobs will remain steady contributors in 2013, but the return of Diggs and Long puts a cap on how many targets they will see. Especially in the defensive-minded Big Ten, Etta-Tawo might have to wait until 2015 to post another 500-yard season.
QB Sefo Liufau, Colorado
Freshman Stats: 149-251 (59.4%), 1,779 yards, 12 TD, 8 INT
There is plenty to like about rising sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau, who has the size (6'4") and underrated mobility to become one of the best signal-callers in the Pac-12...in time.
For now, though, it might be difficult for Liufau to build on the efficiency of 2013 without star receiver Paul Richardson on the roster.
Richardson was the life force of last year's Buffaloes offense, finishing with 83 catches, 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns. That is 35 percent of the receptions, 45 percent of the receiving yards and 48 percent of the receiving touchdowns CU had as a team.
Redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo will try to replace Richardson's production next season, but that is a tough assignment for someone so young to take on. Even in complimenting Bobo by calling him one of the Buffs' five key players, Joshua Carvalho of Mountain West Connection spoke volumes when he said, plainly, that "Bobo is no Richardson, and it's not fair to Bobo to make the comparison."
It's not fair to Liufau to expect the same numbers, either.
QB Maty Mauk, Missouri
Freshman Stats: 68-133 (51.1%), 1,071 yards, 11 TD, 2 INT; 41 car, 229 yards, 1 TD
This one hurts on a personal level, as I am a big fan of Maty Mauk's game and think he has an NFL future ahead of him. But how could he not be worse, on a down-to-down basis, in 2014 than he was as a redshirt freshman last season? Look at all the pieces he'll be missing!
L'Damian Washington, Henry Josey and Justin Britt are all gone to the NFL, and Dorial Green-Beckham, who was being hyped as an All-America candidate, was dismissed from the team in mid-April.
Mauk has the makings of a future Heisman candidate. He is big and strong and fast with an accurate arm and blue-chip mobility.
Once Missouri puts the proper weapons back around him, as it did last season, he can put up All-SEC-type numbers over the course of a season. It just doesn't look like it will happen next year.
RB Paul Perkins, UCLA
Freshman Stats: 134 car, 573 yards, 6 TD; 24 rec, 296 yards
Paul Perkins led UCLA running backs in carries and yards last season, seeing the field more and more as the season went on and injuries took a toll on the team's top ball-carrier, Jordon James.
But James, when healthy, appears to be a better option for a team with its sights on a Pac-12 and national championship. He is more experienced, heading into his senior year to Perkins' sophomore, and he had the higher pedigree, ranking No. 47 overall on the 247Sports Composite when he came out of high school to Perkins' No. 805.
Perkins is a solid but ultimately unspectacular running back. He is above-average at almost everything but great at almost nothing.
He will still some touches, occasionally, but not enough to post 1,000 total yards as he did in 2013. James gives this team a ceiling that it desperately needs and otherwise does not have.
WR Nate Phillips, Arizona
Freshman Stats: 51 rec, 696 yards, 7 TD
Nate Phillips emerged to become Arizona's leading receiver last season, developing a nice rapport with quarterback B.J. Denker.
This year, Denker is gone and there are questions and a five-man competition going on at quarterback. More importantly than that, though, there is more competition at receiver that could relegate Phillips to a much smaller role than he saw as a freshman in 2013.
Austin Hill, who caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, will return from the ACL injury that sidelined him for all of last season. Additionally, a couple of highly regarded transfer receivers—DaVonte' Neal (Notre Dame) and Cayleb Jones (Texas)—will become eligible and demand to see some targets as well.
Neal in particular threatens to infringe on Phillips' territory. Both are smaller, quicker slot guys, and even though Phillips proved his bona fides in 2013, Neal has the physical talent to surpass him by 2014.
WR Tyler Winston, San Jose State
Freshman Stats: 58 rec, 858 yards, 5 TD
Tyler Winston was named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2013, per Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury-News.
Star receiver Chandler Jones is also no longer with the team, which would seem to open up even more opportunities for Winston. But the loss of one other senior—quarterback David Fales—will almost definitely result in a smaller output from the sophomore in 2014.
Fales was that important to this offense. Somehow, it still feels like an understatement. He was the most accurate passer in America and set young players such as Winston up for early success.
"I’m a big fan," Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh said of Fales, whom he played against in 2013, according to Durkin. "My personal quarterback evaluation of this class has David in the top five."
That is what Winston is losing.