Sophomore Slump: Which Second-Year Defensive Players Will Struggle?
Alright I finally got the last installment of this series finished and in this one I talk about which defenders in their second years I believe will struggle a bit. Like I’ve said in every one of these the players are not ranked in any particular order and are just guys that I feel will not live up to their rookie seasons or will not live up to the expectations on them for this season. I look forward to seeing everyone’s opinions about who I have here.
Brian Orakpo OLB Washington
Orakpo came into the league known for his pass rushing skills and did not disappoint the Redskins. Helped out by a four sack game against the Oakland Raiders, he led all rookies with eleven sacks this season just edging out Clay Matthews who had ten. He showed great burst as a rush end in the 4-3 system that Washington ran last season, and now will be asked to switch to a 3-4 linebacker.
This change in scheme and change of position leads me to believe that Orakpo will struggle next season. Orakpo showed he can be a great pass rusher as a rookie however I have my concerns with him in coverage as a linebacker. He has the speed and size that would lead you to believe that he could excel at this position and he could eventually develop into a good linebacker. However, I believe that he will struggle with the change in the first season.
Kevin Ellison SS Seattle
Ellison started nine games at strong safety for the San Diego Chargers last season and played pretty well. However the Chargers cut him loose and put him on waivers after Ellison was arrested on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance. Originally stopped by police for speeding, a search of Ellison’s car turned up 100 Vicodin pills, and he was released on $10,000 bail.
I think Ellison’s numbers and playing time are going to be cut severely after starting all those games for the Chargers. In Seattle he will be expected to be nothing more than a back up barring injury. The only good thing I can even squeeze out of this is that Ellison is reunited with his former USC coach Pete Carroll now in Seattle. However, I do not think that he will see the field that much with first round pick Earl Thomas, and veterans Lawyer Milloy and Jordan Babineaux on the roster.
Malcolm Jenkins CB New Orleans
There were high expectations for Malcolm Jenkins coming out of Ohio State when he was selected in the first round by the Saints. However in his rookie season Jenkins was not much more than a back up and struggled a bit when he was forced into more playing time due to injuries to starters Tracy Porter and Randall Gay. He looks to be more suited to making a position change to safety to take over for whenever Darren Sharper retires.
Right now Jenkins will have to wait until Sharper is done and to make matters worse for him the Saints selected another cornerback in the first round in this year’s draft in Patrick Robinson. I believe Robinson will surpass Jenkins on the depth chart at corner and he will lose significant playing time. I believe Jenkins has the ability to become a good safety however with Sharper resigning and with the pick of Robinson I don’t believe he will see the field much.
Derek Cox CB Jacksonville
The Jacksonville Jaguars got as much as they could have wanted out of a rookie cornerback in Derek Cox. He was third on the team in tackles with seventy-two and actually led the Jaguars with four interceptions. Cox burst onto the scene in week one when he showed good poise picking off hated rival Peyton Manning. He gave Jacksonville what they needed especially when veteran Rashean Mathis missed a bunch of games due to injury during the season.
All this said, I do not believe that Cox will have that type of success in his second season with the Jaguars. I just have a feeling that he will struggle in the same way that former first round pick Dunta Robinson did after his banner rookie season. I believe Cox may continue to rack up tackles due to the bad Jaguars defense around him. However, I don’t see him gaining four interceptions again next season.
Brian Cushing OLB Houston
Yes I understand that Cushing was voted as the Defensive Rookie of the Year; Twice. However I really just don’t buy him being an impact player for the Texans like he was as a rookie. Last season Cushing was tackling machine and showed both good coverage skills and good burst off the edge gaining four sacks and four interceptions.
Coming into the league I had heard that he was a guy that was suspected of using performance enhancing drugs from high school through college. However, he never tested positive once. That changed in his rookie year when he tested positive, yet was let off the hook by having the test results not let out until after the season was over. I’m not saying that the only reason Cushing was good last season was because of P.E.D.s, however it does make me at least question everything he accomplished. Either way I believe that Cushing will see a drop off in both stuff and stats this upcoming season.