Buying or Selling NFL's Early Sophomore Slumps

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2020

Buying or Selling NFL's Early Sophomore Slumps

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    As expected, 2020 is once again showcasing the validity of the sophomore slump. 

    The preseason-less summer played a part, of course, but plenty of second-year NFL players were naturally going to hit a wall. Whether it's coaches asking more of talented sophomores, opponents adapting now that said sophomore has an extensive pro film reel or a combination of factors, the slump remains a reality for younger players. 

    More interesting for the most notable slumpers in the NFL is whether they'll snap out of it. Given the average NFL career is around three years, some slumps can prove disastrous. 

    Here's a look at the notable early sophomore slumpers and a verdict as to whether they'll snap out of it.  

Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White, the fifth overall pick in 2019, had a modest rookie season where he flashed plenty of upside over 13 games, including two defensive touchdowns. 

    But through five games of his sophomore season, White's play has stagnated, if not regressed. His overall grade at Pro Football Focus has tanked to the red at 45.4. This is seemingly on an expanded role, as he's played 100 percent of the defense's snaps compared to 73 percent as a rookie. 

    It seems opposing offenses so far are plenty comfortable going at White, who has permitted 19 catches on 24 targets (79.2 percent completion rate) at nearly seven yards per target. He's also yet to record a sack on 34 blitzes. 

    To be fair to White, it probably isn't all his fault. He has, after all, even had to take practice snaps at running back lately, and guys in front of him like Vita Vea have suffered injuries. Given his talent and the fact he's still a tackle machine (40 combined so far), it's easy to think he'll grow into the expanded role and be just fine. 

    Verdict: Selling the slump

Ed Oliver, DL, Buffalo Bills

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    Brett Carlsen/Associated Press

    Ed Oliver joining the Buffalo Bills via the ninth pick in 2019 seemed like one of the better moves of the draft based on his skill set and fit within a budding unit. 

    But while Oliver flashed major upside as a rookie, he's mostly been just another guy in 2020. Over five games, he's tallied just nine total tackles, missing 18.2 percent of them, despite seeing a slight uptick in snap-percentage compared to his rookie season so far. 

    His performance to date has seen Oliver's PFF grade bottom out at 52.8. While Buffalo needed him to make a Year 2 leap, his defense has instead struggled against both rebuilders such as Miami and contenders such as Tennessee. 

    With Oliver, the setback he's suffering, reflected in grades and/or film, is concerning for a prospect who should be on the upswing. 

    Verdict: Buying the slump

Darnell Savage, S, Green Bay Packers

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    Safety was supposed to be an upward-trending position for the Green Bay Packers defense in 2020, largely because of a projected leap for last year's No. 21 pick, Darnell Savage. 

    Instead, Savage has seemed like a weak point of the unit so far. He's played an increased percentage of snaps compared to his rookie season, yet he has already let up eight of 10 targets and a touchdown after allowing just two scores last season on 30 targets over 14 games. He's also hovering around a missed-tackle percentage of 12.0. 

    The result, at least so far, is a nosedive of his PFF grade down to 53.5, even if he does rank among the top three Packers defenders in total tackles so far. 

    Even so, Savage's upside is hard to ignore if he can stay healthy, and the idea that Green Bay's coaching staff will continue to search for his best possible role means a slow start doesn't have him him even slightly flirting with bust territory. 

    Verdict: Selling the slump

Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    After an encouraging rookie season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who made him the 10th overall pick, Devin Bush hasn't been able to fully match the pace he set for himself. 

    Bush, owner of 109 total tackles over 16 games, plus two interceptions and one forced fumble, has 21 total tackles and blanks in the other two respective columns over four appearances this year. 

    Not that basic statistics are the only thing that matters, but even PFF hasn't been a fan of his performance so far, with his grade sitting at a rough-looking 58.7. He's played on 100 percent of the team's defensive snaps, but he's missed 16 percent of his tackles and has let up 14 of 20 targets with a touchdown already. 

    To be fair to Bush, it feels like the Steelers are asking quite a bit more from him this year. Odds are he'll adapt and get back to a high level, but he hasn't been able to meet expectations just yet. 

    Verdict: Selling the slump

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Washington Football Team

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Dwayne Haskins wasn't exactly a breakout player as a rookie, but he got some serious benefit of the doubt given the shoddy situation he found himself in with Washington. 

    Haskins, after all, was a first-round pick, but he didn't seem to be the pick of soon-to-be-fired head coach Jay Gruden. He eventually got on the field under an interim coach and showed serious flashes over nine games while throwing for 1,365 yards, seven touchdowns and seven picks, an impressive feat given the miserable surroundings. 

    Fast forward to mid-October, and a new head coach (Ron Rivera) has already thrown in the proverbial towel on Haskins, owner of a 61.0 completion percentage with just four touchdowns and three interceptions. The move could be explained, at least in part, by his having one of the lowest percentages of accurate passes in the league at PFF, which has him graded him at 46.7, down from last year's solid 67.9

    To be fair to Haskins, his first game as a non-starter this year featured Alex Smith and Kyle Allen teaming up to throw for 108 combined yards and no touchdowns. Haskins' NFL journey to this point hasn't exactly been fair compared to where other first-round passers got to land, but it's easy to think this slump is a sign of things to come. 

    Verdict: Buying the slump

Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Daniel Jones, statistically speaking, wasn't all that different from Haskins over the first quarter of the season. 

    Taken sixth overall by the New York Giants in 2019, Jones showed serious promise as a rookie, completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 3,027 yards and 24 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. 

    Instead of continuing on an upward trajectory though, Jones has completed 61.0 percent of his passes with just two touchdowns and five interceptions over the first five games of his sophomore season. And while PFF grades him at a 74.5 anyway, it seems like defenses don't mind blitzing him and seeing what happens.

    The situation so far also has Giants quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski rallying to Jones' defense

    "I'm really not worried about it with him," Schuplinski said, according to Giants Wire's Dan Benton. "I'd say he's a resilient guy. But by no means do I think he's shell-shocked. I haven't seen anything that would give me concern for that."

    Having the team come out and say a quarterback isn't "shell-shocked" likely isn't an encouraging sign. But the fact Jones has played better in the past and doesn't have the best surroundings right now—especially along the offensive line—make it easier to buy into the idea this is merely a speed bump. 

    Verdict: Selling the slump