Last year was The Year of the Rookie. Players like Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Evan Engram showed they can hang with the big boys, racking up numbers that put them in elite fantasy company. But after the rise comes the fall. Or at least that’s what the talking heads want you to think. It’s such a common refrain that you might think the experts, having run out of meaningful things to talk about, are just trotting out old clichés. Don’t worry, they’re not. The sophomore slump is real but it doesn’t happen to everyone. Luckily for you, your friends at The Read Option are here to help. We took a look at some of the top rookie WRs, RBs and TEs since 2013 and analyzed their first and second year numbers to find the truth behind the myth of the sophomore slump.
Last year, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette and Alvin Kamara had remarkable years. They tore up the gridiron and put up numbers that rivaled some of the top names in the league. But for their follow-up, they’ve got a tough road ahead of them. In their second years, RBs rush for an average of 27% fewer yards than they had in their freshman campaigns. The bad news doesn’t stop there. They also scored one fewer TD, played in two fewer games and rushed the ball 26 less times.
If those decreases don’t really seem too bad, remember that this data includes David Johnson’s phenomenal sophomore season, in which he increased his yardarge by 113% and scored a total of 20 TDs, and Le’Veon Bell’s second year, when he rushed for 501 more yards than his rookie season. If we remove those two performances, things suddenly look a lot more dire for Kamara and Co. as the average number of games drops by three, rushing yards fall by nearly 300 (!) and each rusher averages two fewer TDs. It’s not a great look.
Notable Sophomore Slumps: Montee Ball (2014), Zac Stacy (2014), Tre Mason (2015), Thomas Rawls (2016), Ameer Abdullah (2016).
Wideouts are remarkably consistent from year to year with players like Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Hurns and John Brown drastically improving their overall receiving yards, targets and even rushing yards. They do score slightly fewer TDs but, hey, nobody’s perfect. This consistent improvement is likely due to the nature of the position. WRs rarely break out in their rookie seasons outside of a few obvious examples.1 Slow-growing skills like timing, consistency and an understanding of the fluidity of the game all play roles in the growth of a WR and this generally means that there’s nowhere to go but up. Except, um, in TDs.
Notable Sophomore Slumps: Keenan Allen (2014), Cordarrelle Patterson (2014), Kelvin Benjamin (2015)
Ah yes, the hilariously named, yet oft misunderstood TE. These poor guys are the butt (literally) of so many jokes it’s almost unfair to assume that they’d shit the bed in their second season.2 Well, they do. On average, they score nearly two fewer TDs, are targeted 10 fewer times and put up 75 fewer receiving yards. And here’s the real kick in the ass—they somehow manage to average three fewer games.
Notable Sophomore Slumps: Tim Wright (2014), Tyler Eifert (2014), Jace Amaro (2015)