October 13, 2012

Sophomore Slackers and Studs of the NFL

By - Jaquan Murphy

Year two. Sophomore year. The time when NFL coaches study film and try to exploit the weaknesses players displayed in their rookie season.

Some guys will endure a sophomore slump, being unable to adjust to the changes opponents make against them, while others will take their game to another level and prove they truly belong in the National Football League.

First, let's take a look at some of the players struggling in year 2.

Titus Young - WR, Detroit Lions

Photo by: Daniel Mears
Despite lining up with arguably the best receiver in the NFL and one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, Young has not used that to his advantage. Instead of quietly compiling a monster season, banking on the fact that Calvin Johnson commands a lot of attention from defenses, Young has basically been a non-factor in Detroit's offense. After having a good rookie year, he has taken a step back instead of growing into a strong complement to Megatron.

Cam Newton - QB, Carolina Panthers

Newton is coming off one of the most impressive rookie seasons in recent history. He showed that he can carry an offense with his big play ability with both his arm and legs. He instantly became the face of the Panthers. Now, after an offseason of the opposition game planning for him, Newton is looking as though he has taken a step back in the developmental phase. Completing passes at a lower rate, he is on track to finish with a lower QB rating and less passing yards than he had during his spectacular rookie campaign. Newton also looks like he will match or even exceed his interception total from a year ago.

Blaine Gabbert - QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

After having a pedestrian rookie season, Gabbert is following with a similarly lack-luster sophomore year. He has shown virtually no improvement from last season, leading a passing "attack" that currently ranks dead last in the NFL. Granted, there isn't much talent around him, but Gabbert he has done almost nothing to make the little talent around him any better. He is quickly falling into the danger zone of going from a solid prospect to a complete bust.

On the flip side, there are several sophomores showing that they belong in the NFL, and people should definitely take notice.

A.J. Green - WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Last season, Green displayed hands that showed potential to land him within the group of the NFL's best. That has carried over into this year, and Green is not only playing like he wants to be very good in this league -- he is playing like he wants to be elite. With less than half as many games played as last season, he already has over half as many catches and yards as he did a year ago. Green has proven to be a reliable go-to receiver, as he ranks in the top 5 in receptions, targets, and yards. He is showing that he will be a top target in the league for many years to come.

Stevan Ridley - RB, New England Patriots

After playing a non-existent role in New England's offense last season, Ridley has scratched, clawed, and fought his way to a role in the usually pass happy Bill Belichick offense. Ridley is thriving in a major way -- to the tune of 5th in the NFL in rushing yards. He has essentially went from a no-name to a household name overnight.

Christian Ponder - QB, Minnesota Vikings

Not every stud has to light things up statistically. Sometimes he can just be a master of his role. That is exactly what Ponder is doing now. He doesn't have to carry his team and put up big numbers every week. Instead, he has to be a good field general and game manager. Ponder has done that so well this season that the Vikings have already exceeded their win total from a year ago. He is top 10 in the NFL in QB rating and 2nd in completion percentage. Not eye popping in passing yardage -- but eye popping in ball control. Ponder's job is to keep his defense off the field, and so far, he has been brilliant at that.

Although 2 years is not long enough to get the most accurate read of how good or bad a player will be, it is long enough to see how high their ceiling can be -- as well as how low their basement might be.

But only time will tell if these guys will continue to rise to the top, or eventually sink into a realm of irrelevancy.


  1. Newton has been struggling since before the midway point of LAST SEASON, so Im not surprised to see him struggling NOW. Also, I wouldnt call Ponder a stud. Thats like calling Alex Smith a superstar.

  2. Stop hatin on Cam bruh. He aint getin no help from anybody.