It happens to the best of them — the dreaded sophomore slump. After an NFL player finishes his rookie year recording big-time stats, the pressure is on for a repeat performance.
The following group of players topped the charts in their first seasons, with two even earning offensive or defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Can they do it again, or will the numbers take a dive in their second year?
Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams
Gurley was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after a tremendous first season.
In order to not regress in his sophomore campaign, Gurley is going to have to top the average 85 rushing yards he recorded in each his 13 games from last year. Plus, his 4.8 yards per tote will be a difficult challenge to maintain, especially against his own divisional rivals.
The running back position is one that can quickly burn out or at least fizzle when guys total at least 1,000 yards during their rookie season.
Prime examples of sophomore fallout include Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, and Jeremy Hill. Each of these guys rushed for well over 1,000 yards in their rookie debuts then slipped down the ranks in their second season.
Gurley will need to at least match 1,361 rushing yards and score at least 12 touchdowns to avoid a sophomore slump. Meanwhile, his new rookie quarterback Jared Goff will be looking to impress the Rams with his passing skills. Do we think Gurley is up for the task?
Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders
Cooper had a commendable rookie season that resulted in a total of 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. He was the first Raiders receiver to cross the 1,000-yard marker since 2002, when George Bush occupied the White House.
Needless to say, a repeat performance might be a challenge for Cooper. The second-year wideout had issues with ball drops and actually caught only 55 percent of his intended targets from quarterback Derek Carr.
I still can't get over Amari Cooper leading the NFL in drops with 18 as a rookie. Just did not see that coming from his college tape. Fluke?
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) May 25, 2016
Fellow wideout Michael Crabtree did slightly better with his overall 85 receptions resulting in 922 yards and nine touchdowns.
Rather than finishing his rookie season on a high note, Cooper scored only two touchdowns during Weeks 10-17 and topped 100 yards just twice during this stretch. He also laid an egg when he failed to catch a single one of his eight targets late last year against the Denver Broncos
All signs point to Cooper having to survive an uphill battle in order to top his rookie success.
Landon Collins, safety, New York Giants
In 2015, Collins led his team’s defense after recording 84 solo tackles and 28 assists. His 112 combined tackles also ranked him 20th among all NFL defenders last season.
Only four other safeties posted more combined tackles than Collins. Despite Collins’ amazing contribution in his rookie year, the Giants defense as an overall unit was ranked the worst in the league last season. Taking drastic measures to avoid this basement stat in 2016, the Giants addressed holes through free agency and the draft.
This will help ease the load on Collins which in turn could see his numbers drop in his sophomore campaign. Less tackles looks to be a reality while Collins will hopefully manage more than his one interception and forced fumble from his rookie debut.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans
The Titans should be well on the way to winning more than their measly three games from 2015, due to some much-needed offseason additions.
This will be largely due to the team making improvements at the running back position that could see Mariota attempting less passes. Mariota got hammered in the pocket last season after enduring 38 sacks in his 12 starts. Now the second-year starter will have a dominate rusher in DeMarco Murray to hand the ball off with rookie Derrick Henry complementing the role.
Tennessee’s run game was ranked the 25th-worst in the league last year. Murray and Henry will look to change that stat resulting in a decrease in the Titans’ passing game. For those thinking Mariota would make a sweet late-round fantasy quarterback, think again.
T.J. Yeldon, running back, Jacksonville Jaguars
Yeldon showed splashes of potential when toted the rock for 740 rushing yards at a stout pace of 4.1 yards per carry. He also proved handy as receiver after tallying 36 receptions for 279 yards. The downside was Yeldon managed only three total scores along the way.
Instead of being poised to build upon his rookie numbers, Yeldon will be sharing touches with fellow back, Chris Ivory. The Jags undoubtedly signed Ivory to bolster last year’s 27th-ranked rushing offense. While Yeldon’s numbers were decent, the Jaguars averaged only 92.1 rushing yards per game and recorded a lowly five rushing scores for the season.
Ivory arrives to Jacksonville after recording career-highs across the board last year, including 1,070 rushing yards and seven rushing scores. He also maintained an average of 4.3 yards per attempt.
This all equates to Yeldon seeing a decrease in contribution while the Jaguars turn to Ivory. It would take Yeldon severely outplaying Ivory in training camp to have a shot at upstaging his veteran competition this fall.
Stefon Diggs, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings
Diggs was a late-round gem who showed promise as the Vikings season progressed. In the 13 games which Diggs played, he recorded 52 catches for 720 yards and four touchdowns.
His rookie season was noteworthy, though expecting Diggs to improve his numbers in 2016 might unrealistic. Diggs finds himself handcuffed to the NFL’s 31st-worst ranked passing offense. In 2015, Teddy Bridgewater averaged a poor 202 passing yards per game and threw for only 14 touchdowns all season.
This doesn’t bode well for Diggs’ future success as a pass-catcher hoping to cross the 1,000-yard mark in his sophomore season.
Plus, forever in the search for a legitimate No. 1 receiver, the Vikings selected Mississippi standout Laquon Treadwell in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He is already penciled in as a No. 1 opposite Diggs. After tallying 82 receptions for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns, Treadwell will no doubt steal targets from Diggs.
It should be interesting to see if Bridgewater’s numbers improve as a result of Treadwell. Either way, Diggs will have some stiff competition.
Marcus Peters, cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
Peters had an amazing rookie season making life miserable for many opposing quarterbacks and receivers. This is due to the fact that the young cornerback managed a league-high eight interceptions and 280 yards in 2015.
Peters also managed to return two of his picks for touchdowns and recorded a combined 60 tackles and one forced fumble.
For all of his stunning accomplishments, Peters was named the AP’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, was voted an All-Pro and selected for the Pro-Bowl. Wow.
A strong 2016 sophomore season would appear to be on tap for the Peters. Though topping his stupendous rookie debut could be a tall task.
Thomas Rawls, running back, Seattle Seahawks
Rawls turned heads when he picked up the slack for a ailing Marshawn Lynch last season.
Originally unsigned, Rawls made for a sweet steal when he rushed for 830 yards and four touchdowns at the healthy pace of 5.6 yards per carry in his rookie debut. Though, Rawls’ year came to a crashing end when he sustained an ankle injury late last season.
Rawls is on the mend, although the Seahawks put some writing on the wall when they took extra precautionary measures and selected three running backs in the 2016 NFL Draft. If Rawls is feeling a bit insecure about his starting job as it pertains to the status of his recovery, he should be. The Seahawks reportedly plan on holding him out of the entire preseason.
Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise appears to be the most poised to upstage Rawls this season.
Per ESPN, increased rumblings Thomas Rawls won't see single carry preseason. Significant. Why SEA piled RBs in Draft. Prosise worth reach.
— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) May 31, 2016
At the very least, a backfield timeshare situation between Rawls, Prosise, and possibly even Christine Michael, could be a reality. If this is the situation, Rawls won’t reach anything near the 63.8 yards he averaged per game last season.