The sophomore slump is a phenomenon as old as any sport. A player does well his rookie year, then the rest of the league figures him out in time for his second year.
Players slump in their sophomore years for the same reason things like the Wildcat offense go out of style: eventually, there’s enough tape for the league to learn how to beat him. The difference, of course, is that players can adjust and add new dimensions to their games.
With the 2017 NFL season fast approaching, it’s time to take a look at some of the players who could experience sophomore slumps this fall. Some, like Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz, benefited from scheme their rookie seasons and may struggle in a more complex system. Others, such as Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington, will likely suffer from reduced playing time after the Raiders improved at the position during the offseason. The sophomore slump takes hold in many forms.
The 2016 draft class is an interesting vehicle for this exercise because it wasn’t considered especially strong during draft season a year ago. Sure, players like Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa were sure-fire stars — and delivered on that expectation — but players like Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard seemingly came out of nowhere. That doesn’t, however, reduce their chances of slumping this year.
Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz — originally drafted to back up Sam Bradford and learn for at least a year — surprised people in his first season. He threw for 3,782 yards and led the Eagles to a strong start before they cratered in the second half of the season. After last season, it’s tough to believe that Wentz isn’t the Eagles’ quarterback of the future.
He probably won’t lose that title regardless of what happens this year, but Wentz is in for a sophomore slump. Schematically, he relied on a lot of short, simple throws and often went to his first read. According to Sharp Football Stats, only 96 of Wentz’s 607 passing attempts went over 15 yards in the air. That has to change in Year Two, and his ability to read the entire field has to get better, or else teams will start sitting on the quick slants and curls that Wentz lived on last season.
We started to see signs of this over the second half of the season. Wentz threw nine interceptions in the last seven games of the year, including a six-game interception streak from Weeks 10-15. When Football Outsiders calculated adjusted interceptions — adjusting for dropped interceptions and the like — Wentz had a worrying 3.0 percent adjusted interception rate.
Underlying numbers didn’t do much for Wentz either. He was 28th in defense-adjusted yards above replacement and 27th in Football Outsiders’ efficiency measure, DVOA. All of this adds up to an impending slump next season, even after the Eagles upgraded their receiving corps in free agency.