Making it to the NFL is difficult enough, but staying there is even more difficult. Every year, new rookies enter America’s favorite sports league and get fans excited. However, a great rookie season brings its own pressures. Many players suffer a sophomore slump in their second year.
Looking back through the years, even some of the greatest rookies ever have had sophomore slumps. Furthermore, it appears to be more of a trend amongst running backs and quarterbacks than defensive players. Today we’re going to look at 25 NFL players who went through this. Some of them bounced back and became Hall of Famers. Others never recovered from this drop in output. Check out the list below via the Sportster.
25. Reggie Bush
New Orleans fans were excited about the arrival of former Heisman Trophy winner Bush. The only man to give the trophy back, he was a compelling personality with a very high athletic ceiling. The Saints faithful got to see him perform at his best during an exciting first season where he rushed for over 1,300 yards with eight touchdowns.
However, he did suffer a sophomore slump due to poor form and later injury. Some things you can’t control and Bush missed four games. As a result, his numbers severely declined. He only managed 417 receiving yards the year after the best season of his entire career.
Ryan’s slump definitely isn’t the worst on this least but it is one of the most interesting. After an excellent rookie season, his numbers noticeably declined. His pass completion rate dropped from 61% to 59% while he threw three more interceptions than in his first year.
Sometimes rookie quarterbacks struggle a little bit in the second year because opposing teams have a better understanding of them. Perhaps it’s a bit much to say Ryan struggled, but this was definitely his worst year statistically. A year later he bounced back and made the Pro Bowl after helping the Falcons win the NFC South.
Williams looked like he had the whole package. First, his nickname was outstanding. That’s enough to get anybody’s attention. Then he had a great rookie season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He rushed for 1,178 yards and scored six touchdowns to make his presence felt.
But this Cadillac definitely wasn’t reliable. Williams’ numbers plummeted in his sophomore year as he rushed for less than 800 yards. He carried the ball a lot but was unable to do anything with it most of the time. To sum up, the running back’s career ended with a whimper after another few seasons.
One of the asterisk players on this list, we’re counting Rivers’ second year as a starter. The former San Diego Chargers star took possession of the shirt in 2006. He took over from Drew Brees and played outstandingly well. However, he suffered a bit of a slump the following year.
Rivers’ numbers are very interesting because he threw way more interceptions and his pass completion rate went down. The former rose from nine in 2006 to 15 in 2007. However, the Chargers went deep into the playoffs so his weaker individual season wasn’t a problem. Meanwhile, he was a regular passing leader over the next few seasons.
Dallas Cowboys star Prescott had an outrageous rookie season as he set all kinds of records on his way to the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2016. First, he threw for 3,667 yards with just four interceptions. Meanwhile, his pass completion rate was an excellent 67.8, the highest of his career so far.
However, it should come as no surprise that Prescott suffered a sophomore slump because those stats are so outrageous. But his decline was rapid as his interceptions rose from four to 13 with a significant drop in passing yards. Prescott picked himself up a season later and improved but will hope to get back to his rookie level.
Slaton was effective during his first season with the Houston Texans. The running back was powerful, aggressive, and effective on his way to 1,659 total yards and 10 touchdowns. In sum, the Rockets thought that they had themselves a future legend because he was so good.
But sadly, he couldn’t live up to these lofty expectations. In his sophomore year, his numbers dropped by half. Then the slump turned into an avalanche because he barely played. Slaton’s career petered out which was disappointing because he demonstrated so much potential at the start.
Young had a lot of hype around him after a magnificent college career and appeared to live up to it in his rookie year. However, there were warning signs because his passing numbers weren’t great. But he made up for it in rushing yards as he won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
When his rushing yards dropped significantly, it became clear that the Titans had themselves a problem. Young showed flashes of potential but never achieved the greatness that he once looked capable of. In 2009 the NFL did name him as the Comeback Player of the Year but his performance dropped after that again.
Plummer went from being the best young quarterback in the NFL to being the worst overall. He made the NFL All-Rookie Team after a series of excellent displays that had him in Offensive Rookie of the Year award contention. The former ASU star only played 10 games in his rookie year but made a big difference.
However, he did suffer a sophomore slump as his interception rate went way up. Critics slated him for taking too many risks instead of playing safe. Originally this was one of his best assets. However, he bounced back from this awful year to post his best year statistically for the Cardinals in his third season.
Bree’s second year as a starter was actually his third season in the NFL. But we’re making an exception for quarterbacks. The San Diego Charger’s numbers dropped off after a stellar first year in charge of the starting jersey. His 17 touchdown passes and 3,284 passing yards were vital contribution.
Then he suffered his sophomore slump. He achieved just over 2000 yards in 11 games with 15 interceptions,. In fact, he failed to convince so the Chargers replaced him for a couple of games with Doug Flutie. However, he rebounded to recapture the starting shirt. His second year as a starter remains his worst statistically.
A Cleveland Browns’ quarterback with the weight of a franchise on his shoulders after a solid first year? No, we’re not talking about Baker Mayfield. Couch saw his second year fall apart too but for very different reasons. He threw for 15 touchdowns in his first year with a total of 2,447 passing yards.
However, the Browns didn’t protect him properly. As a result, Couch absorbed a lot of heavy hits throughout his rookie season. These took their toll on his body and affected his sophomore year. A broken thumb cost him nine games while several other injuries prevented him from making the same impact.
Stephens was another running back who peaked far too early. By too early, we mean in his rookie season. He put up some excellent numbers as he demonstrated his athletic ability. The Offensive Rookie of the Year also made the Pro Bowl thanks to 1,168 rushing yards.
However, in year two, he hit a slump and barely made it to 800 rushing yards. He maintained that figure the following year with New England before his career totally fell apart. The father of U.S Open winner Sloane Stephens, John tragically died in a car crash in 2009.
Williams had a career that totally fizzled out. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receiver looked like he was going to be a dangerous weapon for Josh Freeman. So it proved in his rookie year with a series of standout performances. He led the Bucs in touchdowns with 11 and posted the best rookie wide receiver numbers in the NFL.
However, that was as good as it got for Williams. He regressed in his second year to just three touchdowns as well as a drop in yards. They did pop up again in his third season, but then injuries wracked him for the remainder of his career and he never recaptured the same form again.
Woods looked like somebody had lit a fire underneath him when he first entered the NFL. The Bengals fullback had an outstanding rookie season as he emerged as a touchdown machine. In short, he was relentless on his way to the red zone, scoring 15 touchdowns.
But then came a cruel injury. He suffered an ACL tear and was never the same player again. He could never match his numbers from his rookie year because he missed most of his second season. The All-Pro selection only played for three more seasons after that, failing to make the same impact.
Suh definitely didn’t have the worst sophomore slump on this list, but he wasn’t as effective as in his rookie year with the Detroit Lions. The defensive end made the Pro Bowl in a highly effective season where he won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
However, his numbers dropped in his second year. Suh took some time to change his approach because he was in danger of becoming one-dimensional. The NFL also banned him for several games for stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith. But he turned things around and has had a superb career.
Griffin had an outstanding rookie season before injuries shattered his career. He achieved stellar numbers in his rookie year lighting up Washington with his majestic performances. However, an LCL and ACL tear cost him a Pro Bowl appearance and his career never recovered.
The quarterback visibly regressed the following season as he struggled with health. In short, he threw more interceptions and was overall far less effective. In the end, the Redskins dropped him for Kirk Cousins. Since then, Griffin has struggled as a backup quarterback and currently sits behind Lamar Jackson in Baltimore.
There are several running backs on this list who regressed badly in their second season. Salaam is up there with the worst of them. The Chicago Bears drafted the 1994 Heisman Trophy winner. But he became one of their worst draft busts. To make it worse, he showed a lot of promise his rookie year.
After rushing for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in his rookie year, Salaam regressed. His sophomore slump saw him achieve less than 500 yards with a mere three touchdowns. Finally, he only played 17 games in total for the Bears after his rookie year because he liked marijuana more than football.
Mirer had a great rookie season as he set all kinds of records that stood until Peyton Manning came along. However, he suffered a sophomore slump to turned into a career meltdown. The 1993 Offensive Rookie of the Year was a total letdown for the Seattle Seahawks.
In short, his passing numbers dropped by 700 yards while his overall completion rate stood at barely above 50%. Those are some miserable statistics and show how rubbish he was in his second year. Unfortunately, Mirer never lived up to the potential of his rookie season.
Bell set himself incredibly high standards in his rookie year but was unable to keep his momentum rolling into his sophomore season. In short, he suffered an unfortunate slump but you could argue that he peaked too early. The Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Typically defensive players grow into their roles in the NFL while the likes of running backs and quarterbacks show signs of regression. However, Bell is an outlier on this list. He achieved nine sacks in his first season with the Steelers but it took him three more seasons to match that output.
Even future Hall of Famers can have sophomore slumps. Harris won four Super Bowls in a majestic career but it’s easy to forget that he didn’t play well at all in his second year in the NFL. He scored just three touchdowns in year two as he struggled to make the same impact as his first year.
However, Harris rebounded and emerged as one of the best running backs in the league. He played in nine consecutive Pro Bowls which was a new record. Furthermore, he had six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons after the drop in his second year. That’s how you bounce back.
The Tampa Bay Buccanneers’ wide receiver had a great rookie year as an individual in a mixed season for the franchise. Clayton was consistent for the Florida team, even though they couldn’t choose a starting quarterback. However, his performance dropped in his second year.
Offseason knee surgery hampered his return and he never picked up the same pace again. Clayton’s rookie numbers turned out to be the best of his career. Unfortunately, he never reached his full potential. However, he did get a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants so there is that.
It almost feels unfair to put O’Neal on this list because injuries curtailed him in his second and third seasons. While he didn’t regress in terms of playing ability, he couldn’t contribute as he would have wished on the playing field. That was a shame because he was superb in his rookie year.
His knee injury sidelined him for almost two years. O’Neal achieved 12 sacks in his first year but only made four when he returned to action. However, he did recover and went on to play in the Pro Bowl six times in his career. That showed real strength of character.
It took Young three years to kickstart his NFL career. His rookie season was a mixed bag but his second year in Tampa was even worse. The Bucs only won three games with him as a starter and it looked like he didn’t have what it took to play at the highest level.
However, Young proved everybody wrong in his third season when he joined the San Francisco 49ers. He threw for 10 touchdowns with zero interceptions on his way to the Hall of Fame. Young also won three Super Bowls and was a Super Bowl MVP. The legendary quarterback picked himself up after a shocking sophomore slump.
Does it count as a slump if your rookie season was bad too? Well, in this case, we are going to say yes, because Bradford totally fell off of the wagon in his second NFL season. To be fair, the Rams were poor when he joined them with a shoulder injury from his time with the Oklahoma Sooners. But at least he showed some promise.
Then he just went into total decline. It was like leaving a book outside in the rain. So much promise but you can never get to end because it turned into a wet pile of mush. His pass completion rate dropped by seven percent to 53 as he threw the same number of interceptions as touchdowns (6/6).
The Detroit Lions thought that they had themselves a future Hall of Famer in Farr, but that turned out not to be the case. The running back had an outrageous rookie season but suffered one of the worst sophomore slumps on this list. The trouble was that this turned into a neverending career slump thanks to injuries.
Farr rushed for over 1,200 yards in 13 games, as the Lions’ offense compiled over 2,000 yards between them. But it took six seasons for him to add another 1,200 to his career total. He fell to under 600 yards in his second season with just three touchdowns, compared to six the previous year.
One of the most high-profile sophomore slumps in recent years, Mayfield revived the Browns when he broke onto the scene as a rookie. They thought that they had themselves a franchise quarterback and his first season backed that up. He threw for a record 27 touchdowns as he inspired the Browns to seven wins after zero the previous year.
But Mayfield took a step backward in 2019. He threw 21 interceptions as Cleveland regressed. Furthermore, his confidence came off as arrogance and he struggled in big games. Only time will tell whether or not he’s a one-hit-wonder or an elite talent.