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.