Avoiding the Sophomore Slump
A great fantasy football myth and interesting topic of debate among the lifestyle’s cognoscenti is the “Sophomore Slump.” The follow-up year to many NFL players’ rookie season can only be viewed by the authority with skepticism or optimism but never both. Many are divided on the topic and a personal disposition of my own has been to specifically avoid second-year wide receivers.
Many factors can play into a second successful season for an NFL player. The injury bug could bite at anytime as it did with Anquan Boldin in 2004. Both schemes and new regimes taking over creative control of offenses can weigh in tremendously. Yet with all the subtle changes and nuances factoring into an overall measured outcome of success for second-year players, there are still the percentages that help draw lines and sway sensibilities.
Since 2003 among rookie wide receivers who have caught 30-or-more passes in their inaugural seasons, only 35 percent have regressed statistically during second seasons. Only 22 percent of those same rookies regressed by more than 12 percent of their previous year’s output. The remaining 13 percent of the rookie regression group decreased by 12 percent or less, accounting for a maximum drop of only 22 fantasy points from rookie season to sophomore season.
|NAME||Rookie FPts||2nd Yr. FPts||Pt. Diff.||% +/-|
As for the 65 percent of second-year wide receivers who increased statistical output did so by an average of 28 percent over their rookie season numbers. The 28 percent output increase accounted in fantasy point increases spanning from one point to a whopping 135-point hike. All in all of the 45-player wide receiver control group, 10 of those wide receivers had lackluster sophomore seasons that had fantasy football owners second-guessing themselves.
How’s that for breaking down the “Sophomore Jinx”? So now we can delve into the 2012 rookie receiving class and attempt to sort through the numbers setting our sights on output estimates for each wide receiver heading into his second season. The graph below shows each of the rookies and their final 2012 regular season numbers. In very vague fashion going by what history has given us over the past 10 years, we can expect 1.76 of last year’s rookie receiving pool, with 30 receptions or more, to drop in statistical output. For arguments sake, rounding that number up to two players seems logical in this instance.
It would seem most likely that Justin Blackmon and his four-game suspension would be the obvious choice for a sophomore season output decline. Roughly one-quarter of the Jaguars’ passing offense led to 69 percent of Blackmon’s fantasy points after Week 10. It’s conceivable that Blackmon could end the season with similar numbers to his rookie season. However, factor in the suspension, groin surgery, and Blaine Gabbert back behind center, and a dip in output is the logical result.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is no longer in Oakland nor is the former first-rounder’s 77 targets. Heyward-Bey’s 41 receptions, 606 receiving yards, and five touchdowns have to be distributed. The Raiders passed the ball 629 times last year, good for fifth most in the NFL last year. Head coach Dennis Allen hired offensive coordinator Greg Olson after last year’s disaster. Olson brings a West Coast scheme from which Streater will benefit. Zone passes will likely pave the way for Streater’s size to dictate ample red zone targets and possession receiver-type numbers.
In six seasons as offensive coordinator, Olson’s offenses have always ranked higher in passing attempts than rushing attempts, boding well for the likelihood of increased target numbers for the second-year wideout. The 28 percent rookie-year-to-sophomore-year average increase in statistical output only increases Streater’s 2013 numbers by 32 fantasy points. The second-year wide receiver could easily exploit an opportunity to see a bump closer to 46 fantasy points over last season’s totals.
The Colts sophomore has a bright future in the league, but he is likely to come back down to Earth this season. Hilton’s smaller stature and the addition of Heyward-Bey from the Raiders spell out a likely drop in numbers. Hilton’s saving grace will be in leagues that have the dual-threat scoring system for wide receivers who double as punt and kick returners. It is worth noting that Hilton possesses big-play ability as he led all rookies in yards after the catch with 386 and finished 11th overall among his fellow NFL pass catchers.
A two-game suspension and immaturity could hamper the growth of Josh Gordon for at least another season. After the first four weeks of last season, fellow rookie and teammate Travis Benjamin had more fantasy points than Gordon. Over the last three games of last season, the 2012 Browns’ supplemental draft choice also had the third-worst fantasy points per opportunity among NFL wide receivers taking at least 60 percent of a team’s snaps. It looks as if the dip in output will continue into the first few weeks of the 2013 NFL season. If Benjamin makes a solid impression while starting in Gordon’s place then pass distribution Gordon’s way could dwindle.
From a quick glance of the chart above we see that Titans rookie Kendall Wright finished tied for the most rookie receptions in 2013 with Justin Blackmon, despite 34 fewer targets. Wright also led all Titan receivers in targets while performing in only 15 games and managing only to be on the field for 59.8 percent of the offensive snaps. Wright’s average depth of throws (aDOT) his way was a 6.5-yard average indicating an attempt by the Titans to get the ball to Wright quickly and letting him utilize his run-after-the-catch ability. Wright finished 22nd in the NFL in yards after contact (YAC) and second among rookies in the category behind only Hilton. Wright could be the cream of the second-year crop assuming the Titans offense becomes more apt at staying on the field.
Chris Givens is one of the harder players to gauge. He could explode in his second season and then again he could end up with a mediocre season. One in every three passes thrown Chris Givens’ way was 20 yards or more. The Rams rookie had an aDOT of 15.5, good for third best in the NFL among receivers with 75 targets or more. The Rams say they will use Givens at both the “Y” and the “X” position more this year. Yet with all the new toys in St. Louis – namely 2013 rookie Tavon Austin, free agent acquisition Jared Cook, and under-utilized second-year wide receiver Brian Quick – getting into the mix, it’s tough to project an increase in fantasy output for Givens.
If you stopped paying attention to fantasy numbers in Week 17, you missed Floyd blow up with eight receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown in the last game of his rookie season. While his mental mistakes were well documented throughout the year, he ended the season tied for the team lead in points per opportunity with 0.28. The last nine weeks of the season, he was not the most-targeted receiver for the Cardinals, but he did manage to lead the team in receptions, yards, and fantasy output. Taking over where Floyd left off at 2012 season’s end, reports out of Cardinals’ mini-camp last month signaled the second-year wide receiver as the No. 1 target in camp among all pass catchers. Bruce Arians has obvious plans for the 6’3″ wide receiver and it’s safe to assume a sizeable increase in output for Michael Floyd.
The Bills second-year receiver is worthy of a flier if your roster has an open spot. Donald Jones left via free agency, giving Graham the opportunity to inherit some of Jones’ 62 targets and four touchdowns from last season. Graham led the Bills in aDOT, helping to set 0.17 points per opportunity in his rookie season. The 28 percent rookie-year-to-sophomore-year average increase in statistical output increases Graham’s season numbers to approximately 90 points total. Given a larger part of the receiving workload, we can see Graham becoming a nice complement to Stevie Johnson.