Several first-year players made a huge impact last season -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner among them. Doing it again, however, will prove to be a different challenge for these second-year stars; just ask Cam Newton, who saw his passing yards, completion percentage and total touchdowns decrease in Year 2. Which player could suffer a sophomore slump in 2013?
Effects of injury could make Robert Griffin III stumbleRobert Griffin III is the most likely candidate to experience a sophomore slump. The recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament injury will force him to alter aspects of his game until he is fully comfortable on the field. This could eliminate some of the improvisational runs that made him so dangerous in 2012, forcing him to spend more time operating from the pocket. While Griffin thrived as a passer last season, we should remember that the threat of play action, particularly in the zone-read, created bigger passing windows for him over the middle of the field. With defensive coordinators fearing the QB run less, opponents will drop more defenders into coverage and force RGIII to be more precise with his throws.
Another contributing factor to a potential Griffin slump will be the adjusted game plans opponents will utilize against the Washington Redskins after spending the offseason breaking down the pistol offense. Last season, the Redskins surprised the NFL by using an innovative college scheme as their base offense; teams were not prepared to deal with the deception and misdirection this involved. However, an exhaustive study of the tactics will lead to different defensive approaches, possibly resulting in confusion from Griffin in the pocket. As indecisiveness generally begets mistakes and turnovers, it's quite possible that the Redskins' franchise quarterback will struggle in 2013.
Look for Andrew Luck's Colts to struggle a bitI think Andrew Luck will improve statistically in 2013, completing a higher percentage of passes and boosting his touchdown-to-interception ratio, but I expect his team to regress a bit. Last year, the Indianapolis Colts won 11 games despite being outscored by 30 points -- becoming the first team in the history of the National Football League to win that many games while scoring less than the opposition. The Colts were also 9-1 in games that were decided by one touchdown or less, which is unheard of.
I don't think you can ever say the Colts can't pull off that kind of season again, but I've never heard of it happening for a team in consecutive years. Thus, I see them winning about two fewer games in 2013. So while Luck might continue to get better on a personal level, I think when we look back on his second season and see that his team performed worse than it did in his rookie campaign, some folks might say it was a disappointment.
Don't expect too much from RGIIIRobert Griffin III is the easy choice here because of his injury. In our post-Adrian Peterson world, too many folks just assume players can come back from torn ACLs as good as new, but Griffin is a 23-year-old playing the most difficult position in sports. Think of Tom Brady, who went through a bit of a "slump" in his first year back from a torn ACL. The injury affects not just mobility, but also accuracy and confidence in the pocket.
Griffin could still be a very good player in his second year, but it would be natural for him to take a step back.
Can Doug Martin keep burning up the league?Doug Martin could have a tough time replicating his numbers from 2012, when he racked up an astonishing 1,926 yards from scrimmage with 12 touchdowns. He won't be sneaking up on anyone this year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line certainly is not bad, but it's not necessarily a powerhouse, either. Martin did a lot on his own last season, especially when he eclipsed 250 yards rushing in a huge outing against the Oakland Raiders. This season, however, Oakland isn't on the schedule. In fact, Tampa Bay draws the AFC East, which should have better defenses as a whole than the AFC West fielded last year.
Martin reminds me so much of Tiki Barber. Can he take the pounding of 300-plus touches the way Barber did? Martin had a ridiculous 368 touches last year, third most in the NFL. It's going to be tough for a guy his size to maintain that kind of workload. This is not to disparage Martin, who is a special player; rather, I'm simply wondering aloud if he can do it, year in and year out, at his rookie pace.
Opponents getting ready to stop Russell WilsonI find it hard not to think that Russell Wilson is going to regress this season. With an entire offseason to game plan, opponents are going to find a way to cause traffic in front of him and take away the throwing lanes a quarterback with restricted height needs to succeed. The Seattle Seahawks are so talented everywhere else that it might not be a glaring development, but it will be present.
Compare him to Doug Flutie. Wilson is a little more mobile and has a slightly stronger arm, but players are bigger and faster than they were when Flutie was in his heyday. Wilson still will be capable of making big plays and winning games with his moxie, but he's going to have his fair share of clunkers, as well.
None of the above?Cam Newton did suffer a bit of a "sophomore slump" in 2012, though I think it might be a bit of an exaggeration to characterize his season that way. As to the question, I see all three of the aforementioned second-year quarterbacks improving. Andrew Luck should cut down on his interceptions in the West Coast offense. Robert Griffin III won't run as much, but remember, he threw just five interceptions last season, and he's very accurate. Russell Wilson will get a full training camp as the starter, so he's good.
I might be tempted to say Alfred Morris is in for a down year because of the decreased carries that often seem to come with "Shanahanigans." But former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis saw his attempts increase every season in four years with Mike Shanahan. Doug Martin, meanwhile, will also be in a position to run a lot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner also should improve.
So while it's not sexy to say, and history has shown that this prediction won't come true, I'll make like Richard Pryor in "Brewster's Millions" and say, "None of the above."
How will the league react to the spread option?The biggest question in the run-up to the season is this: Have the league's defensive coordinators devised a plan to stop -- or at least slow -- the spread option?
If you'll recall, we were assured late last season by old-school analysts that the new crop of fleet-footed young guns would be marginalized in 2013, once opposing coaches got a chance to break down tape. If those coaches made use of their spring, Robert Griffin III and (to a slightly lesser degree) Russell Wilson can expect their numbers to regress in Year 2.