In fact, four of the first six players picked two Aprils ago -- RGIII, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne -- are enduring down seasons. With that in mind, I thought I'd take a look at those guys and four more first-round selections from 2012 who are stumbling in their second NFL go-around. Some of these players are going through traditional "sophomore slumps" after making promising debuts; others are still working to get their careers off the ground in the first place.
The old rule of thumb is that it takes three years to truly know what you have in a prospect. Thus, these players still have some time to turn things around, but with the 2013 season nearly complete, they're running out of rope.
Robert Griffin III, QB
If Robert Griffin III looked like Secretariat when he played his way to the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012, he was more like a horse in a claiming race this year, with sizable dips in both completion percentage (65.6 to 60.1) and quarterback rating (102.4 to 82.2) and a jump in interceptions (five to 12). Moreover, he just didn't have the same kind of quickness he displayed while rushing for 815 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. This year, RGIII ran like he was trudging through sand in cement shoes.
The steep price that the Redskins paid for the right to draft Griffin -- four picks, including first-rounders in 2012, 2013 and 2014 -- might seem even steeper now, thanks to the lackluster play and drama that surrounded his benching with three weeks left in the regular season. But anyone tempted to write him off as some kind of one-year wonder would be making a mistake. Remember, he looked as good as eventual No. 1 pick Andrew Luck in the run-up to the draft, so much so that there was some question as to who would be selected first. And despite all that has transpired in 2013, the future is still bright for RGIII.
Ironically, the trait that likely led RGIII to come back from major knee surgery too quickly -- his intensely competitive nature -- should serve him well going forward, at least as far as continuing to grow as a football player is concerned. He appeared to have trouble reading defenses this season, but with some additional offseason work -- and with the right coaching, whether on the part of Mike Shanahan or someone else -- that can be corrected. He'll also benefit from having some time to develop better instincts in the pocket. The early return to the field might have hampered his growth as a quarterback, but I think he has what it takes to come back as a signal-caller capable of taking a team to the playoffs.
Trent Richardson, RB
Richardson has struggled since the Colts traded a 2014 first-rounder for him early this season. In 12 games with Indianapolis, Richardson has rushed for just 390 yards -- at a low average of 2.9 per carry -- and two touchdowns, and he was benched at the beginning of December in favor of longtime backup Donald Brown. But that rough stretch has stemmed largely, I think, from a lack of familiarity with the system in Indy and a less-than-stellar Colts offensive line. At this point, I definitely would not dismiss Richardson's potential ability to contribute at the NFL level, given a full offseason and training camp to get used to his new team. As a tough, competitive player who blocks and can catch, Richardson can be a good complement to quarterback Andrew Luck.
That said, I don't think he'll ever be more than he was as a rookie: a solid if unspectacular starter who gains between 900 and 1,000 yards per year. He just doesn't have the kind of quickness needed to be a Pro Bowl-type player. At the college level, Richardson was able to overpower people inside, but against the bigger defenders in the NFL, quickness is what counts. Thus, Richardson will never do much better than the 3.6 yards per carry he managed for the Browns in 2012. That's not bad, but is it the kind of production that merits giving up a first-round pick?
Justin Blackmon, WR
Suspensions aside, I thought Blackmon was picked too high by the Jags in 2012. I rated the receiver somewhere around the 20th pick based on talent alone, and that wasn't taking into account any potential for off-the-field issues. I'm not sure he has the physical traits to be a top receiver in the NFL, regardless of whether he's able to stay on the straight and narrow going forward.
That's not to say he can't be a key contributor down the line. After all, he did rack up 415 yards in four appearances this season, putting him on pace to easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark had he finished out the year. Blackmon has very good body control and a knack for gaining position on an opposing defender, meaning he can move the chains with his catches. He's also an intense competitor. I just don't see anything exceptional here. Blackmon can be a solid pro, but he won't approach Dez Bryant or Calvin Johnson territory. And of course, everything is dependent on his ability to stay out of trouble in the future.
Morris Claiborne, CB
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In the two years that I've been watching Claiborne -- on film, in games and during my annual visits to Cowboys training camp -- I can't remember seeing one "wow" play. His numbers don't equate to his high draft position -- especially not for someone who cost Dallas a first- and second-round choice. He also has an alarmingly low number of passes defensed (eight in 2012, six in 2013) and interceptions (one in each season). Yes, Claiborne has been dogged by injury issues and hampered by the Cowboys' lack of pass rush, but still, he just hasn't looked good covering receivers and is not a playmaker.
The light could yet come on for Claiborne, who did excel at LSU, especially as he continues to learn how to operate in pro schemes. At this point, though, I don't see him starting next season, slotting in as more of a third cornerback.
Shea McClellin, DE
McClellin has struggled to make an impact this season on the Bears' defensive line, collecting just 3.5 sacks in 12 games. Moreover, three of those sacks came in one contest: against the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. Not to mention, those three sacks were of the coverage variety, the result of the quarterback being flushed from the pocket. (Yes, his first sack in that game was the one that interrupted Aaron Rodgers' season.) Film of McClellin shows that he's unable to beat blockers one-on-one; he gets washed away in the running game and has not been much of a pass rusher. Opposing offensive linemen are simply able to control him with their longer arms and superior strength.
Heading into the 2012 NFL Draft, I thought a lack of size and strength would keep the Boise State product from going earlier than the middle of the second round. I also saw him as more of a right outside linebacker than a defensive end. If he stays on the defensive line, I think he'll be a backup player going forward; I can't see him ever getting big enough to be more than that. He has a chance to possibly start at outside linebacker for a team that runs a 3-4, though of course it's very tough for someone who plays with their hand on the ground to learn to work in space. All that said, McClellin is a great competitor and a hard worker with outstanding character and intelligence, ingredients that will give his coaches a chance to do something with him.
A.J. Jenkins, WR
Jenkins was a surprise first-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers, who usually do a good job in the draft. I had him rated as a mid-third or fourth-round pick, with his straight-line speed being one of the only things that really stood out about him. He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he has not played up to that speed in pads.
Jenkins' coaches at Illinois did a great job moving him around and finding optimal matchups for him, but that strategy hasn't held up against pro defenders. His lack of strength has hurt him against press coverage. He has OK but not great hands, though he can catch the ball high if he's extending. Last season, he played in just three games with the Niners, failing to record a single stat before being traded to the Chiefs in August. Jenkins hasn't fared much better in Kansas City, collecting all of five catches for 63 yards in 14 games. I don't think he'll ever overcome his negative traits to become a starter.
Doug Martin, RB
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After putting together a Pro Bowl-caliber rookie campaign, the "Muscle Hamster" had what was, for all intents and purposes, a lost year, with lackluster production preceding what proved to be a season-ending shoulder injuryin Week 7. Through six starts, Martin had just 456 rushing yards and one touchdown, and his per-carry average dipped a full yard, from 4.6 in 2012 to 3.6 in 2013. In Martin's absence, he was outpaced by both Mike James (a sixth-round draft pick this year) and Bobby Rainey (who was cast aside by the Ravens and Browns before landing with the Bucs). James posted a higher yards-per-carry number (4.9) before also going down with a season-ending injury, while Rainey has thus far topped Martin in both rushing yards (460) and touchdowns (four).
But concerns about Martin's future are premature. Yes, he stumbled to start the season -- but then, so did the rest of the Buccaneers, hampered by the instability at the quarterback position, what with Josh Freeman's struggles and subsequent acrimonious release. The team's overall poor play is to blame for Martin's rocky year, not any specific issues with the running back himself.
Since Martin's untimely exit, the Bucs have turned things around, putting together a 4-4 record behind rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. If Martin had stayed healthy, I think he would have done just as well as James and Rainey, finishing with a respectable yardage total. I fully expect Martin -- who has a thick build, good short-area quickness, an ability to explode out of his cuts and, most importantly, top-notch work habits -- to return to his 1,000-yard, 50-catch form next season.
David Wilson, RB
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After finishing strong as a rookie, Wilson never really got going in 2013, rushing for just 146 yards in five games and coughing up two fumbles -- one more than touchdowns scored. His season ended when he was placed on injured reserve in November after suffering a neck injury in Week 5.
Even if Wilson is able to return in time for the 2014 season, I'm not sure he has what it takes to be a starter. He's an athlete with great straight-line speed, but he lacks power. I haven't seen the quickness and inside ability needed to be successful in the NFL. He also obviously would need to take better care of the ball, and he's not a very good blocker. As a running back, Wilson projects as backup material.
If he has a future in this league, it's as a kick returner. In fact, I think he could excel for years to come in that position -- of course, it's tough to spend a first-round pick on a kick returner.