Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and the Myth of the QB Sophomore Slump

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 22, 2012



Cam NewtonOne of the debates this summer is whether or not second-year quarterbacks Cam Newton and Andy Dalton will suffer a sophomore slump after their rookie success.

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco has been all over the angle, but nowhere to be found was any strong historical analysis that proves if the quarterback sophomore slump is real, or just another myth that generates discussion in the dog days of the NFL year.

After seeing another CBS article botch the topic by incorrectly including Marc Bulger, it was time for the Cold, Hard Football Facts to intervene with a Super Study to set the record straight.

As you will see, the research process was difficult, but we emerged with the definitive proof that the quarterback sophomore slump is a myth.

Oh it used to be real, but that was over 30 years ago.

That text is bolder than the claim itself. Just hearing the words “sophomore slump” for a quarterback should sound like a fallacy to fans when the few players that have actually been good right away came back with another great season.

Who can forget sophomore Dan Marino having one of the greatest seasons in NFL history in 1984, or Ben Roethlisberger becoming the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 2005?

What slump?

It may not come as a surprise, but the history of rookie quarterbacks and sophomore slumps falls under murky territory with strict rules for what actually counts as a NFL rookie season, and shaky research that includes some players that were not even rookies or sophomores in the years others have studied.

We worked it all out, and also will offer the much needed historical context for how rookie quarterback success has been so rare, yet so abundant in just the last few years.

 

Framing the QB Sophomore Slump

At its crux, the sophomore slump is a trap term. For a player to avoid it, they have to be really good. The problem is they had to be good in the first place to even suggest the idea they could suffer a sophomore slump.

You can’t fall without first getting up.

Do you see anyone predicting a sophomore slump for 2011 rookies like Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder? No. Those players struggled last year, and will just be hoping for job security as they try to improve this season.

Also, no one talks about a sophomore slump for Tennessee’s Jake Locker, because he did not play enough last season (no starts and 66 pass attempts). We are still waiting to see how good he is.

If the sophomore slump is for the player that did something positive as a rookie, then we must study the right players to see if it is real or not.

 

The Initial Dataset

Getting the right data was much harder than you might have expected. We will detail the process step by step.

First, the cutoff season was 1950, which is often a good cutoff year since it somewhat signifies the end of the two-way player era, and is when the AAFC disbanded and the NFL absorbed a few new teams (Cleveland, San Francisco).

With respect to Sammy Baugh (1937) and Bob Waterfield (1945), who won championships as rookies, the pre-1950 era resembles the dark ages for the forward pass.

An honorable mention to Charlie Conerly for his excellent rookie season in 1948 for the New York Giants when he threw 22 touchdowns, which is still second in NFL history by a rookie, only trailing Peyton Manning’s 26.

His 1949 season was not nearly as successful.

A minimum of five starts and 100 pass attempts were chosen for no real reason other than they are nice, round figures that should accomplish the goal of using rookies with some type of success on a big enough sample size.

This would eliminate a player like Mike Kruczek, who kept the seat warm for injured Terry Bradshaw on the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. Kruczek went 6-0 as a starter to set a NFL rookie record for consecutive wins that would be broken by Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, but Kruczek only threw 85 passes.

That is not the type of quarterback you would want to study for a sophomore slump anyway. Bradshaw was the starter of choice.

Using the Pro-Football-Reference Play Index, we were able to search for rookie quarterbacks that met the specific requirements.

Warning: Searching for rookies on PFR is actually searching for players in the first season they saw regular season action. If a player sat on the bench his entire rookie season like a Carson Palmer (2003) or Marc Bulger (2001), then they will not show up in the results with the correct rookie season. Instead you will get 2004 for Palmer and 2002 for Bulger.

This returned 143 results, which was then filtered down by removing all the players that had rookie seasons that involved a lot of clipboard holding and no game appearances.

That gave us an initial sample of 127 “rookie” quarterbacks since 1950 with at least five starts and 100 pass attempts.

 

Active Sophomore QB’s

Since they are just entering their sophomore season, these five quarterbacks were excluded from the study.

Quarterback

Year

Team

GP

GS

Record

Att.

Comp.

Pct.

Yards

TD

INT

PR

Cam Newton

2011

CAR

16

16

6-10

517

310

60.0

4051

21

17

84.5

Andy Dalton

2011

CIN

16

16

9-7

516

300

58.1

3398

20

13

80.4

Blaine Gabbert

2011

JAX

15

14

4-10

413

210

50.8

2214

12

11

65.4

Christian Ponder

2011

MIN

11

10

2-8

291

158

54.3

1853

13

13

70.1

T.J. Yates

2011

HOU

6

5

2-3

134

82

61.2

949

3

3

80.7

 

Newton and Dalton are the big focus for this year, but even Yates would fit the bill for someone that played well enough to expect a slump from. However, Matt Schaub is back and Yates should only be the backup.

Gabbert and Ponder must first improve before anyone thinks about them declining further.

 

The Sub-50.0 Rookies

There were 25 quarterbacks with a passer rating under 50.0 as a rookie, which is well below league average, even when going back to several years before the 1970 merger. It would be nearly impossible for these players to “slump” any lower. Forget raising the bar. Some just left it on the floor that first season.

Here is your “Terrible 25”, which includes two Hall of Famers and two other league MVP winners. Notice only Ryan Leaf (1998) and Alex Smith (2005) appear from the Live-Ball era (post-1978). Only Joe Ferguson (9-5) had more than four wins (thanks to the most run-heavy offense since 1970), and Jack Scarbath (4-3) was the only other player with a winning record.

 

Quarterback

Year

Team

GP

GS

Record

Att.

Comp.

Pct.

Yards

TD

INT

PR

Alex Smith

2005

SF

9

7

2-5

165

84

50.9

875

1

11

40.8

Ryan Leaf

1998

SD

10

9

3-6

245

111

45.3

1289

2

15

39.0

Joe Pisarcik

1977

NYG

13

11

4-7

241

103

42.7

1346

4

14

42.3

David Whitehurst

1977

GB

7

5

2-3

105

50

47.6

634

1

7

42.3

Jim Zorn

1976

SEA

14

14

2-12

439

208

47.4

2571

12

27

49.5

Richard Todd

1976

NYJ

13

6

2-4

162

65

40.1

870

3

12

33.2

Brian Sipe

1974

CLE

10

5

2-3

108

59

54.6

603

1

7

47.0

Dan Fouts

1973

SD

10

6

0-5-1

194

87

44.8

1126

6

13

46.0

Joe Ferguson

1973

BUF

14

14

9-5

164

73

44.5

939

4

10

45.8

Bert Jones

1973

CLT

8

5

1-4

108

43

39.8

539

4

12

28.8

Scott Hunter

1971

GB

13

10

4-5-1

163

75

46.0

1210

7

17

46.1

Dan Pastorini

1971

HOU

14

8

4-4

270

127

47.0

1702

7

21

43.8

Terry Bradshaw

1970

PIT

13

8

3-5

218

83

38.1

1410

6

24

30.4

Terry Hanratty

1969

PIT

8

5

0-5

126

52

41.3

716

8

13

41.7

Tom Sherman

1968

BOS

14

7

1-6

226

90

39.8

1199

12

16

45.6

Dan Darragh

1968

BUF

11

7

1-6

215

92

42.8

917

3

14

33.0

Kent Nix

1967

PIT

12

9

3-6

268

136

50.7

1587

8

19

49.5

Joe Kapp

1967

MIN

13

11

3-5-3

214

102

47.7

1386

8

17

48.2

Max Choboian

1966

DEN

14

7

3-4

163

82

50.3

1110

4

12

49.9

Randy Johnson

1966

ATL

14

11

3-8

295

129

43.7

1795

12

21

47.8

George Wilson

1966

MIA

14

7

2-5

112

46

41.1

764

5

10

42.4

John Hadl

1962

SD

14

10

1-9

260

107

41.2

1632

15

24

43.3

Lamar McHan

1954

CRD

12

11

1-10

255

105

41.2

1475

6

22

32.4

Jack Scarbath

1953

WAS

12

7

4-3

129

45

34.9

862

9

12

43.5

Tobin Rote

1950

GB

12

12

3-9

224

83

37.1

1231

7

24

26.7

 

Did these players get better in year two as sophomores? Of course most did. Hard not to in these 25 scenarios. If they did not shape up, then they shipped out.

Such was the case of George Wilson on the expansion Miami Dolphins. Even with his dad coaching the team, Wilson was one-and-done after a tough 1966 season.

The AFL had a few bad apples. Max Choboian was one-and-done in Denver after 1964. Dan Darragh had a rotten three-year career with the Bills, and Tom Sherman was shipped from Boston to Buffalo during his second season in 1969. He would only throw two more passes in his career.

Citing the second-year improvement of the other quarterbacks here would be useless, as they were never in a position to be good enough to slump.

As a society we tend to reward the most minimal of achievement, but that will not happen at the Cold, Hard Football Facts. These 25 were excluded from the main study.

 

Other Exclusions

We know we wanted a minimum of five starts and 100 pass attempts. We did not want the most brutal of passing seasons. But there were still various restrictions, which eliminated 30 more quarterbacks, and they are the following batch:

 

Quarterback

Year

Team

GP

GS

Record

Att.

Comp.

Pct.

Yards

TD

INT

PR

Jimmy Clausen

2010

CAR

13

10

1-9

299

157

52.5

1558

3

9

58.4

Matthew Stafford

2009

DET

10

10

2-8

377

201

53.3

2267

13

20

61.0

Bruce Gradkowski

2006

TB

13

11

3-8

328

177

54.0

1661

9

9

65.9

Kyle Orton

2005

CHI

15

15

10-5

368

190

51.6

1869

9

13

59.7

Craig Krenzel

2004

CHI

6

5

3-2

127

59

46.5

718

3

6

52.5

Chad Hutchinson

2002

DAL

9

9

2-7

250

127

50.8

1555

7

8

66.3

Chris Weinke

2001

CAR

15

15

1-14

540

293

54.3

2931

11

19

62.0

Jeff Garcia

1999

SF

13

10

2-8

375

225

60.0

2544

11

11

77.9

Tom Hodson

1990

NE

7

6

0-6

156

85

54.5

968

4

5

68.5

Kelly Stouffer

1988

SEA

8

6

3-3

173

98

56.6

1106

4

6

69.2

Chris Chandler

1988

IND

15

13

9-4

233

129

55.4

1619

8

12

67.2

Jim Kelly

1986

BUF

16

16

4-12

480

285

59.4

3593

22

17

83.3

Dieter Brock

1985

RAM

15

15

11-4

365

218

59.7

2658

16

13

82.0

Bobby Hebert

1985

NO

6

6

2-4

181

97

53.6

1208

5

4

74.6

Warren Moon

1984

HOU

16

16

3-13

450

259

57.6

3338

12

14

76.9

Jeff Komlo

1979

DET

16

14

2-12

368

183

49.7

2238

11

23

52.8

Pat Haden

1976

RAM

10

7

5-1-1

105

60

57.1

896

8

4

94.8

Tom Owen

1974

SF

10

7

4-3

184

88

47.8

1327

10

15

56.1

John Reaves

1972

PHI

11

7

0-7

224

108

48.2

1508

7

12

58.4

Bobby Douglass

1969

CHI

11

7

1-6

148

68

45.9

773

5

8

50.9

Greg Cook

1969

CIN

11

11

4-6-1

197

106

53.8

1854

15

11

88.3

Marlin Briscoe

1968

DEN

11

5

2-3

224

93

41.5

1589

14

13

62.9

Virgil Carter

1968

CHI

7

5

4-1

122

55

45.1

769

4

5

59.8

Norm Snead

1961

WAS

14

14

1-12-1

375

172

45.9

2337

11

22

51.6

Butch Songin

1960

BOS

14

12

4-8

392

187

47.7

2476

22

15

70.9

George Shaw

1955

CLT

12

12

5-6-1

237

119

50.2

1586

10

19

52.5

Zeke Bratkowski

1954

CHI

12

5

4-1

130

67

51.5

1087

8

17

60.8

Al Dorow

1954

WAS

11

5

2-3

138

70

50.7

997

8

17

54.2

Jim Root

1953

CRD

11

6

0-5-1

192

80

41.7

1149

8

11

51.8

Bob Celeri

1951

NYY

11

8

1-6-1

238

102

42.9

1797

12

15

59.8

 

There are several reasons for excluding these quarterbacks.

Lack of sophomore sample size: Many did not play enough the following season (less than 100 attempts), so it was hard to really judge their sophomore season in comparison to the rookie year.

Not playing enough does not mean a direct sign of a slump, as in many cases the player either was injured (Matthew Stafford in 2010, Chris Chandler in 1989), or he was never intended to be the guy in the first place as a rookie (Bruce Gradkowski, Kyle Orton, Craig Krenzel, etc.).

Denver’s Marlin Briscoe was cut and moved from a quarterback to a wide receiver on Buffalo for his second season.

How did Johnny Unitas become a legend for the Baltimore Colts? George Shaw, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1955 draft, was injured in his second season. Unitas was very impressive as a rookie in Shaw’s place, and like that, history was rewritten. The Colts would trade Shaw in 1959 to the New York Giants.

There is also the awkward case of Dieter Brock. If you thought Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden (28) was old for a rookie, look at the 34-year-old Brock on the 1985 Los Angeles Rams after coming over from the CFL.

Brock had good numbers, including 2,658 yards, 16 TD, 13 INT, 82.0 passer rating, all while leading the Rams to an 11-4 record and NFC Championship appearance.

And like that, he was gone. Retired from football, Brock never had a sophomore season in the NFL.

If you are talking about Cam Newton, then consider that twice Carolina had to move on from a bad season with a rookie. First it was Chris Weinke in 2001, and of course Jimmy Clausen in 2010, which led to Carolina drafting Newton first overall in 2011. Clausen never saw the field last season, thus no sophomore season to speak of.

Speaking of Clausen, some of these 28 players fall under the “too terrible to slump” category. For example, Norm Snead was the lowest-rated passer (51.6) in the NFL in 1961. The only reason they were not included in the previous section was they had a passer rating higher than 50.0.

Player must have had consecutive seasons of play: Zeke Bratkowski was a rookie in 1954 for Chicago, but then spent the next two years in the Air Force before returning to the Bears in 1957. That is very admirable, but it takes him out of the study for the sophomore slump.

Jim Root’s only two NFL seasons were in 1953 and 1956 for the Cardinals.

A more tragic case would be Greg Cook, who was outstanding as a rookie for Cincinnati in 1969, but a torn rotator cuff dashed any dreams of a long career. Cook’s only other game would be in 1973 as he unsuccessfully attempted a comeback.

Rookies who were not officially rookies: The NFL does not officially recognize the prolific Jim Kelly (1986), Warren Moon (1984) and Butch Songin (1960) as actual rookies in NFL history. This is because of their pre-NFL affiliation with other professional leagues like the CFL and USFL.

Jeff Garcia, Pat Haden, Dieter Brock and Joe Kapp also fall under this. Otto Graham, because he played in the AAFC for the Cleveland Browns, is another example of a NFL player that essentially does not have a rookie season. Y.A. Tittle also had his start in the AAFC.

That is why Kelly (3,593 yards) and Moon (3,338 yards) are not recognized as the first two rookie quarterbacks to exceed 3,000 yards passing in a season. Likewise, Butch Songin’s 22 touchdown passes for the 1960 Patriots at age 36, which would rank tied for second all time, are ignored in rookie record books.

Pat Haden and Dieter Brock do not receive credit for being the first post-merger rookies to win a playoff game. Instead that goes to Shaun King in 1999.

For what it’s worth, as sophomores, Kelly was largely the same player in 1987, and Moon regressed a little in 1985.

 

Not Done Yet

After three rounds of logical, necessary cuts, we were down to 67 cases, with each presenting a quarterback that threw at least 100 passes in both his rookie and sophomore seasons. However, this was still not ready to be studied for sophomore slumps.

We still had too many bad rookie seasons in the data. That included some well-known No. 1 overall picks who struggled their first year: John Elway, Troy Aikman and Eli Manning.

It would be silly to talk about a sophomore slump for these players when they showed so little as rookies. All were considerably better as sophomores, but that should not factor into the sophomore slump.

This is where things got dicey and more subjective. However, a rule was established, albeit with some exceptions, and that was to use the passer rating index (Rate+) on PFR’s Advanced Passing table, and only include players that were a 90 or higher. A mark of 100 is considered average.

This will help adjust for the era and would eliminate the really bad seasons, but only when considering the passer rating.

Players like Aikman and Jack Trudeau were the lowest-ranked passer in the league in their rookie seasons. Kerry Collins and Kyle Boller were next to last. Doug Williams was No. 26 out of 28 in 1978. Joey Harrington and David Carr were the worst in 2002.

Those are seasons you would want to kick out anyway.

Even though Tony Banks was at 90, we made a change by replacing him with Vince Young (81), who won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, and even made it to the Pro Bowl as a replacement. An exception should be made for someone that achieves that, even if it may not have been a deserving distinction.

Banks fumbled 21 times, was sacked 48 times for a league-worst 306 yards lost, and Football Outsiders ranked him last in the league in DYAR in 1996, and 44th in DVOA.

With all of this information, it only seemed right to make the swap. Here are the 32 final exclusions of rookie seasons that were not good enough for a slump:

 

Quarterback

Year

Team

GP

GS

Record

Att.

Comp.

Pct.

Yards

TD

INT

PR

Colt McCoy

2010

CLE

8

8

2-6

222

135

60.8

1576

6

9

74.5

Josh Freeman

2009

TB

10

9

3-6

290

158

54.5

1855

10

18

59.8

Mark Sanchez

2009

NYJ

15

15

8-7

364

196

53.8

2444

12

20

63.0

Trent Edwards

2007

BUF

10

9

5-4

269

151

56.1

1630

7

8

70.4

Charlie Frye

2005

CLE

7

5

2-3

164

98

59.8

1002

4

5

72.8

Eli Manning

2004

NYG

9

7

1-6

197

95

48.2

1043

6

9

55.4

Kyle Boller

2003

BAL

11

9

5-4

224

116

51.8

1260

7

9

62.4

Patrick Ramsey

2002

WAS

10

5

2-3

227

117

51.5

1539

9

8

71.8

Joey Harrington

2002

DET

14

12

3-9

429

215

50.1

2294

12

16

59.9

David Carr

2002

HOU

16

16

4-12

444

233

52.5

2592

9

15

62.8

Quincy Carter

2001

DAL

8

8

3-5

176

90

51.1

1072

5

7

63.0

Donovan McNabb

1999

PHI

12

6

2-4

216

106

49.1

948

8

7

60.1

Cade McNown

1999

CHI

15

6

2-4

235

127

54.0

1465

8

10

66.7

Tony Banks

1996

RAM

14

13

5-8

368

192

52.2

2544

15

15

71.0

Kerry Collins

1995

CAR

15

13

7-6

433

214

49.4

2717

14

19

61.9

Heath Shuler

1994

WAS

11

8

1-7

265

120

45.3

1658

10

12

59.6

Rick Mirer

1993

SEA

16

16

6-10

486

274

56.4

2833

12

17

67.0

Drew Bledsoe

1993

NE

13

12

5-7

429

214

49.9

2494

15

15

65.0

Rodney Peete

1989

DET

8

8

3-5

195

103

52.8

1479

5

9

67.0

Troy Aikman

1989

DAL

11

11

0-11

293

155

52.9

1749

9

18

55.7

Billy Joe Tolliver

1989

SD

5

5

2-3

185

89

48.1

1097

5

8

57.9

Steve Walsh

1989

DAL

8

5

1-4

219

110

50.2

1371

5

9

60.5

Jack Trudeau

1986

IND

12

11

0-11

417

204

48.9

2225

8

18

53.5

Steve Young

1985

TB

5

5

1-4

138

72

52.2

935

3

8

56.9

John Elway

1983

DEN

11

10

4-6

259

123

47.5

1663

7

14

54.9

Mike Pagel

1982

CLT

9

9

0-8-1

221

111

50.2

1281

5

7

62.4

Neil Lomax

1981

CRD

14

7

4-3

236

119

50.4

1575

4

10

59.9

David Woodley

1980

MIA

13

11

6-5

327

176

53.8

1850

14

17

63.1

Steve Fuller

1979

KC

16

12

6-6

270

146

54.1

1484

6

14

55.8

Doug Williams

1978

TB

10

10

4-6

194

73

37.6

1170

7

8

53.4

Karl Sweetan

1966

DET

10

8

2-5-1

309

157

50.8

1809

4

14

54.3

Bill Munson

1964

RAM

11

8

2-4-2

223

108

48.4

1533

9

15

56.5

 

The only players from the 32 to play worse as sophomores were Heath Shuler in 1995 and Karl Sweetan in 1967. Even those are not significant slumps.

Steve Walsh was traded from Dallas to New Orleans, so he did not progress with the same team. Not like Jimmy Johnson should have drafted Walsh and Troy Aikman together in the first place.

Mark Sanchez is the only player here to win a playoff game. He may have reached the AFC Championship in 2009, but his 23 turnovers were detrimental to the team, who really only made it thanks to the Colts passing on perfection in Week 16.

Like so many of these 32, Sanchez did get better as a sophomore, but we feel good about keeping him in this list.

 

The Sophomore Slump Study

Finally, we had our 35 quarterbacks to look at for the sophomore slump. Without further ado, here they are.

 

Quarterback

Year

Team

GP

GS

Record

Att.

Comp.

Pct.

Yards

TD

INT

PR

Sam Bradford

2010

RAM

16

16

7-9

590

354

60.0

3512

18

15

76.5

Matt Ryan

2008

ATL

16

16

11-5

434

265

61.1

3440

16

11

87.7

Joe Flacco

2008

BAL

16

16

11-5

428

257

60.0

2971

14

12

80.3

Jay Cutler

2006

DEN

5

5

2-3

137

81

59.1

1001

9

5

88.5

Matt Leinart

2006

CRD

12

11

4-7

377

214

56.8

2547

11

12

74.0

Vince Young

2006

TEN

15

13

8-5

357

184

51.5

2199

12

13

66.7

Ben Roethlisberger

2004

PIT

14

13

13-0

295

196

66.4

2621

17

11

98.1

Byron Leftwich

2003

JAX

15

13

5-8

418

239

57.2

2819

14

16

73.0

Shaun King

1999

TB

6

5

4-1

146

89

61.0

875

7

4

82.4

Tim Couch

1999

CLE

15

14

2-12

399

223

55.9

2447

15

13

73.2

Charlie Batch

1998

DET

12

12

5-7

303

173

57.1

2178

11

6

83.5

Peyton Manning

1998

IND

16

16

3-13

575

326

56.7

3739

26

28

71.2

Jake Plummer

1997

CRD

10

9

3-6

296

157

53.0

2203

15

15

73.1

Jeff George

1990

IND

13

12

5-7

334

181

54.2

2152

16

13

73.8

Steve Beuerlein

1988

RAI

10

8

4-4

238

105

44.1

1643

8

7

66.6

Don Majkowski

1987

GB

7

5

2-2-1

127

55

43.3

875

5

3

70.2

Jim Everett

1986

RAM

6

5

3-2

147

73

49.7

1018

8

8

67.8

Bernie Kosar

1985

CLE

12

10

4-6

248

124

50.0

1578

8

7

69.3

Dan Marino

1983

MIA

11

9

7-2

296

173

58.4

2210

20

6

96.0

Jim McMahon

1982

CHI

8

7

3-4

210

120

57.1

1501

9

7

79.9

Phil Simms

1979

NYG

12

11

6-5

265

134

50.6

1743

13

14

66.0

Steve Grogan

1975

NE

13

7

1-6

274

139

50.7

1976

11

18

60.4

Steve Bartkowski

1975

ATL

11

11

4-7

255

115

45.1

1662

13

15

59.3

Jim Plunkett

1971

NE

14

14

6-8

328

158

48.2

2158

19

16

68.6

Archie Manning

1971

NO

12

10

3-5-2

177

86

48.6

1164

6

9

60.1

Dennis Shaw

1970

BUF

14

12

3-8-1

321

178

55.5

2507

10

20

65.3

Bob Griese

1967

MIA

12

10

3-7

331

166

50.2

2005

15

18

61.6

Joe Namath

1965

NYJ

13

9

3-5-1

340

164

48.2

2220

18

15

68.7

Mickey Slaughter

1963

DEN

13

7

1-5-1

223

112

50.2

1689

12

15

65.4

Fran Tarkenton

1961

MIN

14

10

2-8

280

157

56.1

1997

18

17

74.7

Sam Etcheverry

1961

CRD

14

9

4-5

196

96

49.0

1275

14

11

70.4

Tom Flores

1960

RAI

14

12

5-7

252

136

54.0

1738

12

12

71.8

Johnny Green

1960

BUF

10

6

3-3

228

89

39.0

1267

10

10

54.1

Johnny Unitas

1956

CLT

12

7

3-4

198

110

55.6

1498

9

10

74.0

Eddie LeBaron

1952

WAS

12

7

1-6

194

96

49.5

1420

14

15

65.7

 

That was the rookie season. Now the real test came in the sophomore season. Adding the results together yielded surprising results.

 

QB Type

Win%

APG

Comp. %

YPG

YPA

TD%

INT%

PR

Rookie

0.440

24.0

54.1

164.3

6.84

4.43

4.18

73.0

Sophomore

0.466

26.6

56.0

183.5

6.91

4.15

4.18

73.9

 

As sophomores, the quarterbacks had a small rise in attempts per game (APG), had a better completion percentage, but they only had a marginal gain in YPA, actually did worse at throwing touchdowns, and saw no difference in their rate of interceptions. The passer rating is not even a full point higher.

While this does not speak well for a second-year improvement, it also debunks the idea of a sophomore slump. Collectively, these players improved by the smallest of margins. They did not decline.

Of course, that is the group collectively. When you look at the individuals, it is easy to see why the quarterback sophomore slump was created. It used to be true.

For the 35 cases, we concluded 20 showed improvement, while 15 suffered some type of sophomore slump. Though not a number to be ignored, that is a minority 42.9 percent for the sophomore slump.

Here are the 15 players we chose for the sophomore slump being real: Eddie LeBaron, Tom Flores, Sam Etcheverry, Fran Tarkenton, Mickey Slaughter, Joe Namath, Dennis Shaw, Jim Plunkett, Steve Bartkowski, Phil Simms, Don Majkowski, Jeff George, Matt Leinart, Matt Ryan, and Sam Bradford.

Rookie quarterback success was so very rare, and the sophomore slump claimed 10 of our first 15 quality rookies. That is two-thirds, and takes us through Phil Simms in 1979.

That also means 15 of our last 20 rookies (75 percent) did not suffer a sophomore slump. Though their may be three recent cases since 2006, the myth of the slump has really been dead since the 80s.

This table perfectly sums up the disappearance of the sophomore slump.

 

Type

Win%

APG

Comp. %

YPG

YPA

TD%

INT%

PR

Rookie 1950-79

0.356

20.3

50.1

138.5

6.81

5.02

5.57

65.8

Sophomore 1951-80

0.324

22.9

50.1

150.4

6.56

4.34

6.19

59.8

Type

Win%

APG

Comp. %

YPG

YPA

TD%

INT%

PR

Rookie 1980-10

0.495

27.0

56.5

185.2

6.85

4.08

3.34

77.4

Sophomore 1981-11

0.553

29.2

59.2

207.1

7.10

4.05

3.05

81.8

 

The worst sophomore slumps happened several decades ago. Think of examples like Eddie LeBaron, Jim Plunkett, Steve Bartkowski, Mickey Slaughter, and Sam Etcheverry.

That is not to say there have not been recent slumps, but they are not on the level of some just mentioned. Some would even argue two of these players were not good enough as rookies to justify the slump.

Matt Ryan was not as good in 2009 as he was his rookie season, but it was still a successful year. He missed two games with injury, or else he may have equaled his record of 11-5, and had even more volume stats as he took on a heavier workload.

Matt Leinart had an underrated rookie season for Arizona in 2006, but under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, he did not get better in 2007. Whisenhunt had him splitting time with Kurt Warner, and in the fifth game of the season, Leinart was lost for the year with a shoulder injury. He also permanently lost his job to Warner in Arizona, and is now considered a bust.

Sam Bradford’s rookie season was overrated to begin with, so maybe not much of a surprise he did not get better last season. In 10 games, Bradford managed just six touchdown passes. However, his slump really started in the 12th game of 2010.

 

Split

Record

Pct.

YPA

TD

INT

PR

Games 1-11

5-6

60.5

5.97

17

9

82.0

Games 12-26

3-12

55.2

6.01

7

12

68.2

If you have not had your fill of tables, for one last time, here is a comparison of our 35 quarterbacks’ quality rookie season versus their sophomore season (listed second for each quarterback).

 

Quarterback

Year

Team

GP

GS

Record

Att.

Comp.

Pct.

Yards

TD

INT

PR

Archie Manning

1971

NO

12

10

3-5-2

177

86

48.6

1164

6

9

60.1

Archie Manning

1972

NO

14

14

2-11-1

448

230

51.3

2781

18

21

64.6

Ben Roethlisberger

2004

PIT

14

13

13-0

295

196

66.4

2621

17

11

98.1

Ben Roethlisberger

2005

PIT

12

12

9-3

268

168

62.7

2385

17

9

98.6

Bernie Kosar

1985

CLE

12

10

4-6

248

124

50.0

1578

8

7

69.3

Bernie Kosar

1986

CLE

16

16

12-4

531

310

58.4

3854

17

10

83.8

Bob Griese

1967

MIA

12

10

3-7

331

166

50.2

2005

15

18

61.6

Bob Griese

1968

MIA

13

13

5-7-1

355

186

52.4

2473

21

16

75.7

Byron Leftwich

2003

JAX

15

13

5-8

418

239

57.2

2819

14

16

73.0

Byron Leftwich

2004

JAX

14

14

8-6

441

267

60.5

2941

15

10

82.2

Charlie Batch

1998

DET

12

12

5-7

303

173

57.1

2178

11

6

83.5

Charlie Batch

1999

DET

11

10

6-4

270

151

55.9

1957

13

7

84.1

Dan Marino

1983

MIA

11

9

7-2

296

173

58.4

2210

20

6

96.0

Dan Marino

1984

MIA

16

16

14-2

564

362

64.2

5084

48

17

108.9

Dennis Shaw

1970

BUF

14

12

3-8-1

321

178

55.5

2507

10

20

65.3

Dennis Shaw

1971

BUF

13

12

1-11

291

149

51.2

1813

11

26

46.1

Don Majkowski

1987

GB

7

5

2-2-1

127

55

43.3

875

5

3

70.2

Don Majkowski

1988

GB

13

9

3-6

336

178

53.0

2119

9

11

67.8

Eddie LeBaron

1952

WAS

12

7

1-6

194

96

49.5

1420

14

15

65.7

Eddie LeBaron

1953

WAS

12

5

2-2-1

149

62

41.6

874

3

17

28.3

Fran Tarkenton

1961

MIN

14

10

2-8

280

157

56.1

1997

18

17

74.7

Fran Tarkenton

1962

MIN

14

14

2-11-1

329

163

49.5

2595

22

25

66.9

Jake Plummer

1997

CRD

10

9

3-6

296

157

53.0

2203

15

15

73.1

Jake Plummer

1998

CRD

16

16

9-7

547

324

59.2

3737

17

20

75.0

Jay Cutler

2006

DEN

5

5

2-3

137

81

59.1

1001

9

5

88.5

Jay Cutler

2007

DEN

16

16

7-9

467

297

63.6

3497

20

14

88.1

Jeff George

1990

IND

13

12

5-7

334

181

54.2

2152

16

13

73.8

Jeff George

1991

IND

16

16

1-15

485

292

60.2

2910

10

12

73.8

Jim Everett

1986

RAM

6

5

3-2

147

73

49.7

1018

8

8

67.8

Jim Everett

1987

RAM

11

11

5-6

302

162

53.6

2064

10

13

68.4

Jim McMahon

1982

CHI

8

7

3-4

210

120

57.1

1501

9

7

79.9

Jim McMahon

1983

CHI

14

13

7-6

295

175

59.3

2184

12

13

77.6

Jim Plunkett

1971

NE

14

14

6-8

328

158

48.2

2158

19

16

68.6

Jim Plunkett

1972

NE

14

14

3-11

355

169

47.6

2196

8

25

45.7

Joe Flacco

2008

BAL

16

16

11-5

428

257

60.0

2971

14

12

80.3

Joe Flacco

2009

BAL

16

16

9-7

499

315

63.1

3613

21

12

88.9

Joe Namath

1965

NYJ

13

9

3-5-1

340

164

48.2

2220

18

15

68.7

Joe Namath

1966

NYJ

14

13

5-6-2

471

232

49.3

3379

19

27

62.6

Johnny Green

1960

BUF

10

6

3-3

228

89

39.0

1267

10

10

54.1

Johnny Green

1961

BUF

8

5

2-3

126

56

44.4

903

6

5

68.3

Johnny Unitas

1956

CLT

12

7

3-4

198

110

55.6

1498

9

10

74.0

Johnny Unitas

1957

CLT

12

12

7-5

301

172

57.1

2550

24

17

88.0

Matt Leinart

2006

CRD

12

11

4-7

377

214

56.8

2547

11

12

74.0

Matt Leinart

2007

CRD

5

5

3-2

112

60

53.6

647

2

4

61.9

Matt Ryan

2008

ATL

16

16

11-5

434

265

61.1

3440

16

11

87.7

Matt Ryan

2009

ATL

14

14

9-5

451

263

58.3

2916

22

14

80.9

Mickey Slaughter

1963

DEN

13

7

1-5-1

223

112

50.2

1689

12

15

65.4

Mickey Slaughter

1964

DEN

14

4

0-3-1

189

97

51.3

930

3

11

46.4

Peyton Manning

1998

IND

16

16

3-13

575

326

56.7

3739

26

28

71.2

Peyton Manning

1999

IND

16

16

13-3

533

331

62.1

4135

26

15

90.7

Phil Simms

1979

NYG

12

11

6-5

265

134

50.6

1743

13

14

66.0

Phil Simms

1980

NYG

13

13

3-10

402

193

48.0

2321

15

19

58.9

Sam Bradford

2010

RAM

16

16

7-9

590

354

60.0

3512

18

15

76.5

Sam Bradford

2011

RAM

10

10

1-9

357

191

53.5

2164

6

6

70.5

Sam Etcheverry

1961

CRD

14

9

4-5

196

96

49.0

1275

14

11

70.4

Sam Etcheverry

1962

CRD

14

3

1-3

106

58

54.7

707

2

10

42.5

Shaun King

1999

TB

6

5

4-1

146

89

61.0

875

7

4

82.4

Shaun King

2000

TB

16

16

10-6

428

233

54.4

2769

18

13

75.8

Steve Bartkowski

1975

ATL

11

11

4-7

255

115

45.1

1662

13

15

59.3

Steve Bartkowski

1976

ATL

5

5

1-4

120

57

47.5

677

2

9

39.5

Steve Beuerlein

1988

RAI

10

8

4-4

238

105

44.1

1643

8

7

66.6

Steve Beuerlein

1989

RAI

10

7

4-3

217

108

49.8

1677

13

9

78.4

Steve Grogan

1975

NE

13

7

1-6

274

139

50.7

1976

11

18

60.4

Steve Grogan

1976

NE

14

14

11-3

302

145

48.0

1903

18

20

60.6

Tim Couch

1999

CLE

15

14

2-12

399

223

55.9

2447

15

13

73.2

Tim Couch

2000

CLE

7

7

2-5

215

137

63.7

1483

7

9

77.3

Tom Flores

1960

RAI

14

12

5-7

252

136

54.0

1738

12

12

71.8

Tom Flores

1961

RAI

14

14

2-12

366

190

51.9

2176

15

19

62.1

Vince Young

2006

TEN

15

13

8-5

357

184

51.5

2199

12

13

66.7

Vince Young

2007

TEN

15

15

9-6

382

238

62.3

2546

9

17

71.1

 

Looking Ahead

This season, perhaps more than any in history, will put a lot of focus on rookie and sophomore quarterbacks. Right now we are expecting nine teams to start a rookie or sophomore quarterback in Week 1. That could increase to 10 if Russell Wilson wins the job in Seattle, and he was not even a first-round pick.

Quarterbacks make so much money today, that teams want to see a quick return on investment. The NFL fixed the rookie salary cap, meaning no rookie will be seeing Sam Bradford-money again, but they are still the highest-paid position.

Expectations for the young quarterback are being raised, and in many cases, are being met. As you can see, there is not a great history of a true rookie quarterback having success in the NFL, so that can explain why people freak out and overrate a season like Cam Newton’s last year.

Ben Roethlisberger did great things in 2004, but no one else really stepped up until 2008, which appears to be the year things changed when Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco ended up with 11-5 records and were in the playoffs.

Consider these facts:

 

  • After Dennis Shaw won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, no quarterback won it until Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Since then, five of the last eight winners of that award are quarterbacks.
  • Since 1970, only five rookie quarterbacks have won a playoff game, and four of them have come since 2004; three since 2008 (Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, T.J. Yates).
  • In 2006, Matt Leinart set a rookie record with 405 passing yards in a game. He has since been surpassed by Matthew Stafford (422 yards in 2009), and Cam Newton (432 yards in 2011).
  • The rookie records for pass attempts, completions and yards have all been broken in the last two seasons.
  • More rookie quarterbacks have thrown for 3,000 yards in the last four seasons (4) than the one (Peyton Manning) that did it prior to 2008.

 

Finally, it was only four years ago when Chris Weinke was second all time to Peyton in rookie passing yards with 2,931 yards. Today, Weinke ranks 7th, and he could easily be out of the top 10 by the end of this 2012 season.

Newton’s rookie record of 4,051 passing yards last season may only last one season with the next crop ready to go (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden).

That is the NFL today. Rookies now have expectations, because they can meet them. There is no sophomore slump. This is the year you take it to the next level, because that is what you are supposed to do.

 

Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He will not have a sophomore slump. That’s for damn sure. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.


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