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Avoiding the Sophomore Slump

In most fantasy circles, the term “sophomore slump” will be thrown around when assessing second-year players. Some will argue that such players no longer have the element of surprise and that opposing teams have a full year of tape to digest to prepare for this season. While this may be true to a certain extent, I believe it is greatly exaggerated. In 2012,
Cam Newton
entered his second season in Carolina and did struggle in the first eight games averaging only 14.4 fantasy points per game. However, in the second half, those who stuck with Newton were greatly rewarded as he guided many to fantasy championships averaging 22.4 fantasy points per game.

The NFL is a constantly evolving matchup of wits where teams adjust and re-adjust to each other on a week-to-week basis. Just as defenses adjusted to Newton early in 2012, Newton seemed to re-adjust his game, finding new ways to produce. Just like Newton in 2012, I believe the second-year quarterbacks listed below may struggle a bit initially, but will re-adjust to post strong seasons for their respective owners.

Below I have listed, in order of expected finish, these four sophomore signal callers. If you choose to pass on the top tier quarterbacks during your draft and load up on skill position players (which I would advise), these guys should be available in the middle rounds to provide value at the quarterback position. Don’t fear the sophomore slump!

Russell Wilson
, Seattle

Standing 5-foot-11,
Russell Wilson
doesn’t strike you as the “prototypical NFL quarterback.” Many experts questioned whether Wilson had the physical build to be effective in the NFL. In response to those questions, Wilson let his play do the talking.

In the second half of the 2012 season, coach Pete Carroll took the shackles off of the Seahawks offense, which allowed Wilson to flourish. In the final eight games, Wilson averaged 21.9 points per game, including tough matchups against the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears. Wilson has the accuracy to spread to ball all over the field – completing 64.1 percent of his passes and throwing for 26 touchdowns last season. The combination of his arm and legs, though, is what puts Wilson over the top.

Despite playing alongside
Marshawn Lynch
, the addition of the read-option into Seattle’s offense allowed Wilson to rush for 489 yards and four touchdowns, ranking him third among quarterbacks. It’s not just the fact that he can run that makes him special, it’s the fact that he runs intelligently that separates him from other NFL quarterbacks. While other quarterbacks throw caution to the wind when carrying the ball, Wilson protects himself, avoiding injury along the way.

The addition of wide receiver
Percy Harvin
in the offseason gives me hope that Carroll may continue to open up the offense, allowing Wilson to develop even further. Harvin will add an element of blinding speed and quickness that Seattle lacked last season. According to
Pro Football Focus, Harvin racked up 542 yards after the catch in 2012 in only nine games played! Getting the ball to Harvin in space will only bolster Wilson’s fantasy worth.

Wide receiver
Golden Tate
also seems to be building quite a rapport with his quarterback. Tate hauled in seven touchdowns last season on only 45 catches. If given more targets, Tate could be in for quite a season as well. If the Seattle offensive line can stay healthy, they have enough talent in place to improve on last year’s performance, affording Wilson time to look downfield and scan his options.

Wilson takes the top spot on this list because of his incredibly high football IQ, the addition of
Percy Harvin
, and the growing trust between him and Carroll. He is a high-floor/high-ceiling type talent who offers stability at the QB1 position.

Robert Griffin III
, Washington

Heisman Trophy winner, Subway commercials, shoe deals. Coming into the NFL in 2012, Griffin III was hailed as the savior of the Washington Redskins franchise that had overpaid its way to mediocrity for the last decade. While others may have folded under that type of intense pressure, Griffin III seemed to thrive under it.

In the first six games in 2012 (not including Week 5 vs. Atlanta where he was knocked out of the game in the third quarter), he averaged 25.8 points per game due in large part to his running ability. He finished the regular season with an impressive 815 yards rushing and seven scores. While his playing style can be gold for fantasy owners, it also makes him vulnerable to injury. Griffin III has been rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered in last year’s playoff loss to Seattle. Early reports have been positive claiming Griffin III is ahead of schedule. We are all aware of the show
Adrian Peterson
put on last season following his recovery from the same injury. Drafting Griffin III shows you have faith that he can make a similar comeback.

But more than that, I have faith in Griffin III because I believe coach Mike Shanahan will make a more concerted effort to keep his star out of harm’s way. Implementing less read-option and more
Alfred Morris
will help. Morris showed last season that he is more than capable of handling a large workload out of the backfield. Morris carried the ball 335 times in 2012 while not seeming to fade as the season wore on. In an effort to keep No. 10 upright, look for the Redskins to pound Morris much like last season.

While his rushing stats will most likely dip, an underrated part of Griffin III’s game is his accuracy throwing the football, especially downfield.
Pierre Garcon
showed instant chemistry with Griffin III in 2012, emerging as his No. 1 option. Garcon has the physical tools to be a top-tier wide receiver if he can only stay healthy. Hampered by nagging foot issues in 2012 and opting not to have surgery during the offseason is a bit of concern. If
Pierre Garcon
can stay healthy and either
Josh Morgan
Leonard Hankerson
can emerge as another downfield threat, Griffin III’s aerial numbers could soar.

If not for the late-season knee injury and subsequent recovery period, Griffin III would be a guaranteed top-5 fantasy quarterback with potential top-3 talent. Injury concerns and no impact weapons added during the offseason knock him down a peg. He’s worth the risk in the middle rounds, however, based on his incredibly high ceiling.

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