Over the course of a player’s NFL career, they are bound to go through some good and bad stretches. Some are short term and some may be long lasting. But it is how players handle these situations that separate the best from the rest. One such streak that is commonly analysed by NFL and Fantasy Football experts alike is the dreaded “Sophomore Slump." The sophomore slump is when a player who is in his second year in the NFL trends downward after having some success as a rookie. These can be slight bumps in statistics, like for Cam Newton in 2012, or a full fledge fall from grace, like Todd Gurley in 2016. These players have been able to come back from these issues but it is always a frightening thing to consider during fantasy draft time, especially in the dynasty format. If you are going to invest in a young player over a long period of time, how are you to know whether his rookie regression is just one bad season or par for the course? While most of us can not look into the future and truly project what will happen, if you take a deep look at a player’s numbers and situation you can find some trends that should be able to help answer that question. For some fantasy relevant players from the 2016 NFL draft, here is some information that will help figure out whether their down season is just a slump or more to come.
One of the biggest names to fall victim to the sophomore slump over this past season was Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. After shocking the world in 2016 as the Dallas darling, Prescott was less than stellar in 2017 with 3324 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 357 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Prescott still finished as a QB1 in most formats but was starkly disappointing for fantasy owners last season. He was especially bad when Ezekiel Elliott was gone from Weeks 10-15 where he combined for 934 passing yards, five touchdowns, five interceptions, 93 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. He also took 15 sacks during that stretch, more than had before Elliot went out. Prescott’s negative play had many causing factors outside of Elliot’s absence, including the loss of All-Pro tackle Tyrone Smith and an overall weakened Dallas offense (14th in the league in overall offense versus 5th in 2016). The Cowboys have a lot of work to do in the offseason if they want to make their way back to their 2016 ways and a lot of that will have to do with the offense. Scott Linehan will have his work cut out for him but it will not be an impossible task. Having Elliott back for the entire season will help things tremendously as he showed how important he is to the offense, albeit in a negative way. As for Prescott himself, he will just have to work on melding with the new pieces that Dallas will likely bring in. Prescott showed in the early part of the 2017 season that he can still perform at a high level, like in Week 3. Things just fell off the hinges when the whole team went awry, something that can’t be blamed on Prescott. With a stable coaching staff coming back and some upgrades that are expected to be made to the offense, look for Prescott to bounce back and have a solid 2018 season.
Verdict: Just a slump, will go back to being a top QB option in 2018
In another surprising move, late round selection Jordan Howard emerged as the top running back in 2016 for the Chicago Bears. Howard edged out beginning-of-the-season starter Jeremy Langford and became a mainstay in fantasy that season, finishing as the RB9 in most formats. While Howard was massively impressive in his rookie campaign, he fell short in his second year with 1122 yards on 276 attempts for nine touchdowns along with 125 receiving yards on 23 catches. Howard still finished as an RB2, so he did not completely wreck your team, but he was one of the largest disappointments of 2017 given his ADP (mid to late second round pick in most formats) and bell cow expectations. Howard was still a bell cow in a sense as he ranked fifth in rushing attempts in 2017, he just never was able to do much with those carries (4.1 YPC). Howard’s decrease had a lot to do with the team’s overall dysfunction than his individual performance. Like most bad teams, the Bears were rarely in a position where they could run the ball constantly as they were down a lot in games. This game script along with the skill set of Tarik Cohen (a pass catching back, unlike Howard who has had lots of trouble trying to catch) kept him on the sideline a lot last season. Not to mention the team started their rookie quarterback in Mitch Trubisky after Week 5 and the offense moved up and down with him. Chicago has changed coaches and is now led by Matt Nagy, an offensive guru who has spent many years under the tutelage of Andy Reid. This change should benefit Howard as he will have a chance to work with a new coach with fresh ideas. He along with Cohen are slotted for big seasons in 2018 and I would say that will be the case. The Bears offense as a whole should be better in 2018 and that will help Howard get his numbers back to where they were.
Verdict: Just a slump, look for him to go back to being an RB1 next year
Corey Coleman has had some rough times in his NFL career so far. Coleman has broken his right hand twice in his two year career which has caused him to miss 13 of his first 32 games. Aside from injuries he has also had problems on the field, like his key drop that sealed the 0-16 season for Cleveland. Though Coleman’s statistics went down in 2017 what is more worrisome about him is his situation. The Browns are a well known dumpster fire and are currently in the midst of another rebuilding effort. This effort includes finding a new quarterback of the future, which Cleveland is projected to take in the upcoming draft. Coleman has played with four different quarterbacks during his career and that number will certainly grow with time. It’s hard to establish the type of chemistry a wide receiver needs to be successful if he is constantly working with new people throwing him the ball. This factor, along with his injury history and the resurfacing of Josh Gordon, give me pause as to whether or not Coleman will ever be a solid fantasy option. Only the future will tell how he will do with hopefully the final stop in the Browns quarterback quest, but as for now I am not optimistic.
Verdict: The offensive situation is a big problem for Coleman and will hamper him when he is on the field. Look for him to stay a low end WR3-high end WR4 for the foreseeable future
When Washington went with a former undrafted free agent as their starting running back in Week 8 of the 2016 season, many people were shocked. Robert Kelley had played sparingly during the beginning of the season but would look to take advantage of this opportunity in Cincinnati. Kelley ran with it, literally for 87 yards on eight attempts. Not bad for a first start in the NFL. Kelley continued to progress as the season went along and established himself as a viable fantasy option for the second half of the season, even going for huge games like in Week 11 (137 yards on 11 rushes for three touchdowns). Kelley looked like someone the Redskins could rely on for years to come as an early down back. However, things change quickly in the NFL. Washington brought in Samaje Perine via the draft and these two competed for a similar role in the offense. Kelley started off the season as the go-to guy but never found the same success he had in 2016. He only had one game with over 35 rushing yards and only posted one game with double digit fantasy points. He also missed multiple games due to injury, which only gave more time to his potential replacement in Perine. Kelley could maintain a role as the short yardage/goal line back for Washington for 2018 and beyond, but his days as the bell cow guy seem to be over.
Verdict: Kelley no longer has a premier role in the Washington offense, he will likely stay irrelevant for fantasy football in 2018
In what has been an extremely murky fantasy situation, the Seattle Seahawks backfield has lacked a safe consistent fantasy option for the past few seasons. Sure, Thomas Rawls had a great year back in 2015 but didn’t follow it up in 2016 or 2017. They have had a few homegrown prospects shine briefly in this time, like Chris Carson and J.D. McKissic, but no one has been able to really establish themselves as the go-to guy for Seattle. One of these flash-in0the0-pan baks was C.J. Prosise who had a great three game stretch in 2016 (three 12+ fantasy point games in Weeks 8-11 in 0.5 PPR scoring). What made Prosise so effective was his pass catching ability. In these performances it looked as though he had carved out a role as the passing down back for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, Prosise suffered a shoulder injury in the third game of his fantastic run that put him on Injured Reserve. A lot of fantasy owners expected this to be a minor setback for Prosise and looked to him as a late round option in 2017 PPR leagues. This never fruited however as Prosise suffered more injuries and only contributed 110 yards from scrimmage in all of 2017. He has fell back into the Seahawk pit of despair for fantasy owners, which is a massive bummer for those that made the long term investment in Prosise. While he has just as good of a chance as anyone to re-establish himself as the lead bach for Seattle, it just doesn't look promising as the team looks committed to a committee philosophy and their offensive line is far from capable. While Prosise was a great story for November of 2016, he likely won’t be noteworthy in the future.
Verdict: Prosise will be back in the committee in 2018 and won’t be a fantasy factor going forward