As tough as it is for a rookie to make an impact in the National Football League, it can often be more difficult in a player's second season. There is typically a lack of clarity about what to expect from a player in their first season, which sometimes gives them an advantage. How to defend against someone you have never played against is challenging, even with all the video evidence teams have access to these days.
The NFL, however, is a league that lives on making adjustments. Once a team goes up against a player and gets a feel for what they are capable of, making alterations to limit someone's production becomes much easier. That's why sophomore slumps are so frequent in general. The difficulty of duplicating what you previously accomplished and being a consistent threat isn't easy.
When it comes to fantasy football though, a sophomore slump can mean many different things. The obvious one would be a player's decline in production, but the circumstances that change on their specific teams can play a big role as well. A running back may get a drop in carries or a quarterback's numbers may be the victim of a change in an offensive philosophy, for example. Whatever the case may be, spotting these trends early can help you from making a mistake in the early rounds of your draft.
Let's have a look at a few running backs who will be trying to avoid a sophomore slump.
Trent Richardson - Cleveland Browns
Richardson had an interesting rookie season in 2012 as there were both positives and negatives to his game. The Alabama product only had three 100-yard games on the year and came up just shy of 1,000 yards on the campaign. With that being said, he did manage to find the end zone 11 times which will make fantasy owners very happy. The concerning thing if you owned Richardson last season was that his carries dropped significantly over the last five weeks, although he did post six scores during that span which made up for the lack of yardage.
A reason to worry about Richardson in 2013 might be new head coach Rob Chudzinski. The offensive guru loves to throw the ball and as Brandon Weeden continues to develop and get more comfortable with the offense, we may see the Browns air it out a little more this year. If Richardson's carries were already starting to slide late last season, could they remain stagnant if Cleveland becomes pass happy?
Even if that does happen and Cleveland looks to throw more, Richardson owners should still be in good shape. The Browns skilled position depth chart isn't going to strike fear into anyone, so something tells me Richardson will still see plenty of touches. Not only that, but Richardson proved to be an above average back catching passes out of the backfield. He recorded 51 receptions in 2012 and was a threat using his shiftiness in open space. Richardson should be a pretty safe play this season and most likely a first round pick in quite a few drafts.
Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Being a late first round pick and a little undersized, Martin probably wasn't too high on many people's radar around draft time in 2012. After a game against Oakland though midway through the season, the Muscle Hamster made a big statement. He ran for 251 yards and four touchdowns, while just about single handedly winning that weekly matchup for his owners.
Overall Martin ran for nearly 1,500 yards last year, but what are the chances he can duplicate that in his second campaign? Well it's going to be challenging for a couple of reasons. The first being that he simply had such a strong season that it will be difficult to duplicate. Getting 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns isn't easy in the NFL and it wouldn't be shocking to see him fall a little short of those numbers this year.
The other thing to keep in mind is the Bucs quarterback situation. Head coach Greg Schiano hasn't exactly given starter Josh Freeman a vote of confidence and even drafted Mike Glennon out of North Carolina State as well. Something tells me if Tampa starts to struggle we could be seeing Glennon in game action sooner rather than later. If that's the case then defenses will be able to focus in on Martin a lot more while Glennon learns the offense.
The encouraging thing heading into next season is that Martin didn't struggle with many of the things that young players often do. He only fumbled once all year and showed great consistency by finishing with a yards per carry number of 4.6. His ability to break big plays is going to make him a high pick in fantasy drafts later this year.
Alfred Morris - Washington Redskins
Morris' production in 2012 was perhaps more surprising than any other player. His expectations would have been extremely low after the Redskins took him in the sixth round, nevertheless, he managed over 1,600 yards on the ground and 13 scores. The combination of Morris and Robert Griffin III gave Washington the potent backfield they have been coveting for years.
Despite his outstanding season, Morris is the most likely player on this list to fall victim to a sophomore slump. RG3 is coming off of major knee surgery and although his recovery is apparently going well, there is a chance he could miss some time early in the season, which would put all the pressure squarely on Morris. Keep in mind that even if Griffin is ready to go, Washignton is probably going to manage him differently in 2013 in hopes of keeping him healthier. This most likely means more pocket play from RG3 and it will make the Redskins attack a little less dynamic, allowing defenses to key on Morris better.
Not only will RG3 have an impact on Morris this year, but keep an eye on Mike Shanahan as well. Shanahan is great at developing runners, almost too good. He has been known to switch running backs with regularity over the years and spread around carries through multiple runners. Just when you think he has found his man, all of a sudden Shanahan will start giving carries to the hot dog vendor in section 113 of FedExField.
Morris is still worthy of being a number one back on your fantasy team this season even if his production will likely slide, but you may not want to spend a first round pick on him.
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