Dallas Cowboys fans are likely feeling a mixture of worry and hope right about now. They are worried because they have no clue what their team’s defense is going to look like next season. But hopeful at the same time because they now the offense—with Dak Prescott at the helm—can carry the team to a lot of wins.
That is, as long as Prescott doesn’t fall victim to a phenomenon that has been known to cause more than a few hotshot rookies to fall from grace. It got Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley last season. So—what was it?
An injury? A suspension? No—the dreaded sophomore slump.
Gurley went from averaging 4.8 yards a carry as a rookie to 3.2 yards per carry last season. So, yeah—he fell victim to the slump.
It has been some time since there was a quarterback that fell victim to the slump which could mean any of a number of things:
- Fewer quarterbacks are playing a significant amount of time as rookies.
- The quality of quarterbacks coming out of college is that much better.
- The dreaded “slump” may be a thing of the past.
- It’s time for someone to have a “slump.”
For a number of years, most teams leaned towards sitting quarterbacks during their rookie seasons. They preferred to have them to watch and learn while holding a clipboard on the sideline. But in recent years, teams have decided to us the “trial by fire” technique on their rookies; let them learn by playing.
The quality of quarterbacks coming out of college has been getting blasted in recent years, but many teams have pressed their rookie quarterbacks into service. Overall, they’ve responded well. Yes, there have been some that have struggled, but most have played well or at least played better from Year 1 to Year 2.
So–It is safe to say the first two options are not true. If you are superstitious or paranoid, the fourth option could be true. But what about No. 3?
Gurley is proof that it is not entirely a thing of the past—at least not where other positions are concerned. But what about quarterbacks?
Proving its existence is easier said than done. For it to be a sophomore slump, a player has to start as a rookie. Teams are often reluctant to do so, but more have in recent seasons. Not only does he have to start, but he has to play well. You can’t slump if you go from playing poorly one season to doing the same in the next.
It’s kind of hard to find enough test subjects to do a truly scientific study. Back in 2012, FootballNation.net crunched the numbers on quarterbacks dating back to 1950. When they narrowed the list down to just guys that played a significant amount of time as rookies and played well, they only ended up having about 35 guys on the final list.
Of that 35, they concluded that 20 showed improvement while 15 did indeed have some form of a slump. So, it’s real—right? Not so fast. Of the 15, most of them played in the 1970s or sooner. Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford are the only two still in the league.
The study is a few years old and doesn’t account for the more recent quarterbacks that started as a rookie like Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, and Robert Griffin III. Of the group, the only player that did not show improvement from Season 1 to Season 2 is Robert Griffin III.
But to be fair to him, he came back from a severe knee injury way too soon. Maybe if he had taken his time getting healthy rather than rushing back into the lineup, things could have worked out differently.
So—the sophomore slump was a real thing back in the 1970s for quarterbacks but hasn’t been one in decades. Does that mean Cowboys fans do not have to worry about Dak Prescott having a slump? Of course not!
Just because a quarterback hasn’t had a sophomore slump in years doesn’t mean it can’t happen. But for it to happen to Prescott, certain things will need to happen:
- The offensive line must go from being the best to one of the worst.
- Ezekiel Elliot will need to hit a “slump” of his own—which will not happen because of the offensive line.
- The wide receivers will collectively come down with a terminal case of the “drops” all season.
While many things could precipitate a slump, don’t expect one to happen.