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Ranking 2017’s Second-Year Players

USA Today FTW

No “sophomore slump” for these guys. Check out which stars of the future made the cut.

In past seasons, we have seen promising rookies slide into “sophomore slumps” in their second year. Players like Ndamukong SuhCam Newton, and Robert Griffin III earned honors in their debut seasons, only to downshift to neutral in their second year. 

On the flip side, some stars need to test the waters and get knocked down a few times during their first season before a breakout second season ensues. The following rankings (top five defensive and top five offensive players) represent the NFL’s top rising stars who turned the corner or stayed on course in their second year.

Defense  

5. Yannick Ngakoue
DE, Jacksonville Jaguars   

Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue leads the NFL in forced fumbles with six this season and ranks fourth in yards lost (81) on sacks. 

Yannick Ngakoue StatsTkl.Ast. Tkl.Sacks
20162038.0
201720511.0

The second-year pass rusher for the Jacksonville Jaguars has improved his dominance and presence in the backfield. He has a shot at netting 15 sacks by the end of the year.

4. Jalen Ramsey
CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Jalen Ramsey has been a force in Jacksonville’s stacked defense, proving himself to be a shutdown corner in his second year. His 17 passes defended are tied for second in the league. 

Jalen Ramsey StatsTkl.Ast. Tkl.PDInt.
20165510142
2017427174

3. Kevin Byard
FS, Tennessee Titans  

Tennessee safety Kevin Byard has seen more action in the pass defense in his second year, making big plays when the ball sails his way. 

Kevin Byard StatsTkl.Ast. Tkl.PDInt.
2016401140
20174922146

Going from zero interceptions to six in just one year is insane. Byard’s six interceptions are currently tied for the most in the NFL.

2. Blake Martinez
LB, Green Bay Packers

You may not have heard of him, but Packers linebacker Blake Martinez’ play in the middle of the field has kept Green Bay in close games, and therefore still in the playoff hunt while quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been on the IR. Martinez ranks third in the NFL with 119 combined tackles. 

Blake Martinez StatsTkl.Ast. Tkl.SacksInt.
201644211.01
201779381.01



1. Joey Bosa

DE, Los Angeles Chargers

Lightning struck in Los Angeles when defensive end Joey Bosa came to town with the Chargers. During his second year, Bosa has emerged as the heart of the Bolts’ defense.

Joey Bosa StatsTkl.Ast. Tkl.SacksFF
2016291210.54
2017451211.54

Bosa ranks fifth in the league with 11.5 sacks. He is also tied for third in the league with four forced fumbles.

Offense  

5. Will Fuller V
WR, Houston Texans     

Houston wideout Will Fuller has proven himself as a downfield pass-catcher this year. He leads all second-year players in receiving touchdowns, despite missing much of the season.

Will Fuller V StatsRec.Yds.TDY/G
201647635245.4
201720352750.3

Since the injury to rookie sensation quarterback Deshaun Watson, Fuller has been part of a stagnant Houston offense, and hasn’t had much opportunity to show his potential. Fuller himself hasn’t had the best luck staying on the field, missing a total of six games this season with collarbone and rib injuries. When Watson comes back healthy next year, Fuller will be his secondary deep threat to DeAndre Hopkins, and the Texans offense will be ready to let it rip.
   

4. Michael Thomas
WR, New Orleans Saints

The departure of Brandin Cooks to New England has left a lot of room for second-year New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas to rack up some big numbers. 

Michael Thomas StatsRec.Yds.TDY/G
2016921,137975.8
201785992476.3

Thomas ranks first among second-year players in receptions and receiving yards, and is tied for third in the league in receptions of 20 yards or more (18).



3. Tyreek Hill
WR, Kansas City Chiefs  

Given the number of playmakers in Kansas City’s system (Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, to name a couple), receiver Tyreek Hill has made the most of the opportunities that he has been given this season. 

Tyreek Hill StatsRec.Yds.TDY/G
201661593637.1
201764986675.8

Hill has separated himself as a downfield receiver this year. His yards per reception have dramatically shot up from 9.7 in 2016 to 15.4 in 2017. Hill ranks seventh in the NFL in receiving yards (second among second-year players) and third among wide receivers in yards after the catch (390).

2. Jared Goff
QB, Los Angeles Rams

A year-over-year turnaround of 0-7 to 9-4 just doesn’t happen in the NFL. What a difference one offseason has made for Jared Goff and the Rams offense. 

Jared Goff StatsRecordComp.Att.Pct.Yds.TDInt.Rate.
20160-711220554.6%1,0895763.6
20179-426041862.2%3,38322699.2

After one of the roughest seasons you could imagine for a rookie quarterback, Goff has posted very noticeable numbers in a league dense with passing talent. Goff’s yards per pass attempt have shot up from 5.3 in 2016 to 8.1 (second in the league) in 2017. He ranks top 10 in the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, and passer rating.

1. Carson Wentz
QB, Philadelphia Eagles

The stunningly improved play of Philadelphia’s second-year quarterback Carson Wentz has transformed the Eagles from a 7-9 team in 2016 to one that currently holds the number one seed in the NFC playoffs.

Carson Wentz StatsRecordComp.Att.Pct.Yds.TDInt.Rate.
20167-937960762.4%3,782161479.3
201711-226544060.2%3,296337101.9

Here’s a granular but very telling stat: Wentz’ percentage of pass attempts resulting in a touchdown has increased from 2.6% in 2016 to 7.5% in 2017, making him one of the most dangerous passers in the league. His average yards per pass attempt have risen from 6.2 last season to 7.5 this season. 

Wentz leads the league in touchdown passes (33) and ranks in the top 10 in the league in passing yards and passer rating. However, his stellar season was cut short last week when he suffered a season-ending ACL tear against the Los Angeles Rams. Even with Wentz out for the final three games, I still think that it would be hard to replace him in this number one spot when the season is done. 


Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
Which of the following quarterbacks did NOT win the Super Bowl in his second season in the NFL?
Created 12/15/17
  1. Russell Wilson
  2. Ben Roethlisberger
  3. Dan Marino
  4. Tom Brady

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