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 Suh, Cam 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.
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 Stats||Tkl.||Ast. Tkl.||Sacks|
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 Stats||Tkl.||Ast. Tkl.||PD||Int.|
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 Stats||Tkl.||Ast. Tkl.||PD||Int.|
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 Stats||Tkl.||Ast. Tkl.||Sacks||Int.|
1. Joey Bosa
DE, Los Angeles Chargers
|Joey Bosa Stats||Tkl.||Ast. Tkl.||Sacks||FF|
Bosa ranks fifth in the league with 11.5 sacks. He is also tied for third in the league with four forced fumbles.
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 Stats||Rec.||Yds.||TD||Y/G|
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
|Michael Thomas Stats||Rec.||Yds.||TD||Y/G|
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 Stats||Rec.||Yds.||TD||Y/G|
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 Stats||Record||Comp.||Att.||Pct.||Yds.||TD||Int.||Rate.|
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
|Carson Wentz Stats||Record||Comp.||Att.||Pct.||Yds.||TD||Int.||Rate.|
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.
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