If you would just like like to see tables comparing the greatest NFL sophomore seasons of wide receivers and pass rushers, the links are below. Otherwise, skip past the jump and enjoy my first fan post.
WR (opens in new window
DE/OLB (opens in new window)
"A sophomore slump refers to an instance in which a second, or sophomore, effort fails to live up to the standards of the first effort"
If such a phenomenon truly exists in the NFL then one thing is certain, the Giants were immune to it during the 2011 season. Wide receiver Victor Cruz, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and tight end Jake Ballard were the notable performers among the Giants sophomore players, with Pierre-Paul earning all-pro honours, Cruz setting franchise records in single season receiving yards, Ballard arguably playing better Kevin Boss and Joseph really solidifying our run defense. On a side note, having four starters playing at a high level in their second year with 2 players entering the league undrafted is nothing short of incredible and a true testament to the greatest GM in the land and the scouting staff and is especially vital considering we draft BPA and avoid rookie starters.
The questions are what can we expect next year and future years from our sophomore stars? Considering that we very rarely start rookies should we expect it to occur in their third season instead as the opposition learns and adjusts or will guys continue to be a force ?
Unfortunately, traditional defensive tackle stats typically don't indicate performance very well and Ballard is solid yet unremarkable, so focus should be paid to Cruz and Pierre-Paul. Let us compare the 2011 seasons of Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul to some of the greatest sophomore campaigns of all time at wide receiever and defensive end/rush linebacker to see where they rank.
Victor Cruz vs the Wide Receivers
Inputting post-merger wide receivers, in their second season into pro-football-reference's players season finder and then sorting by receiving yards produces this table:
The first things that strike me, other than Victor Cruz produced the 4th greatest post-merger second year season are:
- Cruz is one of 6 undrafted players in the top 100 and the highest ranked amongst them
- Cruz started fewer games than every other player in the top 30. (While this is misleading due to his usage in the slot, what we do know is that Cruz amassed just 17 yards in his first two game of the season while he was buried behind the depth chart)
- Hakeem Nicks and former Giant Mario Manningham make the list at #38 and #86 , representing their 2010 and 2009 campaigns respectively. (Yes, wide receiver stats are dependant upon good passing stats, and don't reflect the amount of double coverage a player receives)
- Building upon the previous point, the fact that performances of sophomore wide receivers entering the system has improved each year from 2009 to 2011 as Manningham, Nicks and Cruz are introduced, may simply indicate the evolution of our passing offense post-Burress/Toomer/Smith with Eli being handed significant weapons each year. Despite this, It does seemingly take a special type of player to amass over 1500 yds in just their second season and Cruz's veteran-like route running and chemistry with the QB are bound to factor in.
- Sorting by touchdowns sees Nicks leapfrog Cruz at #12 and #21 respectively hardly surprising considering their different styles of play i.e. Nicks being a tall physical receiever.
- Number of reception stats are even less indicative of performance in my opinion and mostly reflect favourite targets of quarterbacks, evidence by the dramtatic rise in ranking of players such as Brandon Marshall (Cutler), Larry Fitzgerald (Warner) and Dwayne Bowe (Thigpen!) To their credit these players were all by far the best players on their team and would have been double covered often so their achievements are merited. Cruz is sitting pretty at #12 with Nicks at #17.
Considering the vast amount of external influences that will ultimately decide whether we are watching a future hall of fame Giants receiver or not, including Eli Manning, offensive philosophy, pass protection and cap space to retain multiple receivers to name just a few, it would be crazy to go out on a limb and project players to Canton, but if the current environment remains fairly similar then I would imagine Eli Manning will send at least one receiver to the hall of fame based solely on the opportunity for production he provides. Of course the return of a balanced attack may ultimately decide their fate, something I would obviously welcome
(I did plan to describe the defensive ends in detail as above but it got a bit lengthy. I may add it later) DE/OLB Here is the link to the table anyway.