With the NFL Draft not far in the rearview mirror of the offseason, it's a good time to think about last year's rookies. This is year two for them, the season where they start to get their feet under them and become starters, or at least regular contributors.
With that in mind, we took a look at all of the second-year players and constructed a team of the best of the best. It isn't who had the best rookie season; the team below is a list of players who have a chance to be the best sophomores in the NFL at their respective positions. Dion Jordan, for example, didn't live up to the hype of being the No. 3 pick, but he still makes the list at defensive end.
So without further ado, the 2014 NFL All-Sophomore team.
Quarterback: EJ Manuel, Bills
Last season wasn't a banner year for rookie quarterbacks, especially compared to 2012 when Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson starred. Mike Glennon had the best rookie season, but he appears destined to back up Josh McCown this season. Although Geno Smith had his moments, he was inconsistent and is also battling for his starting job. Manuel was also up and down, playing well some weeks and awful others, while injuries hampered his progress. If he can stay healthy, and that's a legitimate if, the Bills have surrounded him with a solid supporting cast. He doesn't have to become a star to be the best sophomore quarterback.
Running back: Eddie Lacy, Packers
There are a few intriguing second-year running backs including Giovani Bernard, Le'Veon Bell and Andre Ellington. Lacy was the best of the group last year and figures to play an even bigger role for the Packers this season. With similar production and a few more carries, he could top 1,200 yards in 2014 with double-digit touchdowns. Ellington could challenge, especially with an increased workload. He was one of the better players on a per-touch basis in the NFL last season.
Despite coming off a serious knee injury, Allen established himself as the Chargers' No. 1 receiver and one of the top receivers in the NFL. He was extremely efficient, averaging 10.4 yards per target, and should play an even bigger role next season. Williams is a big-play machine, with 28 of his 44 receptions going for at least 10 yards. He'll take over No. 2 duties full time and should get more opportunities to shine. Stills didn't put up as big of numbers, but averaged a ridiculous 12.5 yards per target on 51 targets. He'll still have Drew Brees throwing him the ball and the departure of Lance Moore likely allows for more playing time.
Tight end: Jordan Reed, Redskins
Reed was limited to just nine games and four starts last year, but that proved to be enough time for him to establish himself as a possible top-tier tight end. If he stays healthy, Reed will be one of Robert Griffin III's top targets and could threaten a 1,000-yard season while also being a solid contributor in the run game.
Offensive line: LT - David Bakhtiari, Packers; LG - Larry Warford, Lions; C - Travis Frederick, Cowboys; RG - Kyle Long, Bears; RT - Lane Johnson, Eagles
Offensive tackles were selected with the first two picks in the draft last year, but neither made this list. While Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher could still develop into great NFL players, there is work to do. Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick, was thrust into the Packers' lineup due to injury and more than held his own. He'll remain at left tackle this season. Johnson got better as the season went on and has the athleticism to excel in the Eagles' offense. Warford, Long and Frederick were impressive as rookies, playing their way into the discussion of best interior offensive linemen.
Best Defensive Lines
Best Defensive Lines
Defensive line: DE - Ezekiel Ansah, Lions; DT - Sheldon Richardson, Jets; DT - Star Lotulelei, Panthers; DE - Dion Jordan, Dolphins
The sophomore defensive line class is much stronger on the interior than on the edge. Richardson has All-Pro potential while Lotulelei is already one of the better run defenders in the NFL. Ansah was somewhat of a one-trick pony, but when that trick is sacking the quarterback, it's a good trick to have. Jordan disappointed as the No. 3 pick, but still possesses all of the skills needed to develop into a dominant pass rusher. He should make major strides this season.
Ogletree was all over the field last season. He led the team in tackles, defended 10 passes, forced six fumbles and notched 1.5 sacks. The converted safety has the speed to be a great coverage linebacker but proved to be more than stout against the run. Alonso's tackle numbers were a bit inflated last season, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he's one of the top inside linebackers in the league. Moore is an excellent run defender who can also be effective rushing the passer.
Desmond Trufant played very well last season, living up to expectations as a first-round pick and setting a lofty standard for 2014. There is no reason to believe he should regress. He didn't slide by, avoiding targets. According to Pro Football Focus, Trufant was thrown at 88 times, and allowed just 47 receptions. He was tested frequently and passed those tests. Next season will be an interesting one for a few young corners, with Dee Milliner, Xavier Rhodes and D.J. Hayden attempting to play to a first-round standard. Rhodes is the closest to being a solid starter. He had rough moments, but played well for much of 2013. Mike Zimmer continually gets the best from his corners and his tutelage should help Rhodes take the next step. Logan Ryan is also poised for a big second year, but his path to playing time is more difficult with the additions of Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis to the New England Patriots.
NFL Draft grades
NFL Draft grades
Mathieu is one of the top defensive backs in football, regardless of how many years he's been in the league. He's coming off a very serious knee injury, but is currently projected to return near the start of the season. Assuming he returns to 100 percent, there aren't many players able to do as many things and do them at a high level like Mathieu. Reid is a similar physical-type player, and while he may not be as good as Mathieu in coverage, he makes a major impact both against the pass and the run. The 49ers lost All-Pro Dashon Goldson yet got better with Reid in the back end. He should only continue to improve.