The dreaded sophomore slump is the reason why Jameis Winston set out to lose weight this offseason after he had a Pro Bowl campaign as a rookie. But the reality is that quarterbacks are almost always better in their second season and the sophomore slump is a rare occurrence for passers.
Just settling in can be a challenge that is easier to handle after a year in the NFL.
"Coming out here for the second year, it is a lot more comfortable, just because it is all kind of a familiar setting,'' Marcus Mariota told Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com. "Last season was brand new, a brand new city, brand new team. But now being in it for a year, it is nice to come out here and feel comfortable."
Since the 2006 NFL Draft, 18 quarterbacks selected in the first round started eight or more games as rookies and just four of them regressed in year two with a lower passer rating. The other 14, including 2014 first-rounders Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings, all improved in their second season.
That list of 14 improved quarterbacks doesn't include Derek Carr, who was a second-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2014 and took a big step forward in his second season, as well.
Bortles, Bridgewater and Carr were all projected to improve in 2015, and all three did. Now it's time for Winston and Mariota, the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, to take a step forward too.
Quarterbacks almost always improve in their second season
Of the 18 first-round quarterbacks in the last decade that started at least half of their rookie season, the most significant differences in their second year are more touchdowns and fewer interceptions.
Bortles actually threw one more interception in 2015 than in 2014, but his touchdowns spiked from 11 in his rookie year to 35 in his second season. Bridgewater finished both seasons with 14 touchdowns, but cut his interceptions from 12 to nine in his second season with the Vikings.
But unlike Bortles, sophomores like Winston and Mariota don't have nearly as much room to improve. The Jaguars quarterback upped his passer rating from 69.5 as a rookie to 88.2 last year. Winston and Mariota, on the other hand, finished with ratings of 84.2 and 91.5, respectively.
Jameis Winston improved as he settled into the Buccaneers offense
Winston, like so many rookie quarterbacks before him, saw his head coach get fired at the end of the year. But with Lovie Smith replaced by offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Winston will still have continuity entering his second season, which is encouraging after his strong finish in 2015.
After starting his rookie season with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the first nine games, Winston finished with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in the final seven games.
Still, he was criticized for slow, sloppy footwork that may have been a byproduct of poor conditioning. Even before the 2015 NFL Draft, Winston was called fat and out of shape, but shrugged off the criticism. Still, he told ESPN's Britt McHenry that going to the Pro Bowl and seeing the physique of other top NFL quarterbacks inspired him to look better in 2016.
Shedding 18 pounds will not only make Winston look better, but could also take his game to a new level if it means he's lighter on his feet.
While the Buccaneers didn't add much offensively in the offseason, other than former Seattle Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy, Winston was missing a couple of big targets. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson sat out most of the latter half of the season due to a knee injury, while tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins missed nine games with a shoulder injury. With Seferian-Jenkins primed for a potential breakout year, and both Jackson and Mike Evans on the field at the same time, Winston looks to be hitting year two motivated and determined to be even better.
The Titans focused on adding a running game to complement Marcus Mariota
While Winston has tried to lose weight, Mariota has added some pounds amid concerns about his slight frame possibly being the reason for an injury-filled 2015.
Mariota suffered an MCL sprain in his left knee early in his rookie year before a tweak in his right knee ended his season later in the year. Neither injury was very serious, but they raised questions about Mariota's ability to endure the grind of an NFL season.
If he's able to stay healthy in 2016 and be a more consistent player, there's room for improvement in his second season. Mariota finished with three or more touchdown passes in four of his 12 starts for the Tennessee Titans, but just five in his other eight starts combined.
He'll likely be helped a lot by an improved running game in Tennessee as well. The Titans added Jack Conklin and Ben Jones to the offensive line, and retooled the backfield by adding DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Only four teams had fewer rushing attempts than the Titans in 2015, so adding a grinding rushing attack should take the pressure off of Mariota to make all the plays.
Like Winston, Mariota had to deal with a little bit of a coaching shakeup after Ken Whisenhunt was fired during the 2015 season. But he'll also have some continuity after interim head coach Mike Mularkey was promoted from offensive coordinator and eventually given the full-time job entering the 2016 season.
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When the top two picks of the NFL Draft are both quarterbacks, they are often tied together and compared forever. This year, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff joined duos like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, and Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.
Winston and Mariota both showed the talent and promise that made them the first two picks a year ago, but they're far from reaching their peaks. History suggests we'll see even better versions of the two former Heisman Trophy winners in 2016.