Fans of the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals - you can stop panicking. Your stellar rookie quarterbacks Cam Newton and Andy Dalton will not suffer from the dreaded "Sophomore Slump" in 2012. How do I know this? Well, there is one simple reason:
Because there is no such thing as the Sophomore Slump for quality rookie quarterbacks! It does not exist!
Quality rookie starters like Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are in greater danger of being eaten by Big Foot or drowned by the Loch Ness Monster than falling victim to some imaginary NFL curse like the Sophomore Slump. Don't let ESPN or Pro Football Weekly fool you. It does not exist.
In fact, over the past 20 years the vast majority of NFL quarterbacks who started and played well as rookies noticeably improved in their second year.
Rather than asking the question if Cam Newton or Andy Dalton will be afflicted by the "dreaded" Sophomore Slump, the question Panthers and Bengals fans should be asking is this:
"Just how much better will Newton and Dalton be in 2012?"
If history repeats itself, the statistics say they will be better. Much, much better.
Dump the Slump
To determine if the Sophomore Slump exists I analyzed data from pro-football-reference.com of quarterbacks over the past 20 years who threw for at least 2,500 yards in their rookie season and retained their starting position in their second year (data here). In all, 12 quarterbacks met these criteria.
As a whole, these 12 quarterbacks saw noticeable statistical improvement in their second seasons when compared to their rookie years:
1st Year Average: QB Rating - 75, Yards/Gm - 196, Completions - 58%, Interceptions - 3.6%
2nd Year Average: QB Rating - 84, Yards/Gm - 213, Completions - 59%, Interceptions - 2.6%
On average, rookie quarterbacks who retained their starting roles for their entire sophomore years (which Newton and Dalton will likely do) improved upon their QR rating, yards per game, completion percentage, and threw fewer interceptions.
(Note: Chris Weinke and Matt Leinart threw for more than 2,500 yards as rookies but did not retain their starting roles in Year 2 and are therefore not included in the above analysis.)
Sophomore Slump? More like "Sophomore Surge"
Individually the 12 quarterbacks over the past 20 years to throw for 2,500+ yards as rookies and retained their starting spots in their second seasons can be lumped into three main categories - Surge (noticeable improvement), Sustain (equal performance), or Slump (noticeable decline). Based on the statistics below, I would subjectively classify them as follows:
Surge: Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Bryon Leftwich, Jeff Garcia, Peyton Manning, Kerry Collins
Sustain: Ben Roethlisberger, David Carr, Tony Banks, Rick Mirer
Slump: Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan
Half of the rookie quarterbacks of the Newton/Dalton caliber saw their statistics noticeably improve in Year 2. Joe Flacco threw for 40 more yards per game in his second season while Jeff Garcia improved by 71 yards per game. Carson Palmer's QB Rating went from 77 to 101 and Peyton Manning's went from 71 to 91. Kerry Collins improved his completion percentage by 7% in his second season.
While Ben Roethlisberger "only" maintained his rookie stats in Year 2, his rookie year was outstanding with a QB rating of 98 and completion percentage of 66%, so his sophomore season was still excellent.
The only two productive rookie quarterbacks who took steps backward in their sophomore years were Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan, both of whom are still quality starters today.
Stat Nerds - Rejoice!
If you are a stat nerd like I am, here are the actual statistics for each of the 12 quarterbacks. Italicized font indicates improvement in Year 2. Bold font indicates regression in Year 2:
2010 - Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: Rating (77 to 71), Yards/Gm (220 to 216), Completion % (60% to 54%), Interception % (2.5% to 1.7%)
2008 - Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Rating (88 to 81), Yards/Gm (215 to 208), Completion % (61% to 58%), Interception % (2.5% to 3.1%)
2008 - Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: Rating (80 to 89), Yards/Gm (186 to 226), Completion % (60% to 63%), Interception % (2.8% to 2.4%)
2004 - Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals: Rating (77 to 101), Yards/Gm (223 to 240), Completion % (61% to 68%), Interception % (4.2% to 2.4%)
2004 - Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Rating (98 to 99), Yards/Gm (187 to 199), Completion % (66% to 63%), Interception % (3.7% to 3.4%),
2003 - Bryon Leftwich, Jacksonville Jaguars: Rating (73 to 82), Yards/Gm (188 to 210), Completion % (57% to 61%), Interception % (3.8% to 2.3%)
2002 - David Carr, Houston Texans: Rating (63 to 70), Yards/Gm (162 to 168), Completion % (53% to 57%), Interception % (3.4% to 4.4%)
1999 - Jeff Garcia, San Francisco 49ers: Rating (78 t 98), Yards/Gm (196 to 267), Completion % (60% to 63%), Interception % (2.9% to 1.8%)
1998 - Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: Rating (71 to 91), Yards/Gm (234 to 258), Completion % (57% to 62%), Interception % (4.9% to 2.8%)
1996 - Tony Banks, St. Louis Rams: Rating (71 to 72), Yards/Gm (182 to 203), Completion % (52.2% to 51.7%), Interception % (4.1% to 2.7%)
1995 - Kerry Collins, Carolina Panthers: Rating (62 to 79), Yards/Gm (181 to 189), Completion % (49% to 56%), Interception % (4.4% to 2.5%)
1993 - Rick Mirer, Seattle Seahawks: Rating (67 to 70), Yards/Gm (177 to 166), Completion % (56% to 51%), Interception % (3.5% to 1.8%)
No Sophomore Slump Boogeyman in the Closet
So, Panthers and Bengals fans, you can breathe easy. There is no Sophomore Slump boogeyman lurking in your closet. There is no monster under the bed. Freddy Kruger is not waiting to pounce the moment Cam or Andy falls asleep.
If history is any guide, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton will likely improve their play from a year ago.
Do not fear the make-believe Sophomore Slump.
Instead, look forward to the Sophomore Surge.
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Panthers fan. For more from this author, visit the archive or check these out: