Predicting NFL’s Biggest Sophomore Slumps of 2023

In the aftermath of the NFL Draft, there is a lot of positivity. Teams and fans alike are excited about the new rookie class. However, those new players can create complicated depth chart situations for second-year players looking to build off a strong rookie season.

That causes some players to have a “sophomore slump.” Charles Davis and Paul Burmeister evaluate the situation of some players who could be in for a tough second season. How will these players respond to new competition in their position groups?

Potential Sophomore Slumps

Jordan Davis, IDL, Philadelphia Eagles

Jordan Davis was a first-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles last year from Georgia. He played well early, but he got hurt. Then, the Eagles signed Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph, so Davis’ playing time went down. 

The former Georgia Bulldog is expected to be a starter this season with Suh, Joseph and Javon Hargrave gone. Davis should move in next to Fletcher Cox, but lo and behold, who did Philadelphia draft in the first round this year? Davis’ former Georgia teammate, Jalen Carter.

How is Davis going to handle that? 

Stamina was always a question coming out of Georgia; Davis played fewer than 30 percent of the Bulldogs’ snaps. Obviously, he played well while he was on the field. But has he increased his stamina? How will the fight go for that No. 1 position next to Cox?

The way I see it, this is perfect for him. Carter’s coming in, and Davis is just a second-year player. Both of them can learn from Cox and Brandon Graham in that defensive line room. No one has to sit there and play every single snap.

This all works in Davis’ favor because when he’s on the field, he’s a full-go guy, and we know what type of athletic marvel he is. Now, he can be a game-wrecker and then tap the helmet for Carter or Cox to substitute for him. 

For Davis, it looks like a loss with Carter coming, but I think it will be a net gain. Because now the Eagles have another person to go after the quarterback. — Davis 

>> READ: Why Eagles Keep Drafting Georgia Players

Kenneth Walker, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Last year, Kenneth Walker did a wonderful job making the Seattle Seahawks offense better than we all thought it would be. Walker having more than 1,000 yards is a big reason the team’s offense surprised so many. 

Since that worked so well last season, Seahawks general manager] John Schneider said, “Okay, let’s do that again.” So for the second straight year, they took a running back in the second round. This time it was Zach Charbonnet out of UCLA. 

If you’re Walker, and you’re playing golf, or you’re out with your friends during draft weekend, and you see the Charbonnet pick come across the ticker, you’re going to take yourself aside for a few minutes or something. 

It doesn’t have to be a big negative, and it doesn’t have to be defined as a slump. Look at it this way. After Walker, the Seahawks’ next leading rusher last season was QB Geno Smith. That’s not what offensive coordinator Shane Waldron wants. 

They want a smaller gap between their top running back and second-leading rusher. Whether the top running back this year is Charbonnet or Walker remains to be seen, but I see exactly what they’re going for. — Burmeister

Alec Pierce, WR, Indianapolis Colts 

Former University of Cincinnati WR Alec Pierce did a nice job for the Indianapolis Colts last season. He mostly played on the outside as a big, strong, physical kid capable of going up and getting the football.

But now, the Colts will likely start rookie QB Anthony Richardson this season. All quarterbacks love easy completions, but rookie quarterbacks depend on easy completions. 

Sometimes the ball doesn’t go out to the outside of the numbers early in a rookie’s tenure because they want to throw it in a place where the ball’s out of their hands quickly and in their sight lines.

TE Jelani Woods, another second-year player, is the Colts’ primary target down the seam. Young quarterbacks love big targets, and Woods is every bit of that. He looks like a power forward when he’s running downfield.

Michael Pittman Jr. is another big, strong, physical receiver who can get the ball early. Josh Downs is a rookie slot receiver from the University of North Carolina, and he’s on the scene now.

For a young quarterback, you want those easy completions to build up confidence. Sometimes they don’t get the ball outside the numbers for receivers like Pierce to have big seasons. — Davis 

Daniel Bellinger, TE, New York Giants 

Daniel Bellinger ended up being the New York Giants’ leading receiver at the tight end position last season. 

Now, the landscape has changed in a major way for him. The Giants acquired Darren Waller, and he’s one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL when healthy. The Giants want Waller to have more than 50 catches this season. That volume will kick down the next tight end regardless of the organization. 

They also signed WR Parris Campbell, a veteran with a lot of potential. He could see a lot of targets in New York. Jalin Hyatt from Tennessee, a third-round pick, has at least moderate expectations this season, too. 

The point is fewer passes will be headed Bellinger’s way in 2023. How will he take it? The phrase “you have to be a pro” gets thrown around a lot and has a lot of different meanings. In this case, it means swallowing the ego that came with being the top tight end in the building. 

Bellinger will likely be the second tight end by a fair margin. How will he handle that? What kind of pro is he going to be? I want to see how Bellinger rebuilds the role he built up in his rookie season and how he responds as a sophomore. — Burmeister 

Charles Davis is an NFL analyst for CBS and NFL Network. He joined the sports media world after playing safety at the University of Tennessee.

Paul Burmeister, a former starting quarterback at Iowa, is a studio host with NBC Sports and the radio voice of Notre Dame Football. For a decade he worked as a studio host at NFL Network. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulWBurmeister.

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