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Sophomore Slump Candidates for 2018

The dreaded "sophomore slump," or significant drop off in production a player experiences in his second NFL season, is something that fantasy owners hope to never hear being said about a player they own or plan on drafting.

The 2017 season saw plenty of rookies make noticeable, even historic impacts on their teams immediately upon entering the league to the benefit of fantasy owners who picked them. That being said, should we have any concerns about any of these rookies as they enter year two?

Like it or not, these young stars could be in line for negative regression the second time around. Here is the top player at each offensive fantasy position that I expect to go through a sophomore slump in 2018.

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Second-Year Strugglers?

Deshaun Watson (QB, HOU)

The Houston Texans offense was transformed overnight when quarterback DeShaun Watson took the starting job. In his seven games as a rookie, the young playmaker threw 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions while rushing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Watson's 25 fantasy points per game surely made many owners happy in 2017, but that same productivity shouldn't be expected as he enters his second season.

There are two major reasons why Watson could be significantly less dominant in 2018. First, he averaged a touchdown pass on 9.31 percent of his attempts, which was the second-best rate among all 1,464 quarterbacks to attempt at least 200 passes since the NFL merger. Touchdowns are the most unpredictable source of fantasy points, meaning Watson is more likely than most players to be due for serious regression. Furthermore, the fact that Watson is coming off of a non-contact ACL injury he suffered in practice should act as a warning signal. Although he has stated that he doesn't plan on changing his style of play, owners need to carefully watch Watson as he participates in OTAs and preseason games to see if he can truly return to form.

In short, the ceiling that fantasy owners are expecting from Watson's rookie season going into Year Two should be lowered significantly. Many owners seem to be catching on to this, as his average draft position has fallen from the third round to the fourth in a little under a month's time. He could be a value as time goes on, but that will depend on his play leading up to September.

Kareem Hunt (RB, KC)

I could have gone with New Orleans Saints rusher Alvin Kamara given the fact that his historic rookie numbers most certainly won't be repeated, but I still fully expect him to return value given the lack of personnel turnover in the Saints offense and Mark Ingram being suspended for the first four games of the season. The same, however, cannot be said for Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt.

While Hunt's talent on the ground and through the air led to 1,327 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 53 receptions, and three receiving touchdowns, it is undeniable that he was the beneficiary of opportunity. In the 2016 offseason, the major story line leading up to fantasy drafts was how Hunt's role would be limited by fellow backfield-mate Spencer Ware, who handled 65.4 percent of the Chief’s rushing attempts and saw 42 targets in the prior season. A torn PCL and LCL quickly removed Ware from the equation and opened the door for Hunt to dominate as the Chiefs lead back in a prolific offense. With Ware returning and the team signing rushers Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams in the offseason, it's hard to imagine the team giving Hunt the same bell-cow workload from his rookie year.

On top of that, the Chiefs offense will look incredibly different in 2018 due to their starting quarterback and offensive coordinator departing in the offseason. Opinions on sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes range from a hot gunslinger who could elevate the offense to a young and erratic passer with room to grow. I fully expect the offense to need time to gel with a new signal-caller and a new scheme, signaling bad news for Hunt's productivity.

It is incredibly difficult to evaluate Hunt as a late first-round pick in 2018 fantasy drafts and I would encourage many owners to avoid ranking him solely based off of his rookie year.

Cooper Kupp (WR, LAR)

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill could be another candidate for a sophomore slump, but I'm going to avoid adding two players from the same team on this list. Plus, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp's insane red zone numbers from 2017 mean he could be one of the more volatile players for fantasy owners in this upcoming season. The 24-year-old finished his rookie season with 62 catches on 95 targets, 869 receiving yards and five touchdowns, but the numbers in the red zone were his bread and butter for fantasy success. He received the fourth-most red zone targets in the NFL last season (24) and converted an incredible 25-percent of those receptions into touchdowns. Depending on how you interpret it, Kupp's red zone efficiency could make him a solid sleeper or a candidate due for regression.

Unfortunately, this offseason saw the Rams add players that will hinder Kupp's already limited receiving upside. The team's addition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks to replace Sammy Watkins is sure to draw even more targets away from Kupp and lower his reception share in the offense. Over the past three seasons, Cooks saw 129, 117 and 114 targets, whereas Watkins has not been targeted 100 times since his rookie year. Cooks will make a more noticeable impact in that offense than many expect and he is already receiving rave reviews from head coach Sean McVay.

Couple the addition of Cooks with the signings of several defensive studs in defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, cornerback Marcus Peters, and cornerback Aqib Talib and you have plenty of low passing attempt, lead-preserving game scripts that threaten to take Kupp out of many contests early.

Evan Engram (TE, NYG)

While the New York Giants as a whole were a fantasy wasteland in 2017, there was one lone bright spot for owners: tight end Evan Engram. At a position that was astonishingly disappointing, Engram managed to haul in 64 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns across 15 games.

Still, much of his success came as a byproduct of the weapons around him dropping like flies. Injuries to wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard allowed the cards to align for Engram and ensure he would be a consistent target for quarterback Eli Manning to rely on. Furthermore, the Giants are expected to lean on an improved rushing attack after adding depth to their offensive line and drafting running back Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Engram doesn't have the frame of a prototypical blocking tight end in the NFL and shouldn't see the field as much in 2018, making him a prime candidate for a sophomore slump.


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