RSS
Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, and the dreaded sophomore slump
In their second seasons as starters, last year's breakout stars are struggling mightily under lofty expectations
 
Well, this isn't going as planned.
Well, this isn't going as planned. (Chris Graythen, Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Last season was a banner year for young NFL quarterbacks. A trio of rookies — Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III — wowed the league, while a second-year player, Colin Kaepernick, led his team to the Super Bowl when given his first regular starting gig.

Yet Griffin, named 2012's offensive rookie of the year, is now playing inconsistently for a last-place team. And Kaepernick, after torching defenses last year and coming within a few plays of a Super Bowl title, has failed to come close to repeating his breakout performance.

So what gives? Is Griffin being jinxed by the sports gods for playing on a team with a racist moniker? Is Kaepernick too busy thinking about his full-body tattoo project to concentrate on the game?

Probably not (though an anti-racism sports jinx would be amazing). And while it would be premature to read too much into a down half-season for either player, surely neither one is living up to all the pre-season hype.

One year after putting up the third-best passer rating in the game, Griffin has dropped to 19th in that category. In just 10 games, he's already thrown twice as many interceptions as he did all last year, while putting up significantly worse completion and touchdown rates.

In Sunday's loss to the Eagles, Griffin sealed defeat with a play inexcusable by sandlot standards. Backpedaling under pressure, he tried to airmail the ball out of play to avoid taking a sack and burning valuable clock time; the ball fell softly into the hands of an Eagles defender waiting at the back of the end zone.

Some of the blame for Griffin's woes falls on his knees. He partially tore his right ACL and MCL in January, and banged up his left knee earlier this year. But Griffin's knees didn't throw that interception. That was simply a terrible decision — a rookie mistake, if you will.

Griffin's teammates, too, get some of the blame. Their porous defense has given up more points per game than every team except, barely, the lowly Vikings and Jaguars. On Sunday, they spotted Philadelphia a 24-0 lead — not the easiest hole for any QB to pull his team out from.

Then there's Kaepernick. Prior to the season, NFL analyst Ron Jaworski, with some help from ESPN, brewed up a mini-controversy by suggesting Kaepernick could be one of the best QBs ever to play the game.

Instead, Kaepernick's passer rating is down nearly 20 points from last year, and he's completing only 56 percent of his passes. In approximately the same amount of time as he played all last year, he's put up fewer passing yards and more than doubled his interception rate.

Former QB Trent Dilfer suggested Kaepernick had become too focused on hitting his primary receivers on given plays, causing him to overlook his backup options in favor of ill-advised passes into coverage. Some analysts have also questioned whether the pressure of a down year has had a snowballing effect on his performance, making the regression even worse.

Still, like Griffin, Kaepernick has also been held back by a weaker supporting cast.

The 49ers' second-leading receiver from 2012, Mario Manningham, missed the first half of the year while rehabbing from a torn ACL. Other preferred targets, too, have missed time with injuries or left via free agency or retirement (see: Randy Moss).

And while Kaepernick and Griffin aren't having the outstanding encores many assumed they would, it's not like either player is a total scrub. Statistically speaking, they're about in the middle of the pack.

So while the hand-wringing over the two young QBs is not without reason, it is a bit early to group them with the infamous burnouts who came before them. Kaepernick's 49ers are still in line for a playoff berth, and Griffin's Redskins are...well, there's always next year.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week