Perhaps the greatest fear that Bengals fans all share heading into the 2012 season is the thought of quarterback Andy Dalton failing to live up to our expectations as we watch him struggle through his second season, going through what is known as the sophomore slump. We've seen it happen many times before where players would have solid rookie seasons only to struggle in their second year. It doesn't happen to every quarterback, but it does happen enough that we can't ignore the possibility that it could happen to Dalton.
Let's take a look at the numbers of some quarterbacks who started their rookie seasons and see what they did the following year.
In Ryan's rookie year, he completed 265 of 434 passes for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for an 87.7 passer rating. In his sophomore season, he completed 263 of 451 passes for 2,916 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Ryan had a grade of 19.4 from ProFootballFocus for his rookie season and a grade of 1.8 the next year. The Falcons went 11-5 in Ryan's rookie season, and 9-7 in his second season.
Sophomore Slump: Yes
In Flacco's rookie season, he completed 257 of 428 passes for 2,971 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 80.3. In his sophomore season he completed 315 of 499 passes for 3,613 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 88.9. For his rookie season he had a PFF grade of 4.3 and in his sophomore season he received a grade of 19.9. The Ravens went 11-5 in Flacco's rookie year and 9-7 in his second year.
Sophomore Slump: No
Sanchez has struggled in his career so far, even though the Jets have won a lot of games with him at quarterback. Sanchez completed 196 of 364 passes for 2,444 yards, 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in his rookie season for a QB rating of 63 (PFF grade of -20.6). In his sophomore season, he completed 278 of 507 passes for 3,291 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a QB rating of 75.3 (PFF rating of -5.9).
Sophomore Slump: No
Bradford completed 354 of 590 passes for 3,512 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for a QB rating of 76.5 in his rookie season (PFF rating of -11). In his sophomore season (which he only played 10 games), he completed 191 of 357 passes for 2,164 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions for a QB rating of 70.5 (PFF rating of -3.7).
Sophomore Slump: Yes
Big Ben finished his rookie season having completed 196 of 295 passes for 2,621 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 98.1. In his second season, he completed 168 of 268 passes for 2,385 yards, 17 interceptions and nine touchdowns. PFF does not have grades that go back earlier than 2008 so we can't know his grades as they see them, but his passer rating went from 98.1 in 2004 to 98.6 in 2005.
Matthew Stafford was considered, but he only played in three games in his sophomore season. And then we can go way back to guys like Donovan McNabb (no sophomore slump) or Peyton Manning (also no sophomore slump). Guys that were considered were Philip Rivers and Eli Manning, but they didn't start enough games in their rookie seasons to really get an accurate idea of how they played in their sophomore seasons compared tot heir rookie seasons.
So really, we have five guys to look at that can give us a decent idea of what we can expect from Dalton in his sophomore season. Of those five guys, only two could be considered to have had sophomore slumps, Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford. The other three either played at the same level or better in their next seasons.
In reality, we have no way of knowing what Andy Dalton will do in his second season with the Bengals. However, based on what he was able to do last year without the support of a running game and with only one solid wide receiver, I would say that Dalton is primed for another successful season, especially if the Bengals can surround him with better players in 2012.