Devil’s Advocate: Sophomore Slump Risks

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Which second-year starter could be most susceptible to suffering a sophomore slump?

If you will pardon the intense alliteration in my introductory dialogue starter above, I would like to discuss the Steelers’ year-two starters on defense heading into the year and how imperative it is that they avoid a regression after establishing themselves as key figures.

Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave all continued to improve over the course of their rookie season as they played more and more and gained experience, but that doesn’t always carry over to their second year. Many factors play into that, including opponents knowing them better. So who faces the biggest risk of taking a step back?

Artie Burns

One can make the argument that the cornerback position is the most stressful and trying position to play, at least on defense. You are primarily responsible for limiting the big plays because you are the man covering the player most likely to make those big plays.

Burns allowed some of those big plays last year, and he has to show that he can avoid that this year, consistently. By the very nature of the position, he may be the most susceptible to having an off year.

Sean Davis

Davis is returning from shoulder surgery. While he played through it last season, and obviously isn’t majorly significant, it is at least worth noting. The safety had issues finishing plays last season in every facet, including blitzing. That is one thing that cannot repeat this year, and could cause him to struggle in year two.

Javon Hargrave

I would like to discuss Hargrave’s position here irrespective of playing time, because we know he probably will not play as much as he did last year when his snaps increased due to injuries.

I think the oppositional research argument could be best applied to the third-round nose tackle. A small-school product who is deceptively fast, he got significant air time last year sacking Tom Brady in the AFC title game, so opponents know him now and will be prepared for him.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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