A lot has been made of NFL players in their second year, and rightfully so. Sophomores are better adjusted to the speed of the professional level, their handle on not just the playbook but the offensive system as a whole, and the day-to-day intricacies of being in the NFL.
A good amount has been written about second-year players and their breakout potential. I will spare you the summarization. What has not been written about ad nauseam are quarterbacks in their second year with either the same offense-minded head coach or offensive coordinator.
Just like pure sophomores, there is a learning curve with offense schemes — the intuition and chemistry with the supporting cast, and the play-calling aspect. Matthew Stafford said as much recently in an interview on his first year in Los Angeles. It goes to stand that since 2017, QBs and aforementioned coaches in their second year together generally improve from their initial year.
In fact, of the 24 second-year system quarterbacks since 2017, 71% of these quarterbacks either met or improved on a per-game fantasy basis from their first year in the system. We saw this from Joe Burrow and Tom Brady last year. Kyler Murray and Aaron Rodgers also made huge leaps in 2020. Of the 17 successful instances, quarterbacks improved an average of 3.43 fantasy points per game in standard scoring.
Those who didn’t improve upon their first year are among the most-despised quarterbacks/head coach duos in recent memory. The Mitchell Trubisky’s and the Sam Darnold’s of the football world — the Matt Nagy’s and the Adam Gase’s. There’s a reason why they’re not working together anymore.
Let’s put that 3.43 points/game into perspective. That’s the difference last year between the QB1 Josh Allen and QB14 Lamar Jackson. That’s an extra 1445 passing yards in a season — another 14 touchdowns if you will. This is a significant bump, so it’s worth it to explore the second-year system quarterbacks in 2022 and see who is prime for this kind of jump.
Jared Goff (Lions, Head Coach: Dan Campbell)
There’s a chance Jared Goff can improve upon his ’21 season with Detroit. It’s just that he’s, well, Jared Goff. How much are you looking for here? He improved in his second year with McVay in 2018, albeit he only raised his per-game average by 2.34 points. He is protected by PFF’s number 3 offensive line, and the Lions prioritized wide receivers in the off-season by drafting Jameson Williams and acquiring D.J. Chark.
Hockenson and Swift also missed time last year, so having these options back only helps. It would not be shocking if his numbers improved. All this said, Goff finished QB 24 last year, so he’s not going to be anything more than a streaming candidate based on the matchup.
Matthew Stafford (Rams, Head Coach: Sean McVay)
Let’s have some fun and tack that 3.43 points/game average onto Stafford’s finish last year. He would’ve finished as the overall QB2! This is in the realm of possibility. The Rams have learned to attack the two-deep coverage shells that are prevalent amongst defenses by leaning into super-spread sets with empty backfields and letting Stafford work his magic. They are amongst the top in the league to pass on first down and when they enter the red zone. Kupp has proved he is an elite receiver, and the team signed Allen Robinson to join his side. One can imagine the number of their dig routes that will frustrate opposing safeties this year.
If Tutu Atwell can take on the role they needed from DeSean Jackson last year it will only open up the offense more. Remember that Stafford has perennially been one of the league’s best deep-ball passers. Admittedly it would take a lot to top the 4800 yards/41 TDs from last year, and Stafford’s fantasy finish is capped by his lack of rushing, but the Rams know how to win games, and the rest of the league is figuring out how to stop them.
Jalen Hurts (Eagles, Head Coach: Nick Sirianni)
I have written about Hurts at length, but there’s no denying he has a better supporting cast this year while he’s in year two of the system. AJ Brown will help with post routes and making defenses think twice when they place him in isolation in 3×1 or 4×1 sets, and I am sure Hurts will make defenses pay with his legs if the looks are right. You also have DeVonta Smith in his second year and PFF’s number 1 offensive line. There are a lot of factors that could go right for Hurts this year. The question is which Hurts we’ll see this year—the first half one when they were losing, or the second half one when they were making their playoff push.
Trey Lance (49ers, Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan)
This second-year system player has the widest range of possibilities, and it’s hard to imagine it falling somewhere in the middle of him taking over the league by storm or him being a bust. First, there are several factors going against him: Mike McDaniel, the long-time running game coordinator is gone. So are perennial pro-bowler Alex Mack and other units of the offensive line.
We don’t know what will happen with Deebo, nor do we know what weather pattern will send Shanahan into a frenzy and decide to put Brandon Aiyuk back into his doghouse. Trey Lance is also raw. We knew that when he came into the league. The media picking apart every detail as if he is a member of the royal family is, well, never a good thing. You can see this turning bad, and I say this as a lifetime Niners fan. We were close last year, so the last thing you want is a step backward.
But yet….and just let me have this moment….what if Lance goes out there and wrecks this league? We have seen this with solid organizations putting young, elite playmakers at the center of their offense. They introduce a new and unique talent into the league and defenses are on their heels and unable to stop them. See second-year system Mahomes in 2018, see Lamar Jackson in 2019. The Chiefs and Ravens just needed the right talent to come along to unleash hell onto the league.
To wit: the Niners build an entire offense around Lance and set the league ablaze with a power-runner and -thrower into a wide-zone scheme and make opposing two-safety shells look like a joke. McVay is spreading everyone out. Shanahan is going in a different direction. He is going to make that safety decide between having to attack Lance in the open or cover a streaking Kittle going down the sideline unencumbered.
Be still my heart.
Justin Herbert (Charges, OC: Joe Lombardi)
You know that fun game about adding the 3.43 points/game average to Stafford’s season? Well, it goes without saying you add it to Justin Herbert’s season he is far and away the QB1. He’s coming into his third season in the league, and there’s no reason to think he cannot get better. Another year with the same OC and coaching staff will help. Herbert needs to improve against cover-2 schemes and seems to have an issue facing Fangio-tree defenses. One would think that his head coach Brandon Staley, someone who worked with Fangio himself in Denver and Chicago, can guide him through those troubled waters.
Herbert’s going high in drafts, but his ceiling certainly makes it worth the capital. He has the talent, the offense has some elite pieces, and the Charges stand to be better on both sides of the ball this year.
Zach Wilson (Jets, OC: Mike LaFleur)
It’s not like the organization isn’t doing anything to help him out. They have a nice young core at wide receiver with Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and Garrett Wilson. They went out in free agency and gave bags of cash to two tight ends, and they spent a high second-rounder in this year’s draft on a running back to help ease the load. Mekhi Becton is returning from injury, and they have focused on the line in the past couple of drafts. PFF has them graded at number 13 overall, which makes them average, and average is much better than what Wilson saw last year.
There’s just no confidence in him. Scour the internet and it’s hard to find anything in a positive light. His rookie year showed very little. He struggled so much, and it didn’t help that Mike White (who?) replaced him and immediately improved the struggling offense. The backup went off for 405 yards and 3 TDs against the AFC champ Bengals in an upset win in week 8 that, in retrospect, looked worse for Wilson than good for White.
You can certainly make the argument that Wilson will improve in his second year. That’s not the question. The question is how much. He needs to have a 2018 Matt Ryan (+7.88 points/game improvement) or a 2017 Carson Wentz (+8.38 points/game improvement) season for it to count. He starts off the season facing the Ravens and then the Browns, and it really doesn’t improve until December. Perhaps that’s where he’ll shine, those games against the Lions and the Jaguars, and he can lead the brave/insane few to a fantasy championship. That seems to be the most optimistic outcome for his sophomore season.