New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick often talks about the importance of the second-year jump, or the time where a player overcomes their rookie struggles to contribute as a sophomore.
“That's where a lot of players, I'd say almost all players make a big jump- whether that is reflective in their status on the field, that's another question,” Belichick said of first-to-second year development, via ESPN’s Field Yates. “But just from a development as a football player, that second year is a big year. It's a great opportunity for them to take that first-year knowledge that they don't have as a rookie and be able to apply it in their job now.”
Pats Pulpit’s Bernd Buchmasser looked at all the Patriots sophomores and how they contributed in 2016. EDGE Trey Flowers likely has the biggest household name and DT Malcom Brown comes with the best pedigree, but neither player made the biggest jump in 2016.
Perhaps it’s because neither really had a low floor. Flowers was hurt as a rookie and an unknown commodity. Brown entered the league as a quality player.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) reviewed players that made the biggest improvement in their grading from their first and second years in the league; this rewards players that were atrocious as rookies, but that can be considered a clear second-year jump.
The Patriots have two players that made PFF’s top 10 list of second-year jumps.
5. Shaq Mason, G, New England Patriots
2015 overall grade: 50.7
2016 overall grade: 84.0
“With the Patriots’ offensive line in a state of flux for much of the 2015 season, Mason struggled to find his footing. He switched from LG to RG at the start of the 2015 postseason and hasn’t looked back since, grading at 84.0 in 2016 compared to his 50.7 grade in 2015. Mason was a run-blocking monster in college within Georgia Tech’s triple option offense, and he has formed one of the league’s most dominant and formidable double-team or combination blocks with RT Marcus Cannon. As a pair, they will move pretty much anybody off the line and open up space for the Patriots’ backs. His 2016 run-blocking grade finished 10th among all guards.”
Mason was the league’s best right guard in PFF’s rankings after the Patriots week 9 bye week and is set up to have a monster 2017 season. Mason had a rough Super Bowl, but if he can continue to grow as a pass blocker- which he should in his second season under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia after questionable coaching as a rookie and not pass blocking in college- he’ll be a dominant right guard for years to come.
I was expecting C David Andrews to make the list, too, but PFF isn’t the biggest fan of his contributions and have him as roughly similar to his rookie season performance. Andrews still needs to get stronger in the run game.
8. Eric Rowe, CB, New England Patriots
2015 overall grade: 48.8
2016 overall grade: 73.9
“After a disappointing rookie season with the Eagles, Rowe was traded to New England, where he became one of the team’s three top corners over the season and through the playoffs, ultimately earning himself a Super Bowl ring. The change in scenery clearly had an impact, as his grade improved from 48.8 to 73.9. He allowed only 50 percent of targets thrown his way to be completed, gave up just 75 yards after the catch and conceded one touchdown (postseason play included). He also missed only two tackles, the lowest mark among the Patriots’ top defensive backs.”
The emergence of Rowe in the Patriots secondary seemed like a catalyst for the defense as a whole. Rowe’s inclusion happened at the same time as Trey Flowers’ emergence, Logan Ryan’s redemption, and Devin McCourty’s transformation into a Super Saiyan.
For those that wonder why Flowers didn’t make the list, it’s because he didn’t really receive a rookie grade due to his injury. We witnessed his rookie season and second-year jump all within the same 2016 season, with the clear split happening at the bye week. Maybe Flower’s second-year jump will trail into the 2017 season and he’ll come back as one of the best edge defenders in the entire league.