NFL AM: Sophomore Step-Ups


The 2015 NFL season saw a few quarterbacks step up to new heights as Blake Bortles and Derek Carr broke franchise passing records and directed their teams to great statistical success.

Which current sophomores from the class of 2015 will take similar leaps this year?

Can Gordon Run Toward Greatness?

The first player we believe that will bounce back from a tough rookie campaign is the San Diego Chargers Melvin Gordon.  Gordon battled injuries for most of the 2015 season and even when he was healthy, he was forced to split carries with Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown.

“We rotate three backs right now and it’s tough when you get taken out,” Gordon explained in an exclusive interview with Football Insiders. “I’m not used to that. I’m used to rotating two, I’m not used to rotating three. It’s tough because you feel like you’re starting to heat up and then they take you out.  But they understand and they have their plan on what they want to do.”

To make matters worse, Gordon battled various foot and knee injuries which caused him to have microfracture surgery in he offseason.

“It’s something easy to forget,” Gordon said about his rookie season. “There’s nothing to remember about that. We had a bad season as a team. There’s just nothing to remember, really. We don’t want to go through that again. Obviously, we’re going to remember the losses and things like that — you remember what not to do. But we’re going to be all right.”

How healthy is he now?  He wouldn’t be ready to play a game, but the season doesn’t begin for more than three months and Gordon fully expects to be ready by the start of training camp.

“I’m getting better. I’m getting better. I’m not where I want to be, but I think I’m ahead of schedule. I’m sprinting pretty well. I’m cutting,” he said. “No question, I’ll be ready for training camp. I’m not even worried about that.”

After a tough rookie year it’s difficult to completely depend on Gordon being “the man” in 2016.  With that said, the opportunity for success is there with a much improved Chargers offense that still has a great trigger man in Philip Rivers.  If Gordon is used more as a weapon in the passing game, he can be the three-down back that many San Diego fans envisioned.

Will Dupree Be The Man?

Another player that can make a huge impact in his second season is Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alvin “Bud” Dupree.

Draftniks loved the selection of Dupree by Pittsburgh because of his explosion on the field.  After a solid start to the season in which he had sacks in the first two games, he finished the season with just four sacks and only 17 tackles.

Hardly the impact the Steelers were hoping to get from their first round pick.

“I learned about going through adversity,” he said when asked about his tough rookie season. “We went through it the whole season and overcame it. Myself in college I didn’t play as long. Here the season is real long. I now know what to look forward to next year. You have to experience it and go through it. I also learned about being in shape. The shape level is two different levels, from college to the pros. You have to take care of your body.”

Still, the young group of Pittsburgh linebackers seemed to get better mental reps as the season progressed.

“It just takes getting comfortable and knowing what the coaches expect from you,” Dupree said in an interview with the team website. “Coach Tomlin lets us know the truth and what we have to do. Once you put that all together it’s good. You brain starts clicking and things happen the right way.”

As the old guard which includes the great James Harrison fades away, Dupree and another former first-round pick, former Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier will be looked upon to provide leadership for a once proud defense.

“I thought we were continually a group on the rise, and that’s what you hope for,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of his young defense.  “I expect those guys to play great defense.  They’ve got talent.  We’re going to work to put them in a great position to succeed.”

Rob Ryan Blames Himself, Sort Of

It’s common knowledge that the Manning’s (Archie, Peyton and Eli) are the NFL’s “First Family.”

It’s time to bestow that honor upon the Ryan’s.

Few in sports history have ever been more quotable than brothers Rex and Rob Ryan, and it’s especially impressive considering the lack of elite success each has had while coaching in the NFL. Who’s to say that either would have ever received a shot to coach in the first place if it wasn’t for their dad Buddy, who’s most famously known for punching then offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in the face on the sidelines of a nationally televised game.

Is Buddy Ryan’s punch necessary to the story?

Absolutely not, but it was one of the moments that shaped my football watching youth.

Back to the Ryan’s.  Rex hired Rob in the offseason to run his Buffalo Bills defense and the hijinks that are sure to ensue will be tremendous.

For now, Rob pulled out the old finger pistol and blasted a few shots toward his former employers in New Orleans.

“There are two years that don’t have my signature on them, and it’s the last two years in New Orleans. And that’s just the truth,” Ryan said during an interview with The MMQB.

Surely you’ve heard of a backhanded compliment.  This upcoming quote is taking backhanded blame.

“I should have gone into Sean and talked to him. Sean is a good person. I didn’t, and I just let it happen, so I deserve what I got,” Ryan said. “Look, I have been fired before. But I get pissed in New Orleans because I know I am better than that. I am a way better coach than I was allowed to be, and that’s just the truth.

“Oh, we are dead last in defense. Well, yeah, you are going to be dead last playing this bulls— defense. But it is my fault because I didn’t say anything. I never stood up and said, ‘F you, I ain’t coaching this.’ I promise you I’d say it now.”

Is there anyone better at taking less blame while saying “it’s my fault” than Rob Ryan?

The fun times that our friends in the Buffalo media are going to have when the defense that lost Mario Williams inevitably struggles.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.