Typically, pro athletes who excel in their first season go on to even bigger and better things.
The list of Rookies of the Year and notable freshmen who had great first campaigns in the “Big 4” include Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Alex Ovechkin, Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Mike Piazza, Cal Ripken Jr., Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson, just to name a few.
These guys, most in their respective sports Halls of Fame — or in Ovechkin’s case, destined for it — all answered the bell in subsequent seasons and improved on their gaudy rookie year stats and performance.
But, we all know that the white hot spotlight of big league sports can have an adverse effect on a youngster’s career. Mix in injuries, maybe a poor work ethic or attitude and it’s a recipe for career suicide.
There have been quite a few rookies who succumbed to the sophomore jinx and in short order disappeared from the athletic landscape or aren’t far from having their careers go up in smoke.
Andrew Raycroft – NHL
Just three goaltenders have been voted NHL Rookie of the Year since the turn of the millenium. It is a difficult position to play at the highest level and for a goalie to win the award, it’s huge. In 2003-04, after biding his time through three pro seasons split between the Boston Bruins and AHL’s Providence, Raycroft won the starting job. A fifth round pick of the Bruins in 1998, Raycroft played in 57 games and sported a record of 29-18-9, a .926 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average. That earned him the NHL RoY award, but he couldn’t capitalize on it right away, as the 2004-05 season was washed out by a lockout. He played on 11 games in Finland in that fateful season and was never the same again. In 2005-06 he appeared in 30 games, but his numbers all went south (3.71 GAA and .879 save percentage). The controversial trade to Toronto in 2006 didn’t help his cause, either. He played one mediocre season with the Leafs as a starter and for five more seasons he had middling numbers as a back-up before leaving the league for good in 2012.
Cadillac Williams – NFL
Carnell Lamar Williams got his great nickname from a TV sportscaster in Alabama, for the style and the way he ran. Williams was a phenom at Auburn and was selected fifth overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005. Right out of the chute Williams dazzled his peers on the Bucs, rushing for 1,178 yards in 14 games, scoring six touchdowns. His breakout season was rewarded by an AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. His yardage, though, dipped in 2006 by nearly 400 yards in the same number of games and had just one TD. Then, injuries would limit him to just 10 games between 2007 and 2008. He recovered to play in all games during the 2009 season but would gain just 823 yards and score four touchdowns. The next season, he appeared in 16 games (nine starts) and his production was unremarkable, with 437 yards rushing and two TDs. He signed for one season with St. Louis in 2011, didn’t play a whole lot and was out of football at the end of that season.
Bobby Crosby – MLB
Being AL Rookie of the Year in 2004 was more curse, than blessing for California boy Bobby Crosby. He had 57 extra base hits that season (22 homers) and drove in 63 for the Oakland A’s, the team that picked him 25th overall in 2001. However, his other numbers could have portended a downturn in the young infielder’s career. In addition to those gaudy power totals, Crosby struck out 141 times in 151 games and his .239 batting average was the lowest ever for a Rookie of the Year. A big contract in 2005 must have gone to his head, too, as his play never really improved and he ended up being more of a utility man than a fixture in Oakland’s infield. By 2009 his power numbers were all down and he was hitting far too close to the Mendoza line. He signed with Pittsburgh in 2009 as a free agent, but didn’t hit well and was traded to Arizona, which released him after played just nine games and batted .167. A failed stint with Milwaukee in 2013 led to Crosby being released and never heard from again at the major league level.
Steve Francis – NBA
Sometimes Karma can be a real punch in the gut. Francis, a star at the University of Maryland, was drafted second overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1999, but in typical diva fashion cited just about every excuse in the world not to play in British Columbia, including distance from home, taxes, endorsements, God’s will and an aversion to maple syrup. OK, we made that last one up, but you get the picture. He was traded to Houston, had a great rookie season (18.0 PPG, 6.6 assists) and was named to the All-Rookie Team and was Rookie of the Year in 2000. After that he did have three good years with the Rockets and another with Orlando — where it was said he was unhappy to go to — but his numbers were never really better than that freshman season. And then in 05-06 he was traded to the Knicks and a combination of injuries and poor play hastened his departure from the league, which happened early in the 2007-08 season after a terrible 10-game return to Houston.
Peter Regin – NHL
Hockey players from Denmark are becoming more prevalent. In 2004, though, there was only one Danish player in the league, Frans Nielsen — who just happened to be the second player all-time to play in the big league after pioneer Poul Popiel in the late ’60s, early ’70s. That year, two Danes were taken in the draft, one being center Peter Regin, in the third round at 87th overall by the Ottawa Senators (the same position as Nielsen in 2002). Regin split the 2008-09 season between Ottawa and Binghamton and in the fall of 2009 secured a full-time job with the Sens. Even though he was well down the depth chart in Ottawa, Regin had a good first full season, scoring 13 goals and adding 16 assists and a +10 in 75 games. He finished ninth in rookie scoring and added three goals and an assist in six playoff games, too. His production dipped to 17 points (three goals) in 55 games the next year and a combination of injuries and mediocre play doomed his career. After the 2010-11 season Regin appeared in just 102 more NHL games over four seasons and three teams, registering six goals and 13 assists.
Eddie Lacy – NFL
Let’s just say that Eddie Lacy made the Green Bay Packers brass look like geniuses his first season in the NFL. The Alabama running back started 15 of 15 games after being drafted 61st overall in 2013 and piled up 1,178 yards and 11 TDs, along with 257 receiving yards to capture Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and go to the Pro Bowl. He had another good season with the Pack in 2014, however, weight issues and injuries to the stout runner would take their toll after. Currently a free agent, Lacy’s numbers plunged to the point that he appeared in just nine games with Seattle in 2017, starting three and recording just 179 rushing yards and no touchdowns. Listed at 250 lbs., which has been charitable at times, Lacy actually had to pass a weigh in with Seattle in order to activate a bonus in the $5.5 million one year deal he signed in March of 2017.
Geovany Soto – MLB
Just nine catchers in the history of the Rookie of the Year award (started in 1949) have been so honored. Thus, when Puerto Rican catcher Geovany Soto won the NL RoY in 2008, he joined some very select company, including Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson, Carlton Fisk and Mike Piazza. After some brief call-ups to the Chicago Cubs in three seasons leading up to 2008, Soto won the job in ’08 and hit very well, logging a .285 batting average with 35 doubles, two triples, 23 homers and 86 RBI in 141 games. Sadly, he would never reach any of those benchmarks again. By 2012, he hit just .199 with six HR and 14 RBI in 52 games with the Cubs and was traded to Texas. He didn’t hit much better with the Rangers and in the next five seasons, he would appear in just 195 games with four different teams, including the White Sox, L.A. Angels and Oakland A’s.
Landry Fields – NBA
The 2010-11 NBA All-Rookie team was a good one, with superstars Blake Griffin (RoY), John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins all getting nods. While Gary Neal had a fair career, the same could not be said for the fifth member, SG Landry Fields. The Knicks did well with their 39th pick in the draft in 2010, taking Fields out of Stanford. He became a starter and played in all 82 games. While his numbers weren’t spectacular — 9.7 PPG, 6.4 rebounds — Fields did shoot an 39.3 percent from three-point territory. In the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, Field played in all 66 games, but saw his numbers all take significant hits. He average 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and shot an underwhelming 25.6 percent from beyond the arc. The Knicks did tender him a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent and he subsequently signed with Toronto for $20 million over three years. An injury to the UCL in his arm forced Fields to miss significant time with the Raptors as well as force him to shoot differently. His production declined precipitously over just 97 games in three seasons and by 2015 he was gone.
Anthony Duclair – NHL
One good season does not a draft “steal” make. Anthony Duclair may be a cautionary tale for young hockey stars not to believe in their own press clippings. Drafted 80th overall by the New York Rangers in 2013, Duclair played a handful of games for the team in 2014-15 before being traded to Arizona. There, he would be reunited with his linemate from the 2015 gold medal winning Canadian junior team, Max Domi. Their chemistry, evident from the worlds, developed well in his rookie campaign with the Coyotes. Duclair would finish seventh in rookie scoring with 20 goals and 24 assists in 81 games, while also recording a +11 (Domi had 52 points). The next season, though, Duclair struggled badly and was even demoted for a month and a half to Arizona’s AHL affiliate in Tucson. That bit of humble pie, however, didn’t have the desired effect and in the middle of the 2017-18 season he was granted his own trade request and sent to Chicago. Inconsistency plagued him in the Windy City and at the conclusion of last season he was let go, eventually signing a one-way, one-year deal for the league minimum with Columbus.
Kendrell Bell – NFL
Yes, injuries have played a part in the decline of players on this list, but so has statistical inconsistency when supposedly healthy. Kendrell Bell, a linebacker who was drafted 39th overall by Pittsburgh in 2001, had career chock full of different ailments and declining production. The Georgia alum was superb in his rookie season for the Steelers, copping Defensive Rookie of the Year after registering 83 tackles and 9.0 sacks in 16 games, all starts. In the two succeeding seasons, though, Bell would record 9.0 sacks in 28 games. It wasn’t a total loss, but questions would abound. In 2004, he injured his knee on two occasions and played just three games and in 2005 the Steelers released him. His wounds behind him, apparently, the Kansas City Chiefs signed him and he did play 43 games. But, his numbers were nowhere near his early career stats, with 98 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He retired after the Chiefs released him in 2007.
Angel Berroa – MLB
Dominican shortstop Angel Berroa’s star burned brightly for one season with the Kansas City Royals and flickered briefly for three more before he became a footnote in Royals’ history. In 2003, Berroa became just the fourth Royal in AL history to win RoY, based on a .287 average in 158 games, with 28 doubles, seven triples, 17 homers, 73 RBI and 21 stolen bases. While he didn’t play badly from 2004 to 2006, he would only average 22 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 51 RBI and eight stolen bases those three campaigns. By 2007 he had lost the starting job at short, spending most of that season at AAA Omaha. A trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers did nothing for him, as he hit just .230 with a homer and 16 RBI in 84 games. After playing 35 games with the New York Yankees and Mets in 2009 and hitting .143, Berroa was released. He would attempt comebacks with three different teams but was assigned to AAA or released each time.
Marc Jackson – NBA
Not to be confused with former long-time NBA point guard Mark Jackson was 1997 second round pick (Golden State) and center Marc Jackson. The Philadelphia native was a star in high school and would later play for his hometown Temple Owls, where he would lead the team in scoring in the two seasons he played there. He didn’t initially play for the Warriors after being drafted, electing instead to play in Europe to support his mother and younger brother. In 2000, he joined Golden State and in his rookie season scored 13.2 points per game, with 7.5 rebounds in 48 games. He made the All-Rookie team and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Mike Miller of the Orlando Magic. The Dubs would match an offer sheet by Houston after he became a restricted free agent in 2001, but he was fourth on the depth chart and chafed at not being let go to play more. Other than one season in Philadelphia later in his career, Jackson’s production wouldn’t match his freshman output and by 2007 he was gone from the NBA.
Marek Svatos – NHL
The late Marek Svatos sure had a fine rookie season with the Colorado Avalanche in 2005-06. He would score 32 goals and add 18 assists for 50 points in just 61 games, finishing fifth in Calder Trophy voting behind Alex Ovechkin. Like other athletes on this list, injuries and inconsistency would undermine his outstanding first year. Svatos fell to 30 points in 66 games in his sophomore campaign, only to rebound to score 26 goals in 62 games during the 2007-08 season, which was ended prematurely by an ACL injury. He would never be the same, scoring 25 goals and 28 assists over his last 151 games, all but 28 with the Avs. The seventh round pick in 2001 (227th overall) suffered a concussion while playing for Ottawa in 2010-11, effectively ending his NHL career. He returned to his native Slovakia to play part of two seasons there before retiring in 2014. He died at his home in Colorado in 2016, from a drug overdose.
Anthony Thomas – NFL
It didn’t take long for the “A-Train” to derail. A superstar at Michigan, the 6’2″, 221 lb. running back was drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears in 2001 after piling up 1,551 yards and 16 TDs for the Wolverines in his senior season. The robust runner continued his high-stepping ways right into the NFL, reeling off 1,183 yards and scoring seven touchdowns in 14 games during the 2001 season, easily earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. His second season wasn’t as memorable, but he did lead the team in rushing with 721 yards and six TDs. He also led the Bears in rushing in his third season with 1,024 yards (six touchdowns), but by 2004 Thomas was relegated to second-string behind Thomas Jones. He managed just 404 yards in 12 games that season and joined Dallas in 2005, looking to resurrect his stagnant career. It never happened and over his final three seasons with the Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills, ran for a grand total of 559 yards and two TDs in 36 games.
Scott Williamson – MLB
Scott Williamson’s path to the major leagues was gilded in gold. Drafted in the ninth round (276th overall) by Cincinnati out of Oklahoma State, Williamson spent just two seasons in the minor leagues before making the Reds’ opening day roster in 1999. A starter in the minors, the hard-throwing righthander was switched to long relief for the Reds and set the NL on fire. He appeared in 6-2 games, posting a 12-7 record, 2.41 ERA, 1.039 WHIP and 107 strikeouts in 93.1 innings. He was named to the All-Star team and was NL Rookie of the Year. In his sophomore season, he was still an effective strikeout man, but cracks started to show. His ERA went up to 3.29 and his WHIP soared to 1.491 in 48 games. He had one more admirable season with Cincinnati in 2002, but wouldn’t be an All-Star again. By 2006, a season split between the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres, his ERA would balloon to 5.72 and his WHIP to 1.602. He had one so-so year in Baltimore in 2007, was waived and then bounced around the minors until 2010.
Al Thornton – NBA
For a very brief period, Al Thornton’s name was mentioned alongside current stars Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Al Horford. A star forward at Florida State, Thornton averaged 19.7 points and 7.2 rebounds his senior season in 2006-07, and was subsequently picked 14th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the ’07 draft. In 79 games with the Clippers in 2007-08, Thornton managed 12.7 PPG, along with 4.5 rebounds, earning a spot on the All-Rookie Team. He didn’t succumb to the sophomore jinx in 2008-09, recording an average 16.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 71 games, but that was as good as it got for the Georgia native. After a so-so start to the 09-10 campaign, he was included in a three-team, six-player trade in February 2010 that saw him go the Washington Wizards. His play decelerated fast with the Wiz the next year in 49 games (8.0 points, 3.2 rebounds) forcing Washington to waive him. Golden State signed him and he played 22 mostly forgettable games with the Warriors. Since then, he has bounced around leagues in Puerto Rico and Southeast Asia.
Cody Hodgson – NHL
Being a top-10 pick in the NHL comes with all kinds of expectation. In 2008, the Vancouver Canucks saw enough in OHL star Cody Hodgson to take him 10th overall. He was coming off a second straight 40-goal season with the Brampton Battalion and a great playoff run that saw him tally 31 points in 21 games. He then played with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL in the playoffs, scoring six points in 11 games to increase his stock. He would play just 24 total games with Brampton in 2009-10 when a toe injury sidelined him, and in 2010-11 he spent the majority of the year with Manitoba. In 2011-12, he finally stuck with the Canucks and registered 16 goals and 33 points in 63 games, but was dealt to Buffalo. He played 20 games with the Sabres, recording another eight points to bring his total to 41 and earn enough votes to finish eighth in Calder Trophy voting. Despite a fairly fine season during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season (34 points in 48 games) and another 44-point year with Buffalo in 2013-14, his stock plummeted in 2014-15, when he scored just 13 points in 78 games and was a career worst -28. After 39 games with Nashville in 2015-16 (eight points) he was waived, spent some time with Milwaukee of the AHL and retired soon after.
Vince Young – NFL
As a quarterback at the University of Texas, Vince Young had few peers. He set numerous Longhorns passing and rushing records for a QB and led Texas to a BCS championship (setting even more records) in 2006. He was a no-brainer at no. 3 to the Tennessee Titans in 2006. The man with the unorthodox sidearm throwing motion was good enough in his rookie NFL season to be named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. But, a look at his numbers would suggest a future downturn, where passing was concerned. He did run for 552 yards and seven TDs in 2006, but passing-wise, he completed just 51.5 percent of his throws for 2,199 yards and 12 TDs. However, he was picked off 13 times and had a sub-standard 66.7 rating. Young played 15 games again in 2007, logged a 9-6 record, threw for 2,546 yards but was picked off 17 times while throwing nine TD strikes. Injuries limited his effectiveness from 2008 on and after a disastrous trade to Philadelphia in 2011, where he had a dismal 60.8 rating in six games, he was released. Several failed attempts at a comeback failed and he even tried to catch on with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2017, which ended after a hamstring injury.
Bob Hamelin – MLB
When your teammates give you the nickname “The Hammer”, you have done something right in major league baseball. A two-sport phenom in high school (baseball, football), Bob Hamelin was actually recruited to play football at Notre Dame, but opted for baseball instead and after playing for Santa Ana College in California, was selected in the second round of the 1988 draft by Kansas City. The stout 6’1″, 240 lb. first baseman apprenticed in the minors for six seasons before making the club out of spring training in 1994. Hamelin was outstanding in 101 games that year, hitting .282, with 25 doubles, a triple, 24 home runs and 65 RBI. He won AL Rookie of the Year and seemed destined for great things in the bigs. Sadly, that curtain call would pretty much define his short career. Outside of a 18-homer, 52 RBI campaign with Detroit in 1997, Hamelin hit just 23 homers in three other seasons combined and in 1999, when he was with the AAA Toledo Mud Hens, abruptly quit baseball after grounding out in one particular game.
Emeka Okafor – NBA
For a guy who was 2005 NBA Rookie of the Year and one of five on the NBA All-Rookie Team with Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala, Emeka Okafor has never really capitalized on his great freshman season. Drafted second overall by the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004 out of the University of Connecticut, the power forward/center started 73 of 73 games with the Bobcats in 2004-05. He finished an outstanding season with 15.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks that year. Injuries hampered his development in 05-06 and 06-07, when he appeared in 93 total contests. He did rebound to play all 82 games three years in a row between 2007-08 and 2009-10, but didn’t match or surpass the scoring and rebounding totals from that great debut. In fact, he would never again come close to that rookie output and injuries would keep him out of basketball for four seasons due to a herniated disc in his neck. Once he was cleared to play in 2017, he was signed to a brief contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, but had mediocre numbers in 26 games, recording 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds.