Regression to the Mean, Or Something More? 49ers Dealing With Sophomore Slump

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

The 2018 season has not gone the way anyone had envisioned after ending last year on a five-game winning streak. Despite the team’s 1-7 record some players, like Matt Breida and George Kittle have built on their play from last year, and some players the team was counting on to take the next step have seemingly regressed. Here are three that stand out:

Reuben Foster:

Reuben Foster came into the NFL with equal amounts of buzz and question marks. On the field, he was a dynamic heat-seeking missile that destroyed anything in his path, and off of the field there were questions about a shoulder injury and whether it would be a chronic issue for him going forward and if his frame (6-foot, 229 pounds at the combine) could stand up to the rigors of his style of play in an NFL season. Foster also had issues while at the NFL scouting combine: first he delivered a diluted urine sample, which, is tantamount to a failed drug test (a chronic issue?), and then he was sent home from the combine for what was described as an “incident” with a hospital worker.

The issues at the combine and the injury concerns caused Foster to fall to the 31st pick in the draft where the 49ers traded up to take a player they say they were willing to take at the third pick, but instead took Solomon Thomas. As Foster’s rookie year started it looked as though the injury concerns may come to fruition when he missed Weeks 2 through 6 and played just ten of sixteen games his rookie year. However, when Foster was on the field he was outstanding, recording 72 tackles, including 7 tackles for loss, showing the same heat-seeking missile style he did in college.

Going in to year two all signs appeared to be pointing up for Foster, he was not recovering from an offseason surgery as he was the previous season, and he had an outstanding rookie season from which to build. Through eight games, however, Foster has been almost invisible at times and missing tackles at others. Foster has fewer tackles and tackles for loss through his first six games this year (Foster was suspended by the NFL for the first two games of the season) than through the same number of games last year. Why does it appear that Foster has regressed when conventional NFL wisdom says the largest progression a play makes in his career is from year one to year two?

The first and most glaring reason is injury. Foster is dealing with a shoulder issue, that the team says does not require surgery, and as a result Foster appears to be playing with one arm at times, which, could be the cause of some the missed tackles and lack of impact plays this season. The second reason, due to a tumultuous offseason, Foster was kept away from the team for all but three weeks of the offseason program. Missing all of the Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and most of training camp no doubt set Foster’s development back.

Trent Taylor:

Trent Taylor put up staggering numbers his senior season at Louisiana Tech, catching 136 passes for 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the on-field numbers could not overcome his off-field numbers, specifically, 5-foot 8 inches tall and 181 pounds; Taylor’s diminutive stature and 4.63-second 40-yard dash time caused him to last until the fifth round. Being more quick than fast and uncommonly fearless made Taylor ideally suited for the slot wide receiver position and as a return man on special teams, roles he took to right away. Although Taylor did not put up eye-popping numbers his rookie year, he always seemed to get open on third down; once Jimmy Garoppolo became the starter in Week 13 Taylor became his favorite third down target. With Garoppolo in place for a full season, Taylor was expected to pick up right where he left off in 2017. Thus far, 2018 has not gone as planned for Trent Taylor (or the 49ers).

Obviously losing Jimmy Garoppolo to a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 has stunted the growth of the wide receivers, however, something was amiss with Taylor before that. Taylor’s numbers through eight games are down compared to the first eight games of last year before Garoppolo took over the quarterback duties. Off-season back surgery forced Taylor to miss all of the OTA period and the first ten days of training camp, costing him valuable reps. Back surgery can have a lengthy recovery period for a professional athlete, and Taylor is as tough as they come but perhaps he is still not completely recovered from his.

Marquise Goodwin:

Trent Taylor is not the only 49ers receiver fans were expecting big things from this season, Marquise Goodwin really blossomed as a receiver in 2017. The former Olympic long jumper showed tremendous growth as a football player last year despite going through unimaginable personal tragedy during the season. Like everyone on the 49ers’ offense, Goodwin’s fortunes changed once Jimmy Garoppolo became the full-time starter, but even before that happened Goodwin was on his way to establishing career highs in receptions and yards. Finishing 2017 with 962 receiving yards, Goodwin appeared ready to establish himself as a legitimate number one receiving option, but he has not been able to carry that success over to this season.

Through eight games this season Goodwin’s numbers are not up to the pace he set in the Garoppolo-less first eight games last year. Part of the fall off can certainly be explained by injury, Goodwin is like a high-end sports car, when it is running at peak performance it is a sight to behold, but smaller issues can sap that performance; this year Goodwin has suffered some nagging leg injuries that have cost him all or parts of three games. During the first half of last season, Pierre Garçon was on pace for 80 catches and 1,000 receiving yards, giving the 49ers a legitimate receiving threat on the opposite side of Goodwin, a luxury he has not had this season.

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