By all accounts, Vic Beasley had a poor rookie season. He only had 4 sacks and 26 tackles over 16 games. For a Top 10 pick who was looked at as an elite pass rusher, it can be considered nothing but a failure. Right?
Maybe our expectations of Beasley were the flaw. Maybe he performed as well as could have been expected of him. After all, playing through a torn labrum on a team who finished last in the league in sacks are less than ideal conditions. Although Beasley only had 4 sacks on the season, he still led the Falcons. Putting his season in context makes it look much better. And that’s even without considering the usual learning curve for pass rushers. Michael Strahan, who holds the record for single season sacks, played his first 3 full seasons with 4.5, 7.5, and 5 sacks, respectively. In his fourth full season he jumped to 14 sacks and finished his career out by putting up double digit totals in nearly every season. J.J. Watt, perhaps the best defensive player in the league today, only totaled 5.5 sacks in his first season. In his four seasons since he brought quarterbacks down 20.5, 10.5, 20.5, and 17.5 times, respectively. In DeMarcus Ware’s first season he only had 8 sacks. Since his 2005 rookie year, he has put up double digit sacks in every season where he played the full 16 games.
It’s no secret that EDGE rusher’s have one of the steepest, if not the steepest, learning curve of any position. That was just conveniently forgotten when Vic Beasley came to town.
Off the bat, Beasley’s pressure rates don’t look good. A 32.8% cumulative pressure rate is nothing to write home about in general. When looking at it within the frame of all EDGE rushers, these numbers are equivalent to a decent number two. When looking at it within the context of other rookie rushers, though, they look much better. Beasley’s Cumulative Success Rate is second among rookies only to Preston Smith’s 33%. That is incredibly small margin for the sample size that we’re dealing with.
These numbers look even better once again when you take into account Beasley’s improvement over the course of the season. Four of the eight games of Beasley that I charted were in the first half of the season and four were in the second half. His Cumulative Success Rate from the first four games was 31.2%, while over the second half of the season that improved to 35.7%. We know that it takes time for EDGE rushers to find their footing in the NFL, so seeing Beasley make strides within his first year is very encouraging.
As far as usage goes, Beasley took 93% of his charted snaps on the edge and 7% on the inside. That is unlikely to change anytime soon, as it is rumored that he might make a move to SAM linebacker in 2016. Moving to linebacker shouldn’t make too much of an effect on Beasley’s role, though, as the SAM position in Dan Quinn’s scheme is essentially the same as the LEO, which Beasley spent much of his time at in 2015.
I made this point a few times earlier in the season, but during his rookie season Beasley won in exactly the same ways we expected him to before the draft. He is heavily reliant on his natural athleticism, which many rookies are, but he does show some variety to his approach.
Other than being a #ForcePlayer#, Beasley’s biggest selling point as a pass rusher was the ability to beat an offensive tackle in a variety of ways on any given play. Each move was just as deadly as the last and the next. That doesn’t exactly hold true for his rookie season performance, but essentially being a toned down version of his college self is a good sign. He also showed that his athleticism could still be a threat even when not being consistently complemented by counter moves. These are all good signs for Beasley’s future career prospects.
Bringing the quarterback to the ground once he beat offensive tackles was one of Beasley’s strong points at Clemson. It wasn’t as much so during his rookie season. Out of the around 15 players of whom I have charted 6 games, Beasley has by far the lowest Conversion Percentage and the only one not in double digits. That would be concerning if Beasley wasn’t creating pressure at a high level and if we didn’t know about the career trends that EDGE rushers usually follow. If Beasley is able to continue putting pressure on the quarterback, sacks will follow.
As bad as Beasley’s rookie year looked as the season progressed, that isn’t really the case. In fact, it was quite encouraging. Producing as a rookie EDGE rusher is no easy task, especially with the torn labrum and lack of surrounding talent that Beasley was faced with. Sure Beasley didn’t meet the expectations we had for him, but maybe that was more our fault than his. Just because a he was an elite prospect, doesn’t mean he should have been expected to come in and immediately produce at an elite level. After all, some of the best pass rushers in recent history were just as “disappointing” in their rookie seasons.
Beasley may be stuck amongst the top of the pack in terms of rookie EDGE rushers, but I still feel confident that he can rise above the pack and become the elite pass rusher that many envisioned when ranking him atop the 2015 Draft class.
My next two Pressure Production pieces are going to focus on Bud Dupree and Hau’oli Kikaha. You can vote on who comes next here. Following those two posts I am going to turn my focus towards free agent pass rushers and will have somewhat of an announcement on the future format of Pressure Production.
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