Sacks aren’t the only measure of a pass rusher, just the most obvious. Getting them depends on some circumstances outside of a player’s control, and not getting them doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not affecting the quarterback.
Those are the things I expected to hear from Falcons end Vic Beasley, the NFL leader with 15.5 sacks two seasons ago before fading to five last season. Instead, Beasley said he wants the most sacks again.
“Winning that sack (title) a couple years ago was pretty phenomenal,” Beasley said. “It brought a lot of confidence on my end. I would like to get back to that. I feel like when I’m doing that, I help my team.”
I’m betting on Beasley to get back to regularly harassing quarterbacks. His talent is obvious. Now he’s healthier and set to be more singularly focused on rushing the passer off the edge full-time, rather than spending time dropping back in coverage as a linebacker in the base defense.
Beasley still will have to be better as a pass rusher — his production fell off on a per-snap basis last year — but at least he’ll be part of the pass rush
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“Make sure we could always keep him active in all the passing downs, so he can do all the things that’s unique to his speed and quickness,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
Those attributes helped Beasley quickly establish himself as an NFL pass rusher after the Falcons drafted him No. 8 overall. After a solid rookie season, Beasley blossomed into a star with 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2016. That production led to a Pro Bowl selection and the expectation for more sacks in 2017.
That included Beasley, who announced his intention to earn back-to-back sack titles. Instead, Beasley didn’t even lead the team in sacks (Adrian Clayborn had 9.5). Beasley’s ranking in pass-rush productivity (sacks, hits and hurries) dropped from 32nd to 67th among NFL edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus.
I expect more from Beasley now that he’s healthier and properly deployed. Beasley never said so, but that hamstring injury had to be a big hindrance for a speed rusher. Beasley should be near the line ready to harass quarterbacks, not dropping into coverage.
It will be hard for Beasley to match his 2016 sack total. A player has recorded 15.5 sacks or more in a season just 20 times over the past 10 years. Only J.J. Watt (three times) and Elvis Dumervil (twice) did it more than once.
There were signs that those 15.5 sacks may have overstated Beasley’s overall production. He got several of them against lower-tier right tackles, and some came late in the play as QBs bolted the pocket. Beasley could be all-or-nothing that season, either strip sacks or silence.
Still, Beasley sacked the quarterback more than any player in the NFL. Put as many asterisks as you want on it but, to me, that’s a big bottom line. With Clayborn now in New England, Beasley clearly is the best edge Falcons edger rusher—and he’s still just 26-years old.
Beasley never has been much of a power rusher, nor has he developed a consistent counter move to go with his quickness off the edge. But Beasley has always had great “get-off,” the ability to anticipate the snap and quickly react to, and he said there’s more there.
“It’s coming along,” he said. “Consistently working at it. Not necessarily satisfied, but happy with the direction it’s going.”
Helping Beasley’s cause is what plausibly could be a good pass-rush group for the Falcons in their nickel package.
Beasley will play alongside a fine interior pass rusher, Grady Jarrett. Takk McKinley, the other nickel end, looks ready to build on a good rookie season. Jack Crawford looked good last season before going on injured reserve after Week 4.
“I’m excited to see what Tak and Vic and Grady and Jack look like when those four get rushing together,” Quinn said. “Some of the best (pass) rush teams I’ve been part of, it’s not usually just one. It’s those guys working in concert (with) good communication.”
Quinn coordinated two all-time great defenses for the Seahawks in 2013 and 2014. Over those two seasons, Seattle collected 81 sacks and hit quarterbacks almost two out of every 10 times they dropped back to pass. It was a team effort, as Quinn said, but Bennett was the catalyst.
Beasley has the talent to be the same kind of player for the Falcons, who will let him focus on getting to the quarterback. Beasley probably won’t get 15.5 sacks again but, if healthy, I expect him to make a run at it.
“Putting him where he does best, that’s good for the team,” Quinn said. “He’s really ready for that challenge.”