In Vic Beasley’s rookie season, the Falcon’s 8th pick of the 2015 draft received mixed reviews. Many scrutinized him for his pedestrian 4 sack total last season, even though he had the second highest pass-rush grade out of all rookies last year, according to Pro Football Focus. He did have some trouble finishing plays, which could be partly attributed to him playing through a torn labrum for a good portion of the season. Going into training camp, Beasley has emphasized that his shoulder is now 100% healthy, and he looks to be in great physical shape for his new role in 2016. He has added a noticeable amount of muscle, and paired with his already elite speed, he is the perfect mold for a linebacker/defensive end hybrid.
Beasley spent all of his time last year playing both defensive end positions, but Dan Quinn believes that this year he can be more useful on earlier downs by letting him patrol the field, making use of his speed and athleticism. Beasley will go into the season as the Falcon’s starting strong-side linebacker, and will move to his familiar defensive end role on passing downs. The move to linebacker will allow him to show off his outstanding speed when in pass coverage or closing in for tackles, but it will also give him opportunities to blitz from the outside creating favorable match-ups against tight ends and backs in pass protection. He will still spend plenty of time rushing the passer from the line of scrimmage, but the move to LB will allow Quinn to use his versatility in the most effective way possible.
Though more common in 3-4 defenses, many of the NFL’s sack leaders spend time at linebacker and on the defensive line, such as superstars Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and Justin Houston. One of the Falcon’s biggest free agent targets this offseason was Bruce Irvin, who is now an Oakland Raider. Vic Beasley will play a similar role as DQ had Irvin play in Seattle, mixing in both pass rushing and coverage from the outside.
Going into the season, Beasley has a few things he should work on in order to ease the transition to LB, but more importantly to allow him to become a dominant pass rusher. First, he needs to work on his counter moves. Last year there were many occasions when Beasley would run into the lineman and get jammed up, essentially ending his role in the play. In 2016, with his added strength, a refined counter-move technique should allow him to get more chances at the quarterback and give him a better shot at finishing plays. Beasley also must improve his pass coverage and open-field tackling with the move to strong-side linebacker. He showed flashes of his potential last year, snagging an interception against the 49ers in one of his few plays in coverage last season. He has all the athleticism he needs, so it is a matter of technique and learning the position for him to become a solid coverage LB and tackler when he is called on.
With Beasley being fully healthy, as well as having a full offseason, we should see his sack totals, tackles, and most other statistics increase from last year. Calling him a bust after posting 4 sacks in his rookie year is downright ignorant, considering his rookie status and the fact that he was playing with a torn labrum. In fact, some of the best pass rushers in the league had very similar sack totals in their first years, including J.J. Watt (5.5 sacks) and Khalil Mack (4.0 sacks). This is not to say Beasley is gonna be a top-10 pass rusher this year, but double digit sacks in 2016 is definitely a reasonable expectation. We know how motivated Vic Beasley is, and the amount of work the humble young man puts in is very encouraging, so this year is just a matter of how well he can refine his skills and take to learning a new position. If he can do those things, it wont be long until he is a defensive force for Atlanta and household name to football fans around the country.