The world was on the shoulders of Falcons’ OLB Vic Beasley when the 2017 season began after his strong sophomore effort.
The young pass rusher posted up a league-best 15.5 sacks, a massive improvement over his rookie season, and a promising mark that some felt would vault him into the ranks of players like Von Miller, Khalil Mack, J.J. Watt and Michael Bennett in the league’s upper echelon of quarterback sackers.
But, like so many things in 2017, expectation didn’t meet reality.
After a hot start (a sack a piece against Chicago and Green Bay), Beasley suffered a partial hamstring tear against the Packers that set him out for the season’s third and fourth games. From then on, Beasley has only posted two sacks, which matches the production for his rookie campaign.
Currently, veteran Adrian Clayborn (8) and rookie Takk McKinley (5) have more notches under their belt. Beasley and DE Brooks Reed both have four.
Beasley reflects on the season of heightened expectations.
“I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunities,” Beasley said. “Obviously, my numbers aren’t where I want them to be, but I won’t let that keep me down. I’ll keep working, keep trying to be the player that I want to be.”
Indeed, it’s hard to blame Beasley in this year of adjustment.
Hamstring injuries tend to linger with players, and it’s certainly possible that the pass rusher is having to fight off some soreness without it ever registering on the injury report.
Beasley’s also adjusting to life in the game plan. After his 2016 campaign, teams are more likely to key in on planning around him or sending extra blockers his way, which has paved the way for guys like Clayborn and McKinley to receive less attention.
He’s also taking reps at the strongside and has been dropping in coverage as of late, where he’s found some success. The Falcoholic’s Allen Strk points out that he’s ultimately concerned that he’s taking too many reps at strongside linebacker.
You don't see the same explosiveness off the edge as a pass rusher. You have to think he is over the hamstring injury. That makes me believe the increase of snaps at SLB could be hurting him.— Allen Strk (@Allen_Strk) December 6, 2017
Amazing what Beasley can do when you let him line up in a wide-nine and give him space to operate. Shades of last season. Talent is still there. Less responsibility of setting the edge at SLB, more reps as a pure pass rusher would do him wonders. pic.twitter.com/4I2bhYhjQB— Allen Strk (@Allen_Strk) December 6, 2017
No one really knows where Beasley’s year will end, but you’d think he’d get at least two more sacks before 2017 is over.
The obviously-talented player is still one of the league’s better pass rushers, and should be primed for a big contract when he enters his fifth-year extension window in 2019.
How the Falcons use Beasley, though, is still in question, as is his long-term health. He’s had injuries in all of his seasons as a Falcon, so perhaps the team needs to take a closer look at his offseason conditioning and ensure they’re doing everything they can to keep him as healthy as possible.
The team may also consider just letting Beasley do what he’s best at – getting after the quarterback – and limit his reps at SLB as much as possible, where LB De’Vondre Campbell is having a nice season. Beasley has flashed at both spots, but it’s clear where his ultimate strengths lie.
And, who knows, maybe some guys just have a down year after their breakout season. Miller tore his ACL in his junior year, and Watt saw his production fall to 10.5 sacks in 2013 after his breakout 20.5 performance in 2012. Both rebounded exceptionally well.
No matter what happens now and then, Beasley still holds down a spot as one of the team’s best defensive players.
Perhaps 2018 will see him get back into form.
Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.