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PFF: Vic Beasley overrated, Adrian Clayborn underrated in 2020 free agency

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The analytics site tells us not to overvalue sacks in this year’s free agent pass rushers.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The last person that said sacks don’t matter was unceremoniously fired, but Pro Football Focus warns sack counts can be misleading. Teams should be on the lookout for a player that has a chance to repeat their high sack numbers and shy away from those that were highly inconsistent.

You know where that intro is headed. PFF took a look at both Falcons pass rushers heading into free agency, and you can probably guess where Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn land.

Beasley has been a highly divisive player since draft day, and his career has not changed that one bit. He did little in his rookie season, exploded for a league-leading 15.5 sacks in 2016, then back-to-back seasons of 5.0 sacks, finishing up 2019 with a respectable 9.0 sacks. Clayborn, on the other hand, typically stays in the 3 to 4 sack range.

Should Beasley clearly be the better player?

No, according to Pro Football Focus.

We’ve been here before with Beasley. In the Falcons’ Super Bowl season back in 2016, his 16 sacks led the NFL, but he ranked just 42nd among edge defenders in pass-rush win rate (13.5%) and 37th in pressure rate (12.6%).... he is one of just six players at the position [in 2019] with 300 or more pass-rushing snaps and a pass-rush win rate below 10%.

The numbers help provide a lot of explanation for Beasley’s inconsistency. Despite being the starter, he fails to beat blocking consistently. PFF provides an example sack from the Eagles game where Beasley is easily blocked well outside of the pocket, but Carson Wentz unknowingly scrambles right into his path. It was a sack, but Beasley did not beat his blocker. He lucked into a sack due to a fluky scramble that is not repeatable.

The analysis matches perfectly with the eye test. Beasley disappears too often and for long stretches. He had 9 sacks but was rarely around the quarterback outside of those plays.

Beasley highlights PFF’s overvalued list behind only Bud Dupree, another 2015 pass rusher who failed to produce consistently.

Clayborn is the opposite: He beats his blockers.

He only had four sacks on the season, but very few edge rushers won a higher rate of their pass-rushing snaps. The top-five edge defenders with 200 or more pass-rushing snaps in pass-rush win rate were J.J. Watt (25.3%), Myles Garrett (25.0%), Joey Bosa (22.9%), Za’Darius Smith (21.2%) and Clayborn (21.1%).

Those are some impressive numbers and suggest Clayborn should be getting more snaps. He is and has always been an underrated player on the Falcons defensive line, and his inability to pad his stat sheet should make him a good value.