The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and the Atlanta Falcons picked Clemson’s Vic Beasley just seven picks later.
Now, five seasons later, both Winston and Beasley are at a crossroads in their careers. Both players had their fifth-year options picked up, and both have had up and down 2019 seasons. The question about whether each player will stay with the franchise that drafted them has been debated hotly over the span of their careers up to this point. Week 17 will be the final chance both have to prove to their own teams they’re worth long-term investments. Or not.
Neither team has much to play for, officially, but both Beasley and Winston have plenty to play for. So let’s take a look at how we got here, and how the Falcons’ fifth-year player could impact the final game of the year.
VIC BEASLEY’S HISTORY
Beasley spent four years playing for the Clemson Tigers, piling up 30 sacks and 83 tackles in the process. His best season, was his Junior year when he brought down opposing ball carriers 22.5 times for losses, and sacked quarterbacks 13 times on top of it.
While he missed out on the latest and greatest run of success his school has seen, he didn’t miss out on getting drafted in the first round. On his NFL.com draft profile, current Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock is quoted as saying about Beasley,
“Beasley’s easily the best athlete among the edge rushers. On Day 1, I think he’s going to be a situational pass rusher while he learns to set the edge.”
It was good enough for the Falcons, and ever since then, he totaled 29.5 sacks in his first four professional seasons. Add in eleven forced fumbles and 153 tackles (35 for losses) and Beasley had a pretty productive start to his career.
So why then, were there Falcons fans who wanted his team to move on from him?
Well, perhaps it’s the fact Beasley got 15.5 of those sacks in one year alone (2016), while reaching just five sacks in two of his other three seasons. Not exactly lighting the world on fire.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Bucs fans, but Beasley’s lack of consistency is what seems to be frustrating his fan base more than anything.
Entering 2019, playing on his option year and with his team strapped for 2020 cap space, many expected this will be his last. If it is, he’s going to leave some involved with the team a little conflicted about letting him walk out the door.
Again. Sounds familiar.
VIC BEASLEY’S 2019
Eight sacks and 39 tackles might not be enough to keep him in Atlanta, but it’s enough to at least make some people reconsider their stance on him if they’re not seeing future for the pass rusher.
His first tackle against the Buccaneers will set his career high in tackles for a single season. And while he won’t reach his career high in sacks, he needs just 1.5 against Winston to reach double digits for the second time in his career.
In fact, when you consider the turnaround the Falcons defense has experienced since Raheem Morris got more involved, he’d probably have ten or more already had Morris been moved over sooner.
Granted, Morris was moved to the defense to coach the secondary. But still the fact Beasley had three sacks in his team’s first eight games with Morris as an offensive coach, and five and a half in the seven games since, can’t be all coincidence.
The last time Tampa Bay and Atlanta played, the Falcons were coming off of two straight wins after losing six straight. They lost to the Bucs, and dropped the next game against the Saints as well. But since then, the Falcons have ripped off three straight wins, including one against the San Francisco 49ers.
This season, the Falcons are undefeated when Beasley has at least one full sack. He’ll be looking to get at least that in Week 17. Here are the ways it might happen, and some things the Bucs can leverage to keep him at bay.
The fact this is likely his last game as a member of the Falcons means he’s essentially trying out for 31 other teams who could be looking for help on the edge in 2020 and beyond. The fact he’s turning 28 before next season also means this is his best shot at a big contract.
So you can believe Beasley is going to bring a little extra motivation to the field this weekend. And while it may seem like a trivial thing to think about, a little extra motivation can mean the difference between almost getting a sack, and stripping the ball from an unexpecting quarterback.
One of the things which made him so attractive coming out of Clemson is still one of the things that makes him dangerous to this day. His ability to get up field quickly is made only more dangerous by his ability to get off the line faster than most.
Buccaneers lineman have had some issues this year dealing with faster pass rushers, and given Winston’s tendency to make mistakes, the Falcons defense will looking for all sorts of ways to get Beasley involved in the game early.
o LIMITED REPETOIRE
While he’s certainly fast, Beasley has yet to fully develop a tool box full of pass rushing techniques to use when his speed doesn’t work early in the down. This means, if the Buccaneers offensive line can stall his initial efforts, there’s a good chance he’ll take himself out of the play.
Chipping with tight ends, or using running backs to help out, are both avenues the Bucs could definitely take to help Winston as he tries to bounce back from a horrible first game without both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Of course, if the Falcons secondary continues playing as well as they have, Beasley is going to have chances to find a suitable second or third move, making it all the more important Tampa Bay keeps his first look from being successful.
In nine career games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Vic Beasley has never sacked a Bucs quarterback. Never.
He’s also never had more than three tackles in a single game. Beasley has also never been involved in a takeaway against the Bucs. Not even so much as a lucky fumble he could just fall on. No interceptions, no forced fumbles. Nothing.
Despite the fact he’s been in on at least 41% of the defensive snaps in each game against this divisional rival, he just disappears in these games.
Earlier this season, when the two teams faced-off, Beasley had just one tackle. Which was his only stat of the game. And he played on 47% of the available snaps to do it.
He’s played on 69% or more snaps in three of the last four games though, and I expect to see more of him this time around than we did last time. If Tampa Bay can neutralize him and keep the trend going though, we’ll see more him engaged with blockers or running behind plays, than we will on the highlight reel.
Some play for pride in Week 17 when their team’s playoff chances are none. Some play for contractual bonuses. Some play for the future of their careers.
This last motivation is the biggest one if you ask me, and it’s the one Beasley is carrying into this final game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
How he does against the Bucs will impact whether his Atlanta Falcons are successful or not, and is a reason for the team to make sure they know where he is every time he steps onto the field.