After breaking down the most valuable players on offense, defense and special teams, I want to turn my attention to the best new additions to the Atlanta Falcons in 2015, starting with the rookie of the year.
Following a 2015 draft class that was praised by most, things seemed set for the Falcons to have one of their most successful rookie classes in recent memory. But in the end, things didn’t quite live up to expectations.
That’s not to suggest that the Falcons rookie class had a terrible year, but they did not meet the high expectations placed upon them. In the end, they often looked like exactly what they were: rookies.
With that being said, I think the best choice for who was the top among the team’s seven-member class as well as the handful of undrafted rookies that made the team was former first-round pick, defensive end Vic Beasley.
Expectations were extraordinarily high for Beasley coming into the year. That was partially because he was the first significant investment the Falcons had made in their pass rush in nearly a decade since drafting Jamaal Anderson with a top 10 pick in 2007 and trading away another first-rounder a year earlier for veteran John Abraham.
Beasley himself claimed on draft day that he was a “double-digit sack guy” and a summer poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a majority of voters (48 percent) expecting Beasley to back up those claims in 2015.
Beasley finished 2015 with a team-leading four sacks, pacing a pass rush that ranked dead last in the NFL with 19 sacks. There were certainly moments of brilliance for Beasley, but they proved few and far between for the standout Clemson pass-rusher in his first year in the NFL.
But nonetheless, Beasley still put together the best rookie season among the team’s draft class largely because he had many more standout moments. Especially in comparison to other rookies from the draft class. Cornerback Jalen Collins, running back Tevin Coleman and wide receiver Justin Hardy all had their moments but for the most all failed to live up to the lofty expectations placed on them going into the season.
Collins was expected by many to potentially beat out Robert Alford for a starting spot, but wound up fourth on the depth chart behind Phillip Adams by year’s end. Coleman was expected to beat out Devonta Freeman for the starting tailback spot, but was an afterthought in the offense for a large chunk of the year. Hardy was expected to compete with Leonard Hankerson for the third wide receiver spot on the depth chart upon being drafted, but spent a good chunk of the year behind Nick Williams as the team’s fifth option.
Beasley’s college teammate, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, alone probably had what would be considered astandout rookie year. But Jarrett’s playing time was too few and far between to be considered a strong candidate to eclipse Beasley’s own accomplishments in 2015. Jarrett played just 268 snaps, ninth most among defensive linemen. Beasley’s own snap count was only barely exceeded by defensive stalwart Jonathan Babineaux as the most his position group (557 to 547 snaps).
I should reiterate this is not meant to say that Beasley had a bad year, but his rookie season sort of summarizes the Falcons 2015 draft class as a whole: a lot of promise and high expectations, but relatively sporadic in the delivery and ultimate execution.
What it likely will lead to is lowered expectations in 2016 that will be eclipsed now that they’ve gotten their feet wet in the league. Beasley’s production seemed to improve as the year went on when he was moved from right defensive end to the left side. Should the Falcons be able to continue to keep him on the left, Beasley should be able to improve his production significantly.
According to Pro Football Focus‘ pass-rushing productivity metric, Beasley’s ability to create pressure from the left side of the line was equal to that of New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan, who finished 2015 with 10 sacks. With continued development, there should be legit optimism that despite an underwhelming rookie season, Beasley will grow into that “double-digit sack guy” in short order.
To hear more awards to some of the best new additions to the Falcons roster in 2015, check out the awards episode of the FalcFans podcast.