Vic Beasley Spins Out Against Ja’Wuan James

Athleticism will get take a player far in the NFL but it won’t take him to the top. Despite being a combine superstar, Vic Beasley has struggled to translate his athleticism to NFL success. Jon Ledyard highlights how Vic Beasley’s spins and counters weren’t enough against Miami Dolphins tackle Ja’Wuan James. 

During Atlanta’s third preseason game, social media was in an uproar over Vic Beasley’s lack of success as a pass rusher against the Dolphins, continuing what has been an uneventful preseason for the Falcons’ former first-round draft pick. While Beasley has certainly had his growing pains, a fine performance by Miami right tackle Ja’Wuan James should not be overlooked either, as the third-year lineman asserted himself brilliantly against the ultra-athletic pass rusher.

Both Beasley and James have been the subject of criticism at times in their young careers, and the fact that I was high on both players coming out of college made this an intriguing matchup for me to watch. One of the first things I noticed when studying the tape was Beasley overthinking his attacks off the edge. At 6’3”, 246 pounds, Beasley is a freak athlete with off-the-charts explosiveness and lower body flexibility. Instead of maximizing these traits however, the defensive end attempted to force certain moves without first utilizing the best weapons in his arsenal.

As a high school defensive line coach, I’m well aware of young pass rushers’ propensity to show off the spin move. It’s a sexy maneuver that can make your opponent look foolish when executed correctly, but more nuance is involved than most players realize. Edge rushers should primarily use a spin as a counter or secondary move after selling a speed rush up the arc. By attacking the edge with purpose, they feign the illusion of an upfield rush, forcing the offensive tackle’s hips to open toward the sideline in a desire to adequately seal off the top of the arc. From this position, most tackles will have an incredibly difficult time mirroring against a quick move back inside, and few maneuvers are as rapid and fluid as a well-executed spin.

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Beasley launches off the line and hurriedly hits the spin, despite the fact that he has failed to threaten the edge at all. James is balanced and patient in his pass set, employing good hand usage to keep Beasley from even completing a full revolution in his spin. This play is one of about four or five failed spin attempts for Beasley on the night, mostly because he rarely tried to sell speed before using the maneuver. Since James wasn’t forced to open up his stance or run his opponent up the arc, the offensive tackle is easily able to defend his space and keep Beasley from winning the inside.

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This was actually Beasley’s best spin of the night, as he forced James to turn his shoulders and hips to the sideline before countering back inside. Unfortunately that little stutter-step at the top of the arc was unnecessary wasted motion that allowed James just enough time to recover and parry Beasley away. The Falcons defensive end is athletic enough to simply plant and spin without having to use deceptive footwork in this situation.

But at least on that play Beasley is attempting to utilize his athleticism, even if his movements need refinement. The kinks can be ironed out with time and practice, but the plan behind the rush is a sound one.

This is a quick release by Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but Beasley is able to generate pressure by using an inside-outside jab step on James, forcing the offensive tackle to shift hard to his post foot to defend the B gap. Beasley is too quick for the lineman, countering back outside and throwing a hand up in the passing lane.

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Remember this play by Melvin Ingram that I highlighted last week?

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Highly athletic edge defenders don’t need to be great at converting speed-to-power or using power moves to create rush lanes. Instead, like Ingram, Beasley has the ability to create pressure and eventually sacks with his quick feet, whether with an explosive first step or by manipulating an opponent inside or outside with stutter steps and jukes. Of course, more detail is involved than that simple statement would imply, but the bottom line is that the better an athlete you are, the more pass rush options are available to you on any given snap. You just have to learn to use your natural tools well enough to consistently exploit those opportunities.

I don’t say that to devalue hand usage in any way, however. Just as I showed you how Ingram’s hands improved dramatically in his fourth season, allowing him to consistently clear contact to finish what his feet were creating, so also does Beasley need to grow in the same way.

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This is excellent recognition by Beasley to exploit the inside rush lane to the quarterback against a slightly overset James, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The Clemson product leaves his entire chest exposed and his hands are completely inactive, allowing James to hold him at bay with one hand. Beasley’s left arm needs to be violently clubbed away by James’ punch, utilizing the inside leverage he already has to clear the block and get in on the quarterback.

A complete lack of effective hand usage from Beasley shows up far too often on tape, and against a powerful offensive lineman like James, who has 35-inch arms, it becomes exponentially harder to win when you can’t defend your own frame. Easy access to Beasley’s chest plate for James results in a frustrating effort for the young pass rusher on this play.

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There’s a feeble attempt at a rip move in there, but because Beasley has failed to keep his shoulders square up the field, James has a sizable target to land his punch and obtain control of the defender. Beasley would do better to keep his shoulders square until the last possible moment, flipping them and then using his trademark bend to flatten to the quarterback.

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This may be an attempted bull rush by Beasley (it is difficult to tell what the plan is here), but the defensive end gives up chest control right away, allowing James to lock him up with some terrific hand placement. You can see Beasley really struggle to disengage at that point, as most pass rushers would against a lineman as powerful as James. Beasley doesn’t have great length or power, so winning first contact (inside control!) and remembering that one arm is longer than two will be crucial toward his success at the point of attack.

Beasley will ultimately be at his best moving around offensive linemen rather than through them for sacks. Being who you are and utilizing your strengths are key to becoming elite in every walk of life, and being a pass rusher is no different. Beasley has the athletic ability and rare traits to become a dominant edge rusher in time, but he’s proven to need more refinement and patience than was originally anticipated.




There’s nothing wrong with that, and it is far too early to panic, but pass rushing is a science as much as it is an art, and Beasley would do well to take note of that fact. By building on his biggest strengths – an explosive first step, ridiculously quick feet, and exceptional bend – Beasley can open up opportunities for more eye-catching maneuvers like spins, counters, and rips – keeping offensive tackles off-balance in the process. If he can rely on those traits while getting his hands right, expect an increase in production from Beasley in 2016.

Follow Jon on Twitter @LedyardNFLDraft. Check out his article on impact running backs from the 2016 Draft Class.

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All video courtesy of NFL Game Pass.

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