During the first half of his second NFL season, Vic Beasley Jr. has established himself as one of football's most dangerous pass-rushers.
Beasley has amassed 6.5 sacks so far in 2016 — the fourth-most in the NFL and the most in the NFC. What's more, his three forced fumbles rank second in the league and first in his conference.
"He's been looking great," Desmond Trufant said about Beasley. "He's been getting off on the ball, getting the ball out, looking like a Pro Bowl player. He can do that every play, so I'm happy for him."
Beasley's ascension didn't happen when 2016 began, however: Through four games, he had one sack and zero forced fumbles. Then he dominated in Denver by tallying 3.5 sacks, and on Sunday, he recorded two more — one of which popped the ball loose, allowing Adrian Clayborn to scoop it up and find paydirt.
"Coach preaches about going for the ball," Beasley said," "So that is what I was motivated by."
This kind of spike in production is not uncommon for young pass-rushers. J.J. Watt and Justin Houston each had 5.5 sacks as a rookie; Jason Pierre-Paul and Mario Williams earned 4.5 apiece during their first NFL campaigns. All four reached double-digit sacks the following year.
Indeed, the learning curve for these players is a unique one, and during training camp, head coach Dan Quinn explained what Beasley needed to do as a sophomore: Hone his approach.
"(It's about) knowing how to set up a tackle and where every move is not the same and every tackle that you go against is not the same," Quinn said in August. "Ryan Schraeder's set is different from Jake Matthews' set, and will be different from the guys that we're playing moving forward. Understanding that and who I'm going against and how to beat them is a real learning process."
Fast forward to October, and it's clear Beasley has come to understand what it takes to thrive in the pros by constantly adjusting his moves, his stance and his plan of attack.
In Denver, for example, he bested RT Ty Sambrailo by using his pure speed from the outside to reach Trevor Siemian. And last week, he used a slight (but effective) juke on RT Joe Barksdale on a number of occasions. This helped him strip-sack Philip Rivers in the first half; in the fourth quarter, he juked inside, found a lane between the guard and center and dragged Rivers to the ground.
"We are definitely moving in the right direction. We are definitely going after the ball and moving in the right direction," Beasley said. "We have to go back to the film room and work on Green Bay. Different teams bring in different threats."
That last sentence exemplifies the kind of thinking Quinn preaches. And it highlights the way Beasley has combined his raw physical skills with the methods needed to succeed in the NFL.
By doing so, he has quickly evolved into the kind of athlete the Falcons envisioned when they drafted him No. 8 overall in 2015.
"It's taken him time to understand how this game is, how I can go attack this offensive tackle, and this one will be different from next week's," Quinn said. "I've been very encouraged by the work that he's put in on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday so by the time he's ready to tee it up on Sunday, he's put that work in and he's ready to go attack. We're totally encouraged by the progress that he's making."