Before 2016, only two players in NFL history had recorded 15-plus sacks and at least six forced fumbles in a single season. One is Hall of Famer Michael Strahan (2001). The other is two-time Pro Bowler Robert Quinn (2011).
Now, we can add Vic Beasley Jr.'s name to that list.
Coming off a disappointing rookie year, Beasley proved doubters wrong by finishing with NFL-bests in sacks (15.5) and forced fumbles (six), one of which he recovered and ran for a touchdown. 14.5 of those sacks were earned during Weeks 5-17 – four more than anyone else gained in that span.
"We're all pumped for (Beasley) and one of the byproducts of that is his ability to get the ball so for him to have the forced fumbles this year that he did. Between he and Keanu Neal, that's been a real factor," head coach Dan Quinn said.
"That part of his game, I don't know if we don't speak about it a lot, but I think it was maybe six forced fumbles for Vic on the year. That's a good year in terms of going after the ball because it's not like you just get them every time you go. It's having awareness and timing, so not only has he improved as a pass rusher, he's improved as a ball hawk, too."
Robert Quinn won Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, and Beasley, who has already been named a Pro Bowler and Defensive Player of the Month for December/January, could receive the same honor. The 2015 first-rounder has a strong case, which, essentially, boils down to the aforementioned stats and how important they've been to the defense's progress.
"Beasley has been a consistent sack machine all season, leading the league with 15.5. His disruptiveness seems to be strategically opportune," wrote Sports Illustrated's Melissa Jacobs, who picked the Clemson alum for DPOY. "Matt Ryan's brilliance aside, it was Beasley's 3.5 sacks against Denver that helped legitimize the Falcons as a contender."
Denver's Von Miller and Oakland's Khalil Mack figure to be Beasley's biggest competition. Miller finished with two fewer sacks and three fewer forced fumbles than Beasley; Mack recorded 11 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Beasley's 32 solo tackles could hurt his case, however. Miller and Mack had 62 and 54 solo tackles, respectively, thanks in large part to their work against the run – an area Beasley has said he wants to improve in.
All things considered, Beasley's chances depend on how much pass rush results are valued. Dwight Freeney, of course, values those results a lot and believes his teammate should be DPOY.
"Sacks are the hardest thing to get in the National Football League on defense," Freeney said. "Harder than interceptions. On interceptions, they don't throw you the ball 40 times a day, so you don't fail 40 times a game. "You fail as a pass rusher 99 percent of the time. If you get one then you had a great day.
"You fail as a pass rusher 99% of the time. If you get one then you had a great day. He's having a helluva season."
If enough voters agree with that sentiment, Beasley will have a strong chance at taking home the hardware.