During the offseason, every avenue that covers football tries to put together features to fill the news void during the down times. In spite of the site’s negative reputation among some people, one of these features that I’ve often found myself enjoying is Pro Football Focus’ “Secret Superstars” series of articles.
The premise of the Secret Superstar is identifying an under the radar player on each team that makes a larger impact on the team’s performance than is typically acknowledged, either in league circles or even amongst the team’s own fan base.
These are often role players that the site identifies as figuring to step into a larger role in the future, but sometimes it does end up being a somewhat more prominent player, such as a starter.
PFF recalls what is describes as his humble beginnings, entering the league in 2012 as a seventh-round draft pick, and being pressed into starting duty at right tackle for the final five games of the season after the Steelers had already lost two tackles.
After earning the starting left tackle job the following season, Beachum’s pass blocking gradually improved throughout the year, with PFF grading his work in this area at near even, though his run blocking earned negative marks.
Beachum was one of the league’s biggest risers over the course of the past season for PFF, however, as he wound up being graded as their fifth-best tackle in the league, with the fourth-best pass protection grade.
The article notes that while he gave up seven sacks, he gave up very few pressures beyond those, and also pointed out that only three of the 14 tackles to give up that amount of sacks ended up grading positively in pass protection.
His pass blocking efficiency rating fell behind only Andrew Whitworth and Joe Thomas on the year, and according to their charting, was perfect in pass protection in five games last year, while he allowed just one pressure in six other games, which is quite remarkable.
PFF writes that while his run blocking improved, it is still a significant area for improvement. His run blocking was graded as the lowest among the site’s 10 top rated tackles in the league last season, but overall, he only graded negatively as a whole in three games, including the postseason.
While noting that Beachum’s seven penalties is “about average” for a top tackle, the articles notes that he can improve his discipline in that regard.
In the end, the article concludes that the former seventh-rounder has “without question outplayed his draft selection and become one of the best young tackles in the league”. It also argues that extending him should be a top priority this season, or re-signing him next offseason.
There is still a vocal group of the fan base that doesn’t believe in Beachum as a long-term solution at left tackle, but many of them seem to give him no chance of improving as a run blocker, thinking, erroneously, that his lack of upper body strength would be better-served going up against stronger defensive tackles than defensive ends and outside linebackers. Hopefully he can continue to silence his critics with further improvement as a run blocker this year.