2014 Heisman Sleepers: Clemson DE Vic Beasley

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Here’s a blind side-by-side comparison.

One defensive end finished a season with 13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss, 54 total tackles, two pass deflections and two forced fumbles for an 11-win team. Another defensive end recorded 13 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, 41 total tackles, six pass deflection and four forced fumbles on a different 11-win team.

The first defensive end is Jadeveon Clowney for South Carolina in 2012. Clowney generated considerable Heisman buzz in the ensuing offseason, even vaulting into the top five of Bovada’s preseason odds.

With a similar–almost identical–resume, Vic Beasley isn’t even on the board.

Admittedly, there are several differences that explain Clowney’s considerable Heisman hype a year ago, and Beasley’s lack of it this offseason.

Clowney rode into the 2013 offseason already with the proverbial “Heisman moment” in his resume. His damn-near decapitation of Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl is sure to appear in highlight packages for at least the next decade.

In one instance, Clowney confirmed every word of praise spoken or written about him as the top overall recruit in high school football, into his first two seasons at South Carolina.

There was also an interesting juxtaposition with Beasley holding off entering the NFL draft for another year. He surprised numerous pundits when, after the Tigers’ Orange Bowl defeat of Ohio State, the Clemson athletic department announced his return. Beasley gave a simple explanation in a Q & A with ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich.

“I just wanted to maximize my opportunity as a player. I knew that I could get better,” he said.

The narrative following Clowney–through no fault of his own–was if he’d even play in 2013. A Charlotte columnist wrote an op-ed piece suggesting Clowney skip the season and focus exclusively on preparing for the NFL draft. Silly as the suggestion might be, it bounced around the hot takes echo chamber incessantly, setting the tone for a season filled with dismissive analysis.

The Heisman campaign was effectively over.

Now, for you Clemson readers who bared through all that discussion of your rival, there was a point. It’s exceedingly difficult for a defense-only player to generate Heisman buzz. Manti Te’o did so in 2012, though on a false media narrative. Clowney did so in the 2013 offseason, then fell short of the arbitrary expectations set of him.

Perhaps the best way for Beasley to earn much-deserved Heisman buzz is by having no buzz at all. That is to say, his play can make the case for him.

And the consensus 1st Team All-American Beasley’s play speaks volumes.

While the whole of his 2013 output as detailed above is certainly impressive, it doesn’t account for his ability to alter games. Beasley was integral in the Tigers’ early-season defeat of NC State, getting to quarterback Pete Thomas three times and coming away with a crucial strip of the Wolfpack signal caller.

Beasley went into the Orange Bowl with a definitive game plan. After studying Michigan State’s Big Ten Championship Game defeat of Ohio State, the Clemson defensive end learned how to rattle the Buckeyes’ potent offense. He explained to Ari Wasserman for Cleveland.com:

That gave me confidence that if we swarm to the ball the way Michigan State played against them, there isn’t going to be a doubt that we’re going to get the win. Our strength is getting in the backfield and getting tackles for loss.

Beasley essentially called his shot, then delivered. Four of his five tackles that night were for loss, including a sack of the Buckeyes’ 2014 preseason Heisman candidate, Braxton Miller.

The Heisman buzz will come for Vic Beasley if he continues to produce these big-game performances.