Sam Beal: The Good, the Great and The Ugly

Nick Falato

Thanks to the unexpected legal issues DeAndre Baker is facing, there’s an unanticipated pressing need at the second starting outside cornerback position opposite the newly acquired James Bradberry. 

This has created an unexpected competition for a key starting role for the Giants, who now must sort through a mostly young and minimally experienced (at the NFL level) cornerbacks group.

The two names being discussed are Corey Ballentine, a 2019 sixth-round selection, and Sam Beal, a third-round pick in the 2018 supplemental draft.

Ballentine’s athletic ability and physical profile give him a chance to earn the position, but we shouldn’t forget about the Western Michigan product.

Beal has had a problematic start to his NFL career due mostly to the fact that he can’t stay healthy. His lack of consistent durability has proven to be an issue.

He aggravated a preexisting shoulder injury during rookie training camp, which led to him missing the entire 2018 season, and he suffered from hamstring issues for the majority of 2019.

Beal ended up playing 289 defensive snaps towards the latter part of the season, but he missed the final game of the year with a shoulder ailment.

Still, let’s discuss how he played and see how much of a legitimate option he is in this competition. (Beal is No. 23 in the following clips, which are via NFL Game Pass.)

The Good: Tackling

Beal has a thin frame, and he does lack pop upon collision, which is not a ringing endorsement. But he’s instinctual and willing in run support, which isn’t exactly a given when it comes to cornerbacks.

The safety scored against Miami was one of Beal's best in 2019. He anticipated the running back’s path on the overloaded side of the line of scrimmage and reacted promptly.

Both B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson do an excellent job spilling Patrick Laird, No. 42, outside to the unblocked defender (Beal). Beal then made the aggressive low tackle and did not get beat outside.

He did almost shot too far inside, but he made a great tackle in run support.

This is an easy pitch-and-catch with the slightly off coverage and the receiver being lined up well inside the numbers, but it puts Beal in a spot to make an open-field tackle.

Once the catch is made, Beal takes a great angle down to the ballcarrier in the flat and wraps him up aggressively before throwing him to the deck while out of bounds.

It seems simple, but it shows strength and smarts, something that inexperienced players sometimes lack.

At the top of your screen, Alshon Jeffery, No. 17, puts himself into an excellent position against Beal, forcing the young cornerback’s back towards the sideline and away from the rushing path.

However, Beal doesn’t give up and takes a hard inside angle to get around Jeffery. It seems like Beal pulls Jeffery’s shoulder pads downward and then slips past the veteran receiver to track the running back down and make a tackle on the slip screen.

Here’s a boundary side run where wide receiver Allen Hurns, No. 17, has to make a crucial block against Beal. Hurns, the 6’3, 201-pound receiver, was tasked to block Beal, a 6’1, 177-pound cornerback.

Hurns’ attacks and Beal aggressively push the receiver at the point of attack and presses his outside shoulder not to surrender the edge and maintain the defense's continuity.

Once Beal does that successfully, he pushes Hurns upfield and waits for the running back to close width before attacking him, resulting in a negative play.

Beal’s lack of bulk will hinder his ability to push ball carriers back, and his “hit power” isn’t great, but he’s more than willing to tackle and contribute in run support situations, and that is a significant aspect of playing cornerback.

The Great: Outside the Numbers Coverage

Beal was solid in man coverage, but he did exceptionally well when receivers released outside off the line of scrimmage.

Watch Beal’s patience here at the line of scrimmage and how he commits his hips outside and then closes width on the receiver to minimize space and force him towards the sidelines.

Although he uses good positioning in these situations, it’s not always consistent, and sometimes he flips his hips too early. But once the receiver commits outside, Beal is in a solid position to stay in phase due to his athletic ability and mirroring skills.

On this specific play, Beal gets his head turned around, locates the ball, and then forces an incompletion due to his disruptive nature at the catch point.

Beal hasn’t had enough plays in the NFL where he was in contested catch situations, but this is a good rep from the young cornerback.

At the top of the screen, we see it again. Beal is on an island with the backside receiver, and safety help is shaded to the strength. Still, he holds up well against a young wide receiver named J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, No. 19, who doesn’t do an excellent job with his release at the line of scrimmage, which makes the coverage even more straightforward for Beal.

Beal stays right in the hip pocket of the receiver, closes width, and forces him off the redline and towards the sidelines. It’s very good positioning against a marginal opponent.

Here’s another rep against Arcega-Whiteside only this time it’s in the red zone, a place where the young receiver from Stanford should thrive due to his big frame.

Arcega-Whiteside fires his feet at the line of scrimmage, and Beal just eliminates any kind of outside leverage, rendering Arcega-Whiteside’s route to be ineffective. Beal gets in trouble with over committing, but it paid off on this rep.

Beal is inside the numbers against the outside receiver, Greg Ward, No. 84, and he forces him outside and up while staying in line with Ward’s inside hip and limiting his space to operate towards the sideline.

One criticism against Beal is that he sometimes has a grabby nature at times, but this is just textbook positioning, and he gets his head around to see if any footballs are headed his way.

The receiver starts outside the numbers above, but it’s a route that will carry Beal up and towards the seam, but it doesn’t hinder his ability to cover the route and stay in phase.

Much like he does on the outside, you can see Beal close width on the outside hip of the receiver and not allow the receiver to create separation.

Horizontal routes and in-breaking routes are typically more challenging to cover. While this isn’t horizontal, it is towards the middle of the field where Beal knows he has a deep safety, yet he’s still in an excellent position.

Here’s just another backside play where Beal takes the receiver up the sidelines and forces him well off the redline. This isn’t a game-breaking clip by any means, but Beal waits for the full commitment from the receiver outside and stays with him up the field.

This is good positioning and very good discipline; unfortunately, the latter isn’t consistent with Beal’s game tape.

The Ugly: Surrenders Leverage

Surrendering leverage can be alright if another defender is covering or trapping the part of the field that is being surrendered, but Beal just over commits sometimes and leaves himself susceptible to receptions. It’s not overly common in his game, but it happens enough.

This is one where it looks like BANJO coverage against the stack where Janoris Jenkins is going outside, and Beal would take the vertical route.

Beal is aware that he has inside help from the safety, but it ends up being a duel crossing route; it’s not something you want to over-rely on when playing the man.

Beal falls for Ward's DINO stem and gets his hips flipped outside, which surrenders the inside to Ward and puts the defense into a precarious situation.

Luckily, Antoine Bethea, No. 41, is able to get his hand on the ball right before the touchdown.

This is a zone coverage in the red zone, and Beal does the right thing initially by expanding outside against the number one receiver, Davante Adams.

But Beal doesn’t alter his position and rather continues to turn his back as the play progresses, which ends up forcing him to face the stands; it almost looks like a Madden glitch. He gets turned around and doesn’t adjust his hips throughout the play, which leads to a touchdown for the Packers.

He has to ensure that he puts himself into a position to react; there’s no one outside of Adams, and his zone was the outside third, but the hip positioning did not allow him to break inside.

I think some more experience would assist him in positioning himself in a more advantageous way to make plays on the outer parts of his zone.

Here’s another play in the red zone against the Dolphins. Beal is in a great position to eliminate any kind of fade or vertical route outside, but he overcommits a bit while being too far on top of Hurns’ route.

This allows Hurns to turn back on a curl route for an easy completion. To Beal’s credit, he makes the tackle and is able to do so promptly after the catch.

Final Thoughts

Beal can undoubtedly win the starting cornerback job opposite of James Bradberry. I think the battle between Beal and Ballentine is the most intriguing camp battle heading into the season.

Either could win, and I believe Beal has what it takes, but he has to stay healthy and fix some of the mental errors with positioning.

Ironically enough, he does very well with positioning most of the time, but consistency is critical, and he has to do better with hip discipline on a more regular basis. 

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