NFL

Cole Beasley enjoying career year as Buffalo Bills’ unguardable, unsung weapon

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley is on course for a career-year as the self-isolating escape artist within Josh Allen’s offensive arsenal. He’s the man who is always open. 

It would be hard-pushed and perhaps even a little unjust to suggest the 31-year-old is enjoying some kind of resurgence, on the basis of the idea that, when healthy, he has been one of the most productive and most reliable slot receivers in the NFL since his entry.

In a feat conveniently-aligned to a story obsessed by size, Beasley’s nine catches for a career-best 130 yards against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13 saw him record his 33rd NFL receiving touchdown – marking the most ever by a player five-foot-eight or shorter, according to ESPN Stats.

*Do not mention Wes Welker, do not mention Wes Welker, do not mention Wes Welker.*

Beasley has previously tried to relax comparisons between himself and the former New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins wide receiver, with the belief he is a quicker and more versatile version in regards to his ability to line up both in the slot and on the outside.

The basic parallels, though, are unavoidable. Both undrafted, both undersized, both having garnered reputations as shrewd creators of space in the open field.

Beasley’s height has clung to him throughout his footballing life, playing a part in him going undrafted out of SMU in 2012 and inciting surprise toward any on-field contributions we are taught not to expect from players of his stature. He has made a habit out of burying those perceptions.

Rarely is praise of the veteran void of reference to his 180-pound, sub-five-foot-nine frame and he will be used to that by now, even if increasingly mundane. But the narrative has altered slightly in recent years.

There is the question as to whether the Dallas Cowboys allowed him to depart too easily ahead of the 2019 campaign, which might be more prominent were it a different team without a core of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup to flaunt as justification.

Beasley admitted he felt a ‘little disrespected’ during his time in Dallas, as well as suggesting his former employers should have paid more attention to him during the Bills’ win in last year’s Thanksgiving matchup between the two teams.

A ‘prove them wrong’ tour or not, he has since played a starring role within Buffalo’s rebuilt skill position group, the seven primary contributors of which have all arrived inside the last two years.

Beasley produced the second-best return of his career last season with 67 catches for 778 yards and six touchdowns as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll turned him into an asset in Allen’s NFL education.

His 66 catches for 797 yards and four touchdowns so far in 2020 have now put him in good shape to surpass a career-best 75 for 833 and five scores in 2016, made even more impressive when considering the offseason arrival of a No 1 receiver in Stefon Diggs, fourth-round rookie Gabriel Davis and the resulting added competition for targets.

He enters Week 15 with more receiving yards than the likes of Julio Jones, A.J. Brown, Adam Thielen and DeVante Parker, more 100-yard receiving games than Tyreek Hill, more catches than D.K. Metcalf, Justin Jefferson, Calvin Ridley, Jarvis Landry, Corey Davis and Mike Evans, has the joint-seventh-most receiving first downs and leads the NFL in receiving yards from the slot.

“Unguardable,” is how Bills safety Jordan Poyer described Beasley in October. “His quickness and his being able to get in and out of breaks, and a lot of people don’t know how smart he is on the football field.

“His ability to read leverages, to read coverages, his ability to find the soft spot in zones, the ability to catch the ball and not take explosive hits. I just say I’m happy as hell he’s on our team.”

Beasley’s game has been built on razor-sharp footwork amounting to precise and deceptive route-running, accompanied by secure hands, underrated speed to create separation, intelligent thought-process and a natural hunger to receive the ball that makes him invaluable during extended plays.

“His presence is like a superhero,” said Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins said. “He reminds me of The Flash. He’s extremely quick – not a little kid but he’s a go-getter. He has his fun, he says his little comments, and he goes hard at 150 miles per hour.”

He is also a better red zone threat than he gets credit for, having caught 48 of 67 targets for 33 touchdowns inside the 20 since the beginning of 2016. That includes 10 of 14 for five scores so far this season and 21 of 26 for 13 touchdowns during his time with the Bills.

For a young quarterback still developing, he has been a dream team-mate. Not only as a proven security blanket, but also a receiver whose route disguises are challenging both Allen’s anticipation and preparation.

“He is probably the quickest guy on the field at all times, just the way he gets in and out of his cuts, how he can control his body, it’s very unbelievable,” said Allen after the win over the 49ers.

“I’ve noticed that since day one and that’s kind of the tricky part about throwing to him early on is that if you don’t have a feel for him or talk about it enough he can fake you out.”

Away from the field, he has been a key figure in creating the harmonious and motivated atmosphere Sean McDermott desires throughout the team.

“He’s great in the locker room, I don’t think you can find one guy to say anything bad about him. He’s always a joy to be around and he’s always trying to uplift.

“The thing about him is that he always wants the ball in his hands. I can go on forever really talking about how much he means to this offense and how much he means to me.”

The production and the influence has long outweighed the doubts.

He can burrow for the tough yards, make gains after the catch underneath, stretch defenses outside the numbers, come down with contested balls and get in the end zone. He is the man who is always open.

Watch the Buffalo Bills take on the Pittsburgh Steelers live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am in the early hours of Monday morning.

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