Vic Beasley, of Adairsville, Clemson’s all-time sack leader, is now a Falcon.
With the Falcons looking to buttress the league’s worst defense for first-year coach Dan Quinn, Beasley, who registered 33 career sacks, was selected with the eighth pick in the NFL draft Thursday.
“I’m a double-digit sack guy,” Beasley said. “I’m going to bring a great pass rush and just put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
Since 2008, when Dimitroff and former coach Mike Smith were hired for one of the NFL’s biggest renovation projects, the Falcons’ defense has ranked 24th, 21st, 16th, 12th, 24th, 27th and 32nd. The pass defense has ranked 21st, 28th, 22nd, 20th, 23rd, 22nd and 32nd.
Since ranking 11th in sacks in 2008 — John Abraham had 16.5, nobody else had more than four — the Falcons have ranked 26th, 20th, 19th, 28th, 29th and 30th in total sacks.
If Beasley can get 10 sacks as a rookie, the Falcons may immediately induct him into the Ring of Honor.
“I thought I was going to go before the Falcons pick to be honest,” Beasley said. “I was able to fall to No. 8, and it worked out. I’m happy where I’m at.”
The Falcons were elated to get Beasley.
“What he adds to this team is athleticism and the ability to get up and around the corner,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We were, again, very fired up to have him on the board where we were picking.”
The team was so focused on improving their defense that it didn’t appear to consider Georgia running back Todd Gurley, the second-leading rusher in school history behind the great Herschel Walker.
Gurley was selected two picks later by the St. Louis and became the first running back selected in the first round of the NFL draft since 2012.
Similarly in 2007, the Falcons, attempting to find a pass rusher opposite of John Abraham, selected Jamaal Anderson with the eighth overall pick. They passed on running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker Patrick Willis.
But this time Beasley likely was selected over Kentucky defensive end Bud Dupree.
“For us, it was about adding some more speed to the group,” Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more fired up about him jumping right in and being a part of the group.”
The Falcons plan to use Beasley at their weakside linebacker spot that Quinn calls the Leo position.
Beasley struggled at times getting off of blocks in college against the run, but Quinn said that was not a major concern for the Falcons.
“What we are looking for is what players can do, what they can do best as opposed to what they can’t do,” Quinn said. “One thing we do know is that he has the speed and athleticism to get after the quarterback (coming) off the edge. Those were the things that most fired us up.”
The Falcons could have selected Nebraska’s Randy Gregory or Missouri’s Shane Ray. Both of those players entered the pre-draft process rated higher than Beasley.
However, Gregory flunked a drug test at the scouting combine, and Ray was arrested on a drug-possession charge Monday. The Falcons believe that character is a big part of building team unity and arguably went with the lesser talented player.
The Falcons also were impressed with Beasley’s character and maturity.
“Off the field, when you see a guy (who) has his world squared away and you know it right away,” Quinn said. “Those are the things that initially impressed Thomas and myself when we got to visit with him, not just (in) Indianapolis.”
Quinn believes that Beasley has elite pass-rushing skills.
“I think it’s his first-step quickness,” Quinn said. “Usually, for a rusher when you can really get off the spot, those are one of things you talk about. How quick can he get off the spot? When we evaluated all of the guys, that was the thing that really jumped out is his initial quickness. When you can beat a guy to the punch, that’s when you can have your most success as a rusher, and he certainly has the ability to do that.”
Dimitroff didn’t want to directly answer a question about Gurley. He did note that he’d talked to St. Louis general manager Les Snead.
“Les never indicated to me that he was going after the Bulldog,” Dimitroff said.
But did the Falcons even consider it?
“That’s a good question,” Dimitroff said. “Our focus was on defense.”
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