Former Falcons great Chuck Smith, one of the NFL’s top pass-rushers of the 1990s, has turned into the Pass-Rush Whisperer in retirement.
Over the past few years, he’s been hired as a personal trainer to help some of the top NFL candidates get ready for the combine and for their pre-draft workouts.
Of the top pass-rushers eligible for the coming NFL draft, which is set for April 30-May 2, he’s trained Missouri’s Shane Ray and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. However, he’s studied all of the prospects and believes this is a stellar group.
The Falcons, who have the eighth pick in the draft, have heavily scouted the group of edge-rusher and appear very likely to select one with their first-round pick.
Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr., Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Kentucky’s Bud Dupree, along with Ray and Gregory, are considered the top five edge-rushing prospects in the draft.
“He’s played against some great competition,” Smith said of Fowler. “From what I know about him, he’s a confident kid. He has good range and the ability to be true 4-3 defensive end. He has good explosion. His upside is really high.”
Smith played for the Falcons (1992-99) and with Carolina (2000). He was on the franchise’s only Super Bowl team and finished his career with 58.5 sacks.
Beasley finished his career as Clemson’s all-time sack leader.
“Vic is a really hybrid (defensive/outside linebacker),” Smith said. “His movement is more built to blitz, rush and get up field. He’s quick, but he’s still developing. He has to develop some signature pass-rushing techniques.”
Smith had an interesting comparison when discussing Beasley.
“I would play him like a DeMarcus Ware,” Smith said. “He’s a rusher. I don’t ever need to put him coverage. He’s like a missile when he gets going.”
The question about Beasley is could he play defensive end against the run in a 4-3 defense.
“Everything was about size this year, when last year, some of the guys that were hybrids like (Khalil) Mack and (Anthony) Barr, they didn’t have that issue,” Smith said. “You really just play Vic Beasley like the Raiders are going to play Khalil Mack. You put him on that line and he’s coming. He’s your primary rusher.”
Ray, the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds at Missouri’s Pro Day. But Smith is not overly concerned with his speed.
“(Former Georgia standout) Jarvis Jones ran a 4.95, and he wasn’t even that big,” Smith said. “If you go back and look at some of the speed-rushers who hit the corner … it has to do with technique, but speed only applies in a phone booth. He only has to be fast in that 10-yard box. He’s quick enough. He’s fast enough.”
Smith believes that Houston defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s freakish 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds last season has raised the bar for edge-rushers.
“It’s about his quick twitch,” Smith insisted. “Shane Ray has an explosive quick twitch and he is fast. I don’t look at it like a 4.68 is slow. I’m just absolutely floored by the people who are saying that.”
Smith also likes Ray’s on-field demeanor. “He has that dog in him,” he said. He also likes his pass-rush moves.
“The guys at Missouri use signature pass-rush moves all the time,” Smith said. “He used his rip move, and he uses his hands.”
Gregory is considered a top-five talent, but failed a drug test at the NFL scouting combine. It was noted by NFL Radio analyst Pat Kirwan that Falcons president Rich McKay was the general manager at Tampa Bay when the Bucs selected Warren Sapp (12th overall in 1995), after allegations surfaced that he flunked a drug test.
Also, Scott Pioli, the Falcons’ assistant general manager, drafted former Georgia standout Justin Houston (third round, 70th overall in 2011) after he failed a drug test.
Gregory could be sitting at eight for the Falcons.
The Gregory camp has closed ranks after the disclosure. Smith, Gregory’s dad, a military man, and his agent Deryk Gilmore, have all spoken to him at length.
“Randy Gregory is going to show that he’s a great example of player who can take care of his business,” Smith said. “He can become a classic example of a guy who knows how to do all of the right things. It’s just a matter of him growing up a little bit.”
Everyone sees great potential in Gregory to become a destructive force.
“As far as his skill set, Randy is different than any of these other guys,” Smith said. “Randy is a true 3-4 classic pass-rushing outside linebacker. Randy Gregory is special. … He moves like a defensive back.”
Smith went so far as to say that Gregory could be used periodically as a secret weapon to cover a tight end.
With Gregory’s stock falling, some believe the Falcons, who have shown a penchant to take players without any major character issues, will settle for Kentucky defensive end Bud Dupree with the eighth pick.
“He’s fast and he’s explosive,” Smith said. “He’s got to continue to develop.”
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock doesn’t see the Falcons taking Gregory and seems to lean toward thinking they will take Dupree.
“His ceiling is as high as any edge-rusher in the draft, including Dante Fowler,” said Mayock of Gregory. “If you take Randy Gregory and the baggage that goes with him, I’m not sure that’s an Arthur Blank-Thomas Dimitroff move. Regardless of how overwhelming the talent may be.”
Mayock isn’t the only analyst linking Dupree, who played at Wilkinson County High, to the Falcons.
“The Falcons brought in former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as head coach to bring some intensity and pass rush,” according to Rob Rang of nfldraftscout.com. “Dupree isn’t as technically refined yet as some of his competitors, but he has the tools Quinn can develop.”
Others don’t believe Dupree, because of his inconsistent play on film, is worthy of such a high pick.
“I keep hearing him being elevated,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “If there is a run on pass-rushers, someone may elevate him up there. I’ll put it to you this way, if Atlanta is sitting there in (the) eighth (slot) and Fowler, Ray and Beasley are gone, Bud Dupree could be bounced into that top 10.”
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