Vic Beasley might have been a reach, but when a team goes the better part of a generation barely pestering opposing quarterbacks, it’s a reasoned reach. If the Falcons are ever to field a decent defense, they had to find a pass-rusher. With the eighth pick of Round 1, they found the best pure pass-rusher in this draft.
Not necessarily the best defender, mind you. As a body type, Beasley is more suited to being an outside linebacker than a defensive end, and under Dan Quinn the Falcons will be a 4-3 team. It’s unclear whether Beasley, who bulked up to 246 pounds for the NFL combine, will get much bigger.
Some analysts ranked Beasley near the bottom of Round 1. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. adjudged him the 25th-best player in this draft. (By way of contrast, NFL.com rated him the seventh-best.) Some argued that Bud Dupree of Kentucky, who’s bigger and stronger and who was available when the Falcons picked, will be the better pro. But there’s more to this choice than one name in one draft. There’s the matter of what has — and hasn’t — come before.
The Falcons have had one pass-rusher worth the designation since Chuck Smith. That was John Abraham, who was hurt often and healed slowly. When Abraham left as a free agent after the 2012 season — the season that saw them fall 10 yards short of the Super Bowl in an NFC title game when their one pass-rusher was slowed by injury — their defense fell to pieces. So did their record.
Just as Matt Ryan was the right man at the right time in April 2008 — Year 1 under new management, Year 1 after Michael Vick went to prison and Bobby Petrino fled to the Ozarks — Vic Beasley has the makings of the right man at the right time now. Thomas Dimitroff, who famously spent his first pick on Ryan, hasn’t yet landed a difference-making defender via the draft. The quickest way for a defender to make a difference is by sacking the quarterback.
Beasley had 33 sacks at Clemson, and he didn’t enroll there as a defender. He went as a tight end/athlete. (He also played basketball and ran track at Adairsville High, and as a footballer he returned punts.) He became an All-American because of the sacks; if he becomes an All-Pro, it will be because of the sacks.
Dimitroff, whose power has lessened but who still had final say over this pick, lauded Beasley’s “athleticism and his ability to get up and around the corner.” Quinn noted that Beasley “has his world squared away,” which can’t be said of every draftee. Asked if he had reservations about Beasley’s capacity to play the run, Quinn said, tersely and emphatically, “No.”
Those inside the brick building at 4400 Falcon Parkway said the biggest difference between Quinn and predecessor Mike Smith is the focus on fitting scheme to player. “What we’re looking for is what a player can do,” Quinn said, “not what he can’t do.”
What Vic Beasley can’t do — carry 275 pounds. What he can — rush the passer. For this franchise at this point in its history, that’s more than enough. That’s exactly what was needed.
As tantalizing as it would have been to see Todd Gurley — chosen by the Rams two picks later — in another red-and-black uniform, Gurley doesn’t play defense. He might well be the next Marshawn Lynch, but the Falcons had a clear mission in Round 1 of this draft. Said Dimitroff: “Our focus was on defense.”
That they hooked the targeted Beasley without having to compromise any part of this draft — meaning trade up — made this catch even better. “We’d projected him between No. 6 and 8,” Dimitroff said. “We were fortunate he was there at 8, and we didn’t have to get antsy and jump up there.”
We can’t know if Beasley will harry NFL quarterbacks the way he did ACC passers. (Although he did say Thursday night, “I’m a double-digit sack guy.”) What we can know is that he’s really quick, and the Falcons’ defense under Smith was never very quick — or very good. It took the new regime one round of one draft to underscore that this is indeed a new regime, and it’s one that that doesn’t regard sacks as overrated.
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