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Vic Beasley Can Be Pass-Rushing Star for Atlanta Falcons in Year 1

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2015

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 14: Vic Beasley #44 of the Atlanta Falcons talks to a teammate on the sidelines in the first half of a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at the Georgia Dome on August 14, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Vic Beasley offers the Atlanta Falcons exactly what they need.

Beasley was the eighth overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft. The former Clemson defensive end played four years of college football, racking up 30 sacks and 48 tackles for loss. Beasley would likely have been a high pick in the 2014 draft after registering 13 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss that year.

The Falcons will be thankful that Beasley stayed in school for another season as it afforded them the opportunity to select him. Beasley, a pass-rushing phenom, was the type of player the Falcons were sorely missing.

In 2014, Mike Smith's side ranked 30th in the league with just 22 sacks.

Returning to school threatened to drop Beasley down draft boards. Not only was he another year older, but he was coming out after a less productive season. He wouldn't be the top edge defender taken—that was Dante Fowler of the Jacksonville Jaguars—but a strong combine performance kept him in the top 10.

His performances in drills during the combine reaffirmed his explosiveness coming off the edge, but, maybe most importantly, questions about his size were answered.

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Size listings for college players are always unreliable. There is no official measurement, so teams can list players at whatever numbers they so choose. Beasley's frame wasn't huge, and he never appeared to be especially long, so measuring in at 6'3" and 246 pounds helped to alleviate any concerns about his transition.

While those measurements were comforting, they wouldn't have done as much for the Falcons as Beasley's early displays in the preseason.

Against the New York Jets in the second preseason game of the year, Beasley was given quality snaps against the Jets' first-team offense. D'Brickashaw Ferguson is no longer one of the better starting tackles in the NFL, but he's at least average at this stage of his career.

Despite Ferguson's experience and refined technique, not to mention his still somewhat impressive athleticism, Beasley was able to beat him in different ways on multiple snaps.

Credit: NFL.com

Unsurprisingly, Beasley was able to get the better of Ferguson with his movement in space. The defensive end has an exceptional burst off the line that makes him a very dangerous speed rusher. Even though Beasley has barely played in the league, Ferguson is likely to know this.

In the above play, Beasley is aggressive entering his speed rush at the snap, but Ferguson was also aggressive out of his stance.

Beasley reached Ferguson's body immediately, a position where the left tackle's bulk and strength should give him an edge. The rookie defensive end was quick to react, though. To stop the speed rush, Ferguson had to overplay the speed rush.

Overplaying the speed rush opened a pass-rushing lane inside—one that Beasley was able to take advantage of by spinning past Ferguson's inside shoulder. Although spin moves are typically a bad idea, Beasley's was lightning-fast with precise footwork and executed in the perfect situation.

Ryan Fitzpatrick's movement in the pocket and the quick throw available to him—it was a screen pass to the other side of the field—prevented Beasley from getting the sack. He had still comfortably beaten Ferguson and created pressure in the pocket, though.

An edge-rusher with the ability to win one-on-one battles in space wasn't something the Falcons boasted last season. They had nobody who could draw a double-team or threaten an offensive tackle into overplaying one side of his protection before the snap had even begun.

Everything Beasley does as a pass-rusher will be built off the threat of his speed rush. That doesn't mean that he is reliant on his speed rush, but rather it is the base of his wider skill set.

Credit: NFL.com

It's 3rd-and-12 on this play. Beasley lines up in a wide alignment, far past the outside shoulder of the left tackle. Ferguson initially had a running back behind him alongside his quarterback, but that back worked infield to look for a blocker before releasing into his route.

Before Beasley has even engaged Ferguson on this play, he has put the left tackle at a disadvantage.

His speed off the line of scrimmage forced Ferguson to turn his shoulders and abandon discipline with his feet. He was desperately rushing his process to try to mirror Beasley's speed. Ferguson was able to put his body between the defensive end and his quarterback, forcing Beasley to go through him.

Credit: NFL.com

With Ferguson scrambling for position, Beasley is able to attack his chest before the offensive tackle can repel him. Ferguson attempts to use his upper body strength to fend Beasley off before establishing a strong base with his feet.

Beasley is too aggressive and powerful to allow that to happen.

Once he pushes through Ferguson's hands and impacts the tackle's chest, Beasley turns his shoulders to extend one arm into his body. This allows him to concentrate his power while keeping Ferguson's own arms away from his body.

Credit: NFL.com

From there, Beasley is able to overwhelm Ferguson with his power. He drives the blocker back into the quarterback, forcing Fitzpatrick to move backward away from the pressure. Ferguson is never able to re-establish his base, so Beasley continues to push through him.

At this point of the play, Beasley has his eyes on the quarterback. He works through Ferguson's left shoulder when Fitzpatrick moves backward to try to close in on him.

Fitzpatrick steps up in the pocket to evade Beasley's pressure, but he can only step into the waiting arms of Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn is credited with the sack after beating the left guard, but Beasley's pressure was crucial for creating the play.

It's unclear if Beasley can be a quality three-down defensive lineman during his rookie season. He needs to prove that he can be a quality run defender setting the edge for that to be the case.

Regardless of his quality as a run defender, he can still make a big impact in passing situations. Beasley is not only a diverse talent as a pass-rusher, but he also has the awareness to use his hands when he knows he can't get to the quarterback and the movement skills to be trusted when dropping into coverage.

It's easy to see why Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is so excited about Beasley. After the rookie's debut, Quinn let his excitement be known, as Rob Hamilton of CBS in Atlanta shared:

Welcome to the NFL, right? In terms of chips, tight ends, tackles, and that Leo spot. I can’t wait to go through it with him, and show the things that we can improve on. When we get back into camp this week, let’s really find the things that we can improve on, and every time we come in let’s aim at improvement. I know he had fun playing. I wanted to see how close the guys could get and how fast they could play. It was an awesome start to get rolling.

The "Leo" spot in Quinn's defense is essentially an edge-rusher who prioritizes the pass rush over being a run-stuffer. He comes from a wide alignment, like Beasley did in the above play breakdowns against the Jets. It is an ideal spot for Beasley to immediately maximize his potential as a pass-rusher.

His impact can be huge without being a full-time player.

Aldon Smith is the most obvious example of a rookie situational pass-rusher who excelled in recent times. The Falcons defense doesn't project to be as talented or effective as that San Francisco 49ers unit was, but Smith individually isn't too high a talent level for Beasley to consider reaching.

Even as the eighth pick in the draft, Beasley figures to offer the Falcons huge value. Finding pass-rushers of his kind is simply a very difficult process.

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