Here’s my breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2015 first-round pick: Clemson pass-rusher Vic Beasley.
BIO & VITALS
40 Time: 4.53 (Combine)
Bench Press: 35 (Combine)
Victor Beasley Jr. was born on July 8, 1992 in Adairsville, GA, and attended Adairsville High. His father played safety at Auburn (1982-84) alongside Bo Jackson and Kevin Greene.
He played only 16 snaps as a freshman in nine games, tallying two stops on defense and one on special teams. He became a situational pass-rusher as a sophomore, playing in 288 snaps in 13 games. He finished the year with a team-leading eight sacks, along with 18 tackles, eight tackles for loss and a forced fumble. As a junior, he assumed the starting spot at right defensive end and played 560 snaps in 13 starts. He was highly productive with 23 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and 44 tackles. He also broke up six passes and forced four fumbles. He would earn first team All-ACC and second-team All-American honors that year. He would also be named a finalist for the Ted Hendricks (top defensive end) and semifinalist for the Lombardi Award (top lineman/linebacker) and Bednarik Awards (top defender). As a senior, he continued his high production, starting 12 of 13 games (557 snaps) and recording 21.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 37 tackles, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and returned a fumble for a touchdown. He would be a finalist for the Ted Hendricks, Lombardi and Bednarik Awards, as well as being named a semifinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy (top defender). He would be named a first team All-ACC and All-American on his way to earn ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
He grew up a Falcons fan, as Adairsville is located roughly an hour northwest of Atlanta.
2014 GAMES WATCHED
|Aug 30||at Georgia||0||1||0||0||0||1||1||1||0||0||0||--|
|Sep 20||at Florida State||2||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||0||--|
|Sep 27||NORTH CAROLINA||2||3||1||0||0||0||1||0||1||0||0||--|
|Oct 4||N.C. STATE||1||4||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||facemask|
|Nov 6||at Wake Forest||0||4||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||--|
|Nov 29||SOUTH CAROLINA||2||1||0||1||0||1||0||1||0||0||0||--|
|Dec 29||vs. Oklahoma||1||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||0||--|
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.
Strength (5.0) – Despite a solid showing in the bench press (35 reps), doesn’t appear to possess ideal core strength. Too easily gets knocked off his rush and controlled when offensive linemen get their hands on him. Doesn’t show good pop or power when he tries to utilize his bull rush, unable to knock back the tackle with his short-area power.
Quickness (8.5) – Has a very good first step that will be able to challenge the edge against even quality NFL tackles. Does a good job timing the snap and getting a good jump, accentuating his first step. Does his best work when he’s able to line up in wider techniques in order to make that speed more effective. Has good straight-line speed, but doesn’t always do a good job maintaining burst when changing direction.
Pass Rush (7.5) – Does a good job using his first step to get offensive tackles unbalanced. If he can beat a guy with pure speed, he’ll do so and then also set up the inside counter when the tackle over-sets. Does a good job sinking his hips to turn the corner and can bend the edge. Likes the inside counter either via a quick inside move or a spin move. But the spin move is not consistently effective. Will use rip and swim on occasion. But tends to overly rely on his first-step quickness to set up tackles and if he doesn’t win off the snap, doesn’t consistently win, especially if he’s forced to disengage. Thus can be a bit one-dimensional at times.
Point of Attack (3.0) – When teams run at him, he rarely makes a play there unless he’s completely unblocked. Tendency to get undisciplined when it comes to gaps, makes him a liability at times against the run. Doesn’t have the strength to consistently get leverage against the run against offensive tackles, and tends to do his best work against the run when he’s asked to work against a tight end. Doesn’t consistently set a physical edge, playing too often on his heels trying to read and react.
Recognition (4.5) – Tends to get pass-rush happy meaning that he’ll abandon his run and gap assignments trying to get upfield, leaving teammates out to dry. But usually got away with it due to the strong play of the Clemson linebackers would clean up a lot of those plays. Doesn’t show a natural feel when asked to defend zone read or option.
Tackling (4.5) – Does a good job from a technical standpoint, willing to break down and wrap up. But lacks the pop and power to bring down many ball carriers in the open field. Also has a tendency to tackle high at times, which leads to missed stops. When he closes on the quarterback, will at times go for the strip, making it difficult for him to bring down college quarterbacks single-handedly.
Coverage (5.0) – Doesn’t have a ton of experience dropping into coverage, but shows the tools that he can become better there. Majority of coverage experience comes on zone blitzes, where he’ll drop to cover flat or work down the seam. Has a decent backpedal and has decent hips and burst to turn and run. But needs a lot of polishing on his technique and general awareness when playing in space.
Motor (6.5) – Has a good motor that will keep working to the whistle when he smells blood in the water and thinks he can get a sack. Doesn’t always give complete effort when his initial move doesn’t work. Not going to be a relentless chaser from sideline to sideline, but has the motor where effort won’t be a major concern at the next level.
This is based off my own grading system on a 9-point scale.
Potential Top Level Prospect (7.4) – Will be considered among the best players for his team and one of the better players in the entire league. Typically can and will be used as a centerpiece to a team’s offense or defense. He can start right away for his team, but on the lower end, he may ideally be used as a situational player early on. Teams picking in the upper half of the first round hope to find this caliber of prospect.
Beasley is an excellent pass-rusher that has the potential to develop into one of the premier edge-rushers in the NFL. His ability to win with speed is an essential component to being a top pass-rusher at the next level.
Due to his lack of ideal size to play defensive end, it’s easy to project Beasley as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He’s comfortable rushing from a stand-up (two-point) position, but he’s most natural with his hand on the ground and when he can line up in wider techniques. The ideal fit for him would be playing in the “Wide-9” scheme used by Jim Washburn on his numerous stops in the NFL. That way he can utilize his speed and burst when he can pin his ears back and get upfield, which is exactly what Beasley wants to do the majority of the time.
The best edge-rushers in the NFL typically have three ways of beating tackles: (1) with speed to the outside, (2) with an inside counter move and (3) with a bull rush. It basically makes a pass-rusher a “triple threat” and keeps offensive tackles off-balanced and guessing every snap. John Abraham was this type of pass-rusher, although he primarily used his edge speed to win. But if need be, Abraham was more than willing to throw in an inside counter or bull rush to beat a tackle.
Beasley has developed two of these: speed outside and an inside counter move. His go-to move is the inside counter, where he likes to use his edge speed to set up the tackle, forcing him to overset and giving him an easier pathway to the quarterback. He will also try to use a spin move as well, but he was very inconsistent with this throughout last season and it failed more times than not.
The following two GIFs are two of the better examples of Beasley using his inside counter:
Note: If any of the GIFs are weirdly zoomed, then just double click on them.
Beasley charges South Carolina left tackle Corey Robinson’s outside shoulder off the snap, and then when Robinson tries to overset to stay in front of him, Beasley hits him with a quick inside move to flush the quarterback and get a pressure.
This spin move against Oklahoma left tackle Tyrus Thompson is one of the few instances where Beasley’s spin move was effective. But it certainly still remains a thing of beauty.
Beasley of course can use refinement in these areas, but he possesses enough of the basics that with minimal development he should be an effective pass-rusher in the NFL. With minimal development, Beasley should have no problems developing into the type of pass-rusher that routinely racks up six or more sacks every year.
The one missing component of Beasley’s repertoire is the bull rush, and that could hold him back from being a double-digit sack artist in the NFL. You’ve probably heard numerous comparisons between Beasley and Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller. While they certainly share similarities, Miller’s power is one notable difference between the two and sets them apart. It’s why Miller was an elite prospect coming out of Texas A&M. While he didn’t often use his power, Miller possessed the basics to suggest that it could really develop at the next level (and it has). I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about Beasley. And if Beasley doesn’t develop a power element to his game, then he may have a firm ceiling on just how good a pass-rusher he can be in the NFL.
One of the tackles that Beasley had the most problems with his senior year at Clemson was Florida State’s Cameron Erving, who is now being moved inside to guard or center in the NFL. Erving was effectively able to stay in front of Beasley for most of the game, and thus it neutralized a lot of what Beasley wanted to do.
Because Erving could stay in front of Beasley for the majority of the gap, Beasley had trouble setting up his inside counter move. That forced Beasley to try to use other methods like his bull rush, which wasn’t effective as the following GIF shows:
Beasley should win this battle at the point of contact because Erving lets Beasley get his hands inside and is momentarily unbalanced. But because Beasley fails to generate the initial power, Erving recovers and anchors, stopping Beasley dead in his tracks.
One way that Beasley could improve is by bulking up his lower body, as he tends to be more of a high cut player that doesn’t have the thickness in the lower body perhaps to generate the necessary drive to push the tackle into the pocket.
This can be developed, but it may take time. And until Beasley can develop this power element to his game, then he may not reach his ceiling as one of the NFL’s premier pass-rushers. He can still be a very effective pass-rusher even if this part of his game never develops fully, but Beasley might not be quite evoking memories of Abraham in his prime.
Thus one knock on Beasley is that the top left tackles in the NFL that won’t have trouble staying in front of him, should have little issue controlling him throughout the game. Because Beasley is too easily knocked off his rush due to a lack of core strength and power, good tackles shouldn’t have problems slowing him down. That’s why it’s critical that Beasley develop his pass-rushing moves and get stronger. That doesn’t mean he needs to add a ton of muscle, but it’ll be more important that he strengthen his core and lower body to match his already impressive upper body weight-room strength.
A much more notable deficiency in Beasley’s game is his ability to play the run. While technically sound in his tackling, Beasley just isn’t a strong tackler that will reliably make open-field stops, another indicator that his core is not as strong as his bench press numbers might indicate. This deficiency limits how easily he projects to an outside linebacker either in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Beasley can get better there, but he’s not a player that seems particularly interested or good at defending the run. This is evident one plays when he’s supposed to set the edge, he doesn’t do so with the tenacity necessary for the NFL level, let alone the collegiate one. With coaching this can change, but defending the run is unlikely to ever be his forte. Thus, it’s another reason why I’d be hesitant to make a comparison to a player like Miller, who is a dominant run-defender. It’s also why I don’t think Beasley is as good a prospect as Khalil Mack was a year ago because of the extra physicality to Mack’s game, which translated to him being very successful against the run during his rookie season in 2014.
Instead, I’d compare Beasley more in the mold of Elvis Dumervil, at least in how he might project as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Dumervil was an undersized pass-rusher coming out of Louisville many years ago, but has made his mark in the league as a pass-rusher (90 sacks in eight seasons). However, Dumervil has never been a consistent player against the run and in many of his best seasons he has not be an every-down player for that reason. Thus, there are concerns over whether Beasley can be a true every-down player due to his inability to be impactful on every snap.
But in reality, Beasley will earn his paycheck on third downs where he has the potential to be very impactful. And while he was at times a liability against the run at Clemson, I don’t expect that will follow him to the next level. He should turn into an effective run-defender, particularly if he plays in a defensive scheme that essentially asks him to defend the run on his way to the quarterback. Like Dumervil, Cliff Avril and Osi Umenyiora are two more players that have had questionable abilities against the run throughout their careers, but no one really cared given their pass-rushing prowesses.
In Atlanta under Dan Quinn, Beasley is expected to man the LEO defensive end spot. In that role, he’ll often be asked to line up in wider techniques as well as stand up and provide pressure off the edge. This is a good fit for Beasley’s abilities and he should be able to translate quickly and impact early. That doesn’t mean that he’ll be racking up double-digit sacks as a rookie in Atlanta, but he certainly should quickly emerge as the Falcons top pass-rusher and an effective pressure player.
Given Beasley’s deficiencies against the run and a relatively strong group of veteran defensive ends already on the roster that can also play the run, it’s likely that Beasley’s career will begin his Falcons career mostly as a situational pass-rusher.
In all likelihood, Quinn will utilize Beasley in a very similar same manner that he used Avril in 2013 when both were with the Seattle Seahawks. Avril was predominantly a situational pass-rusher, with roughly two-thirds of his snaps that year asking him to pressure the quarterback. Avril wind up playing the third-most snaps (574) among Seahawks defensive ends behind Michael Bennett and Chris Clemons.
The big question surrounding Beasley’s future will be where he projects long term in Atlanta. The team is listing him as an outside linebacker on their initial roster, signaling that they may plan to move him to that position permanently down the road. But it’s unlikely that the Falcons will rush that decision since they already have Brooks Reed manning the strong-side linebacker position.
Beasley’s career path may follow a similar one as current Seahawks outside linebacker Bruce Irvin. Irvin started out as a situational pass-rusher as a rookie in 2012, but as that season wore on his limitations against the run were continually exposed. Irvin then made the switch to strong-side linebacker in 2013 upon the arrival of Avril and Bennett and has since blossomed into an effective run-defender, coverage player and pass-rusher, making him a solid triple threat due to his “plus” athleticism.
Beasley could become that type of player too…in time. But in the meantime, the Falcons will utilize him where he’s best: as a pass-rusher. The team will likely getting his feet wet against the run and in coverage to see how he handles it, but won’t throw him completely to the wolves. If his lack of size proves too often problematic as a run defender at defensive end, then the Falcons will likely begin to work Beasley more at linebacker starting in 2016 with the expectation that he can assume the full-time starting role in 2017 if/when Reed is released.
If Beasley’s issues against the run aren’t exposed as a rookie, then they’ll likely continue to play him at defensive end and see his snaps increase significantly there in 2016. But for the time being in 2015, with players like Adrian Clayborn, Kroy Biermann, Malliciah Goodman, Tyson Jackson and Cliff Matthews already on the roster, all of whom are much more proven run-defenders, it makes little sense to not utilize a heavy rotation to limit Beasley’s exposure against the run.
Quinn will likely have a very hands on approach to developing Beasley and he’ll likely be asked to “carry” the Falcons pass rush into the future much like Abraham did in the past. Beasley has the potential to do so, and Quinn getting him to refine his speed rush, inside counter and developing a bull rush will be instrumental in that future eventually coming true.
Avril is my preferred comparison for Beasley when all is said and done. Avril has one of the best first steps in the NFL, but is not really a good run-defender. He’s ideally more of a situational pass-rusher that can be heavily rotated on run downs. Avril has never been a prolific sack artist, but nobody would complain if Beasley similarly had 52.5 sacks over his first seven seasons in the NFL. One of the reasons for that is that Avril isn’t exactly known for his power, and it’s what separates him from that “elite” tier where Abraham once resided, as the latter did have a very effective bull rush when he felt the need to break it out.
What’s notable about Avril is that he’s spent the bulk of his career rushing from the left side, where his trademark quickness is more effective against slower-footed right tackles. The Falcons may not do that in 2015, instead preferring to rush Beasley from the weak side (typically the right) because he’s the only pass-rusher on the team that possesses the sort of speed that could be effective against NFL left tackles. But it’s something that the Falcons could tinker with down the road, especially if they can add another speed-rusher in 2016 or beyond.
Most pass-rushers really don’t truly hit their stride until their third years in the NFL, and I think Beasley may follow suit. However, many of the elite players (I’m looking at you, J.J. Watt!) will do so in their second years. I do think there’s a chance that Beasley is talented enough that he may fall into that group, but I think the one thing that might hold him back is the questions surrounding what is his long-term position in Atlanta: outside linebacker or defensive end.
Regardless of his position, Beasley’s primary value is going to be putting pressure on the quarterback. But if he does wind up spending the majority of his time as a stand-up linebacker, he’ll be asked to play a lot more coverage and impact against the run than he is currently capable of showing. I think Beasley can get there, as Irvin himself was not exactly known for his run-stopping or coverage prowess coming out of West Virginia three years ago. Quinn’s scheme takes advantage of players like Irvin’s natural athleticism, and thus should do the same for Beasley.
I don’t think Beasley is a bad run-defender, with a lot of his deficiencies coming from my belief that Clemson never really asked him to be a difference-maker in that arena. I think Beasley has the playing personality that if the Falcons want him to get more physical and better against the run, he will. It’s just that on the spectrum of functional to good, I believe that Beasley will fall closer to the former as a run-defender when all is said and done.
A lot of Beasley’s first two years in Atlanta will likely be spent trying to figure out exactly where he is most functional as a run-stopper, either as a LEO or strong-side linebacker. And once the Falcons figure that out, they’ll be able to stick him at a spot permanently, and that’s when he’ll begin to blossom as a pass-rusher into the player that he’ll be known as throughout his career.
I think that player is ultimately going to be a very good NFL player, but I’m not quite as high on Beasley’s baseline pass-rushing skills as others are to call him an elite pass-rusher just quite yet. Beasley should definitely hit the Avril benchmark as a pass-rusher and it remains to be seen if he gets to the level of a player like Abraham, but I definitely think there’s a better-than-average chance he does get there eventually.