It was the most obvious need in the draft. Everyone knew the Falcons needed an edge rusher. If you’re taking the time to find your way to a little-visited corner of the internet to read about a guy the Falcons just drafted, you probably knew this too. Now, I’m not a big proponent of chasing need early in the draft, but there’s a difference in chasing need and finding a great player that fills a need. I think the Falcons did the latter, not the former. Let’s get to know the 8th overall selection in the draft, Clemson edge rusher Vic Beasley.
First off, let’s talk about why I’m confident Beasley is the best pass rusher in the entire draft. What traits do great pass rushers have in common as they enter the league? Start with this – a message board post by a user named Waldo in 2011. Waldo created some metrics that somewhat reliably predicted whether college pass rushers would have success at the next level. Give it a look. While it’s easy to be skeptical of the metrics themselves, it’s hard to really disagree with the results.
Where does Vic Beasley fit in? He’s what Waldo would have classified as Low Risk. Names like DeMarcus Ware, Shaun Phillips, Von Miller, and Clay Matthews were in the same group. He’s not far from names like Cameron Wake, Shawn Merriman, Brian Orakpo, and Justin Houston either. Beasley has both power and burst, and it’s a pretty rare combination. Beasley is grouped with those. While it’s no guarantee, his measurables suggest he’s a special player.
Another author I’ll direct you to is Justis Mosqueda, who took Waldo’s formulas and expanded on them. Here’s one good read on the subject, and here’s one with 2015 information. Mosqueda has managed to make Waldo’s concept a little more accurate, and Beasley again makes the cut. It’s also worth noting that other rushers projected for the first round were not as unanimously praised by the metrics. Bud Dupree, per Waldo’s method, ranks as high risk. Dante Fowler Jr is seen as high risk by any metric. Shane Ray doesn’t pass Mosqueda’s test. Randy Gregory seems to be the only other player as universally liked, but Gregory carries with him some off the field issues that easily explained his drop. Beasley stands out as the best and safest selection of the bunch.
So what about the tape? Metrics are all well and good, but you’d like to know if the guy can actually, you know, play football. Pro Football Focus, which grades NFL players on a play by play basis with a system that is well respected around the industry, finally got around to grading the college game in 2014. According to their grading, Beasley was one of the most explosive edge rushers in the country last year. In naming Beasley their top edge rushing prospect for the 2015 class, PFF noted his consistency, as he had very few bad games.
Now, it’s time for you to see for yourselves!
(these GIFs I made run pretty quickly, for some reason or another. So you’re forewarned. As fast as Beasley is, he’s not THIS fast.)
Here is Beasley matching up against FSU Tight End Nick O’Leary. O’Leary’s a prospect that will likely be taken this weekend, and he’s no match as a pass blocker for Beasley. Much is made of Beasley’s size, but he knows how to leverage both his size and speed, and that’s on display here. He knows he’s too fast for O’Leary, and knows O’Leary will compensate. He uses that against O’Leary, using his hands to throw the future pro to the ground, and then has the quickness to dart inside to make the tackle.
Here we see Vic Beasley go up against Cameron Erving, whose name you also heard called in the first round last night. He blows past him (again, remember Waldo’s twitch and explosiveness metrics, both of which Beasley excels in), and as Erving tries to play catch up, Beasley uses a quick arm rip to prevent the FSU left tackle from recovering. It wasn’t the only time Erving struggled with Beasley’s explosiveness and hands.
Take note of how far ahead of his teammates Beasley is when the QB is 2 steps into the backfield. Just two steps, and Beasley is already even with him on the field and in the process of blowing past Erving for a sack. If you look closely, you can make out Beasley’s use of his hands at full speed to further complicate things for the LT. Erving can neither keep up with nor get a hand on #3. The QB at that point has no chance.
There aren’t many good highlights of Beasley leveraging tackles the same way he did O’Leary, bullrushing or cutting inside with a spin move. This is an aspect of his game that needs work, which might be related to his somewhat lighter frame (246 lbs). That said, I don’t think his size is the impediment to his game that many are concerned with. He’s the same size Von Miller was when he came out, and he’s comparable to DeMarcus Ware. Those pass rushers turned out fine. Cliff Avril, who was a pass rushing monster for the Seahawks for the last two years, is only 252 lbs. Dan Quinn knows how to use a player of Vic Beasley’s size and talent.
As a Georgia fan, I had some emotional moments of “Draft Gurley!” yesterday. And had the Falcons done that, this post would surely have been a fun one. My god, the highlights. I’d still be working on this a month from now. However, as exciting a pick as Gurley would have been, the other #3 was the smarter one. Elite pass rushers can make bigger differences in games relative to the other options at the position. Sure, running backs matter, but the spectrum from worst running back to best running back is a shorter one than worst pass rusher to best. That goes for almost any position, in fact. Pro running backs are all pretty useful, and they’re all dependent on a good offensive line. Elite RB prospects are the most volatile of any positional group. Gurley seems like a can’t miss superstar, but so did Darren McFadden. As much fun as he’d have been, the Falcons made a smarter pick, taking a guy who will likely play more snaps per year and last longer in the league.
Yes, pass rusher was a need. But there’s a compelling argument that the Falcons ignored need and instead chose the best player available. That it happened to coincide with the draft’s biggest need only made the day better.