One of the first things that jumped out on tape when NFL teams looked at former Clemson pass-rusher Vic Beasley two years ago in the pre-draft process was how explosive his first step was. His ability to ignite off the line of scrimmage was as impressive as anyone in the draft in 2015.
When Beasley got to the NFL combine, he showed that quick first step in a number of drills… and he shot up multiple draft boards.
The Falcons grabbed him eighth overall two years ago and in Beasley’s second season he emerged with 15.5 sacks as the pass-rusher Atlanta hoped it was getting. An explosive first step – something similar and as replicable to Beasley’s as possible – is something head coach Dan Quinn is looking for this week as the team is in Indianapolis for the 2017 NFL Combine.
“The number one thing is get-off,” Quinn said in a response to what he looks for in a college edge rusher. “I want to see if the guy can beat you to the punch. As a pass-rusher, having that get off to stress the offense tackle the most right off the bat and to break down their technique based on the guys initial quickness. That’s what I look of the most.
“Past that, you want to find a guy who has a finisher’s mentality. Very rarely, do you just beat guy one time with one move. It’s the strain, the battle, the finish to go the extra step and win the last yard. Those guys that have that kind of fight and that kind of speed and get off, generally, you are going to hear their names called early on (in the draft).”
An explosive first step and a finisher’s mentality; finding both those traits in a college player entering the draft is akin to finding the Holy Grail. Beasley had the quickness off the snap, but it took more than a year in the NFL to hone in on that acute ability to pull opposing quarterbacks to the ground.
During his rookie season, Beasley only notched four snaps. True, he battled a torn labrum for the majority of the 2015 season, but he also lacked a second or third move that was good enough to blow past NFL offensive tackles.
In 2016, Beasley – in addition to having an incredibly fast first step – learned how to manipulate, untangle, confuse and just flat-out beat offensive linemen tasked with slowing his path to the quarterback.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said it’s normal for a rookie pass-rusher in the NFL to take some time to find a rhythm.
“I think on both sides, O-line and D-line as well, development is delayed a little bit more now,” said Dimitroff at the 2017 combine. “Different rules. Different practice rules. Different, not the same ability and opportunities to be aggressive with contact as it used to be. That’s going to take time.
“For us, the situation with Vic Beasley, I really think he turned the corner literally and figuratively speaking because he did get up and around the corner very well this year. I think we are excited where he’s going. We are excited about what Grady Jarrett did this year as we continue to build those young d-linemen. I think as they get to know the nuances of pass rush, I think that’s really good. We have a head coach who’s really into defensive line coaching and will spend time on that side of the field in those drills, and spending time with our pass-rushers and I think that goes a long way with our group.”
As Falcons coaches and scouts spend the weekend in Indianapolis at the combine, know they’re on the lookout for the next great pass-rusher; a complement to Beasley on Atlanta’s defensive line. Also remember that instant success – and double digit sack totals – aren’t a regularity in rookies.