From his first day as head coach, Dan Quinn has preached the importance of being a fast and physical team. To accomplish this on defense, the Falcons are looking to become more explosive off the snap — especially when rushing the passer.
Explosiveness was a marquee trait of Quinn's league-best unit in Seattle, as Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril used their impressive first strides to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
Moving forward, Quinn will ask Vic Beasley Jr. to do the same.
Beasley, Atlanta's first round pick in last Thursday's NFL Draft, has the kind of motor seldom found in front-seven defenders. His speed was evident at the Combine, where he ran a blistering 4.53 40-yard dash — the best time of any D-lineman.
It's also visible on tape. While Beasley has some good moves, he can wreak havoc with his swift, straight-line movements alone. Quinn, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli value this skill and took a big step towards reshaping Atlanta's roster by selecting the 6-foot-3 prospect.
"When we evaluated all the guys, that was the thing that really jumped out," Quinn said of Beasley's initial quickness. "When you can beat a guy to the punch, that's when you can have your most success as a rusher. He certainly has the ability to do that."
Beasley's acceleration allowed him to become one of the NCAA's most consistent pass-rushers. Overall, he tallied 33 sacks at Clemson — the most in school history.
By recording 12 sacks in 2014, along with 34 tackles (21.5 for loss) and two forced fumbles, Beasley earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and his second consecutive All-American nomination. Given Atlanta's needs along the defensive front, Beasley was simply too good of a fit to resist.
"We were focused on Vic from the very beginning," Dimitroff said. "We were fortunate that he was there at eight for us … The fact that we got Vic Beasley at eight, the pass rusher we think he can be, was very much a positive for us."
Beasley's improved strength undoubtedly made him more enticing. Thanks to Clemson's training staff, he packed on considerable muscle between the end of his senior campaign and wintertime. He bench pressed 33 reps at the Combine and was believed to weigh in at 246 pounds — quite a jump from his listed weight of 235.
In addition to his freakish agility and newfound might, Beasley's experience at a variety of positions makes him a unique talent. The 22-year-old was at one point dubbed a tight end; he's been a running back, too, and can be deployed as a linebacker or defensive end in the NFL.
Scouts seem to agree that, given his comprehensive training, he can thrive in either the 3-4 or 4-3 formation. And although Beasley is at his best when pursuing the QB, he's proven capable of dropping back into coverage when necessary.
This kind of versatility will be championed by Atlanta's new regime and makes Beasley a strong candidate for the LEO position. According to O'Brien Schofield, who played for Quinn in Seattle before inking a contract with the Falcons, supreme athleticism — the kind Beasley brings to the table — is important for such a role.
"I think the LEO backer is basically a hybrid defensive end," Schofield said, adding that pass coverage and a host of rushing assignments are part of the job. "[Y]ou've got to kind of be the all-purpose football player to play that position."
Nimble, strong and well-rounded, Beasley should be able to make a substantial impact in Atlanta from the get-go. If he can approach his goal of registering double-digit sacks, the Falcons could soon boast a pass-rush worth envying.