One is a fan of the team, the other is a fan of the head coach, but two of the top defenders available in the NFL Draft were all smiles when talking about their ties to the Falcons during Friday's media sessions at the NFL Combine.
Florida's Dante Fowler was recruited by and played one season under Dan Quinn with the Gators and Clemson's Vic Beasley, who calls Atlanta home, grew up following the Falcons. Both could be targets for the Falcons as the team looks to boost the pass rush this offseason.
Coming off an eight-sack season with 15 tackles for loss, Fowler spent most of his time at Florida under Bill Muschamp's guidance, but the impact Quinn left on him is still with him.
"Just being able to be with Dan Quinn for that one year, he taught me so much. I had enough information for four years," Fowler said. "He was just a great coach, a players' coach type of guy. He was just smart. He was a man and he taught me how to become a man. I was hurt when he left, but I knew he was going to do great things. He's just accomplishing his goals and his dreams just like I am, too, and I'm proud of him."
Fowler was loose in front of the media, coming off as comfortable and engaging. It's no doubt that Quinn played a part in developing that quality in him as Quinn boasts his ability to connect with people and being positive as one of his biggest strengths.
Fowler could be the best pass-rusher in the draft, and he comes with the versatility that Quinn looks for. Under Muschamp, Fowler saw both 3-4 and 4-3 looks and played both defensive end and outside linebacker.
"(My versatility) can help me a lot. I can play anywhere from linebacker to D-end and then going in the trenches and playing 3-technique to nose guard," Fowler said. "I can do a lot for a team."
In the early stages of the draft process, Fowler's stock could rise so much that he could be gone by the time the Falcons select at No. 8. Clemson's Beasley, however, could still be around and looks worthy of a top-10 pick.
Beasley shocked scouts at Combine weight-ins as he registered at 246 pounds after concerns that he had been playing too light — around 225-230 pounds with the Tigers. Beasley said proper training and diet after leaving Clemson has been the reason for the significant weight gain that could put to rest any doubt of whether he can effectively play defensive end in the NFL.
Teams will be looking at Beasley at the outside linebacker spot, as well, and that's what he's looking to show teams at the Combine. He spent much of his career with his hand in the dirt, but wants to prove to teams that he can cover.
Beasley compared himself to Denver's Von Miller and Seattle's Bruce Irvin — the latter being an interesting comparison because of Quinn's use of Irvin as the Seahawks' weakside backer, called a LEO, who can rush with his hand in the dirt or standing up.
"That's what I look forward to playing at the next level," Beasley said. "A lot of teams see me as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I'm willing to play defensive end at the next level in a 4-3 defense. The majority of teams want me to play outside linebacker and I'm fine with that."
Beasley said he grew up a Falcons fan and Michael Vick and Jamal Anderson were his favorite players.