The pass-happy nature of the NFL has forced general managers and head coaches to value pass rushers at a premium. Evaluators view edge rusher as the most important defensive position on the field, and teams are willing to use a top pick on any prospect who flashes disruptive pass-rush skills and explosiveness.
Surveying the 2015 draft class, I believe Clemson DE/OLB Vic Beasley is the most explosive pass rusher in the group, and his knack for getting home off the edge could make him a top-five selection on draft day. Beasley finished his collegiate career with 33 sacks, 52.5 tackles for loss and 29 quarterback pressures. He also added seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a pair of defensive scores in 1,421 snaps over 48 games.
The spectacular production jumps off the tape, of course, but it also accompanies a remarkable display of first-step quickness, burst and acceleration that's unrivaled among his fellow prospects. Beasley overwhelmed opponents with his sheer speed and explosiveness, which made him one of the most disruptive defenders in college football over the past two seasons. His dismantling of Florida State offensive tackle Cameron Erving in a pivotal early season contest showcased his disruptive skills as an impact pass rusher. Beasley's consistency, production and complete dominance of his opponents throughout his senior season indicate he could develop into a big-time playmaker as a pro.
Critics suggest he was a marginal factor against the run, but Beasley was competitive at the point of attack against massive offensive tackles, and his motor never idled over the course of the game. As a result, Beasley routinely ran down opponents from the back side; his burst will make it hard for offensive coordinators to call running plays in the other direction.
Beasley's size (6-foot-3, 246) is a concern, due to the prospect that he might wear down over the course of a season. But the fact that he gained 10-plus pounds between the end of the regular season and the NFL Scouting Combine suggests he could play in the 250-pound range with proper dieting and conditioning. Most impressively, Beasley's spectacular showing in Indy demonstrated that he will remain an explosive athlete even after packing on a little extra weight.
With creative defensive coordinators intrigued by the possibility of utilizing Beasley as a hybrid defender in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, it's conceivable that he could a make a DeMarcus Ware-like impact in the right situation. Yes, I understand that this is a lofty comparison -- but Beasley is a rare breed at the position, and his natural rush skills should translate into prolific production as a pro.
Here are five potential fits for Beasley:
Tennessee Titans (No. 2 overall pick)
When the Titans brought in former Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau to fix a leaky defense, general manager Ruston Webster surely began scouring the 2015 draft class for edge players with the first-step quickness, burst and pass-rushing skill to become playmakers in the defensive wizard's zone-blitz scheme. As an explosive sack artist with exceptional snap-count anticipation and acceleration, Beasley would be an ideal fit. He routinely blows past blockers on speed rushes, exhibiting the balance and body control to turn the corner with a timely "dip and rip" maneuver. In an aggressive zone-blitz scheme that features a number of overload pressures designed to create one-on-one opportunities for edge rushers, Beasley could became an immediate difference-maker on a unit in desperate need of a disruptive force at the point of attack.
Washington Redskins (No. 5)
The probable loss of oft-injured Pro Bowl OLB Brian Orakpo to free agency makes finding a dynamic pass rusher a top priority for the Redskins this offseason. Given GM Scot McCloughan's preference for building through the draft, Beasley is certainly in the discussion to be Washington's top pick. The long, rangy rusher has the speed, quickness and burst to run past blockers on pure speed rushes. He also displays the athleticism and movement skills to rush the passer from an upright stance or drop into coverage as a curl-flat defender. The Redskins would have the flexibility to attack off the edges with Beasley or Ryan Kerrigan hunting the quarterback on a variety of traditional or exotic pressures from a 3-4 look. By adding a player in Beasley who is capable of notching 10-plus sacks on pure talent and athleticism, Washington's defense could improve its pass rush and surpass its 2014 sack total (36).
Chicago Bears (No. 7)
New Bears coach John Fox has a knack for engineering quick defensive turnarounds when he takes over a program, and he will team with coordinator Vic Fangio to rebuild the "Monsters of the Midway" into one of the elite defenses in the NFL. Unlike at Fox's previous stops, where he utilized a four-man front to attack opponents, Fox is allowing Fangio to install a 3-4 system that harrasses quarterbacks with a variety of blitzes and simulated pressures off the edge. Of course, given the recent production and performance of the pass rushers currently slated to occupy the prime positions in Fangio's scheme (Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston combined for 6.5 sacks in 2014), the Bears would be wise to add a young, dynamic rusher like Beasley, who could create disruption off the edge. The 6-3, 246-pound sack artist is a natural speed rusher with the first-step quickness and burst to terrorize quarterbacks on traditional pressures and exotic blitzes. Considering how Fox and Fangio have proven adept at helping young pass rushers succeed early in their careers -- Fox coached Julius Peppers as a youngster in Carolina, while Fangio tutored Aldon Smith in San Francisco -- Beasley could help the Bears get back on track in 2015.
Atlanta Falcons (No. 8)
Dan Quinn surely understands the importance of getting after the passer, given how his old Seattle Seahawks defense dominated the NFL on the strength of a pass rush built around speedy edge players. The Falcons' new head coach will attempt to duplicate that blueprint in the NFC South, where he'll face a couple of blue-chip quarterbacks (the Saints' Drew Brees and the Panthers' Cam Newton) who throw the ball all over the yard. The problem for Quinn is that he's inheriting a defense in Atlanta without a credible rusher; consider that the Falcons mustered just 22 sacks in 2014 (the lowest total in the NFC). That situation must be rectified. With his speed, length and natural rush skills, Beasley would be an ideal fit as the "Leo" (hybrid DE/OLB). He could thrive in the role that Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril occupied in Seattle under Quinn, giving the Falcons the dominant rusher they've lacked since John Abraham was released following the 2012 season. Knowing how important the "Leo" position is in Quinn's scheme, it's easy to envision the Falcons adding the most explosive pass rusher in the 2015 class on draft day.
New Orleans Saints (No. 13)
If Sean Payton is serious about rebuilding the Saints into a contender, he must address a defense that failed to get consistent pressure on the quarterback in 2014. Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan combined for just 17.5 sacks after notching 24.5 the previous year. Adding a talented rusher like Beasley to the rotation would help increase the one-on-one pass-rush opportunities for each veteran off the edge. The youngster immediately will threaten blockers with his speed, quickness and burst; offensive coordinators would have to determine where to direct their pass protection, to take away the Saints' most dangerous threats off the edge. The speedy and athletic former Tiger is a natural fit at ROLB, where he could rush from the quarterback's blind side. Considering coordinator Rob Ryan's adaptability as a tactician, having Beasley in the fold would allow the Saints' defensive architect to expand his playbook to attack the explosive offenses dominating the NFC.