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Beasley highlight of Falcons draft focused on filling needs

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Falcons general manger Thomas Dimitroff was ready to move up in the 2015 NFL Draft to land Vic Beasley if there was an early run on pass rushers.

“We were focused on Vic right from the beginning,” Dimitroff said. “We were projecting that he might be there between six and eight. We were fortunate that he was there at eight for us, and we didn’t have to get antsy and jump up a pick, two or three to get him.”

The Falcons stood pat at No. 6 last season and selected offensive tackle Jake Matthews.

In 2013, they did get antsy and moved up to select cornerback Desmond Trufant. The Falcons traded with St. Louis from 30 to 22. They gave up a third- and a sixth-round pick.

In 2011, they made the mega-move to jump from 27 to six to select wide receiver Julio Jones in a 5-for-1 trade with Cleveland.

“In our situation there is always a thought about moving up,” Dimitroff said. We’ve been aggressive over the years. Our approach here, (coach) Dan (Quinn) was in line with process. If there was to be a run on pass-rushers that might have precipitated us moving up. We were fortunate that he was there.”

The selection of Beasley drew mixed reviews from draft experts, although NFLDraftScout.com’s Dane Brugler noted the Falcons responded to a clear need by landing an impact pass rusher.

Beasley does have some flaws, particularly against the run.

“Despite his natural ability as a pass rusher, Beasley does struggle against the run as he seems to lose track of the play at times and will take bad angles or even appear unmotivated when the play flows to the opposite side of the line,” noted NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang. “When he takes on blockers too high, he’s easily swept out of the play. He offers little in terms of ability to anchor or set the edge with power against the run, as he simply lacks the girth to hold position against tackles and even tight ends at times.”

Quinn, a defensive line coach by trade, was leading the pass-rush drills during the team’s minicamp session. He’ll be charged with helping to develop Beasley, who needs to develop a signature pass-rush move.

He hopes to have more than just Beasley chasing around quarterbacks.

“When the pass rush is at its best, is when four or five guys are all working together,” Quinn said. “That’s been my experience. When a tackle and a defensive end work together or when all four of the guys know how to collapse the pocket, that’s when we’ll be at our best.”

–Justin Hardy’s path to the NFL wasn’t standard, but when the Falcons selected the former East Carolina wide receiver in the fourth round, he wasn’t the first undersized former high school quarterback the team planned to have catch the ball rather than throw it.

Terance Mathis, the second-leading receiver in Falcons history with 573 receptions and 7,349 receiving yards for the Falcons from 1994-2001, was a quarterback, defensive back and running back at Redan High before becoming the leading receiver in college football history – at the time – at New Mexico.

Mathis was listed at 5-10, 177 pounds. Hardy is 5-10 1/4, 192 pounds.

Mathis caught 263 passes for the Lobos. Hardy caught 387 for the Pirates, including a whopping 121 for 1,494 yards last season. He also played basketball and was a high-jumper in high school.

Some scouts consider him to have the best catching skills in the draft.

“I always have that chip on my shoulder. I was never given anything,” said Hardy, who last season won the Burlsworth Award as the nation’s top former walk-on player. “(Scouts) always list me as not being the fastest guy and not being the biggest guy, but I like to hang my hat on my route-running to get that separation.

“You don’t necessarily have to be the fastest person, you have to perfect your craft to get that separation that’s needed.”

A closer look at the Falcons’ picks in the 2015 NFL Draft:

Round 1/8 — Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, 6-3, 246, Clemson

Clemson’s all-time sack leader, Beasley had 37 tackles, a team-high 21.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 12 sacks, nine quarterback pressures, three pass breakups, two caused fumbles, one recovered fumble and a 16-yard fumble return for a touchdown in 557 snaps over 13 games (12 starts) last season. He was the ACC defensive player of the year, as voted on by the coaches and the media. He finished with 33 sacks in his career, which he started as a running back.

Round 2/42 — Jalen Collins, CB, 6-1 1/2, 203, LSU

A big, physical cornerback with the size and tackling skills to perhaps play safety. He led the Tigers with nine pass breakups in 2014, despite starting only seven of 13 games as a fourth-year junior. Also had 38 tackles and an interception. After redshirting as a freshman in 2011, Collins started the first game the next season before transitioning to a reserve role. Said he has a 78 1/8-inch wingspan.

Round 3/73 — Tevin Coleman, RB, 5-11, 3/8, 206, Indiana

Cranked up his game from the middle of his sophomore season through his junior campaign, averaging 142.6 rushing yards per game over the final 21 games of his college career. Owns the IU single-season rushing record with 2,036 yards last fall, and he set the mark while going for 228 yards against eventual national champion Ohio State. Also rushed for 307 against Rutgers. Was one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, and second nationally in rushing in 2014 while averaging 169.7 yards per game. Also caught 25 passes as a junior. Rushed for 958 yards as a sophomore, missing three games with an ankle injury. As a freshman, he rushed for 225 yards, and led the team with a 23.6-yard average on kickoff returns, including one that went 96 yards for a touchdown.

Round 4/107 — Justin Hardy, WR, 5-10, 1/4, 192, East Carolina

He set the record for most career receptions in bowl subdivision history last season. Hardy played in 63 games for the Pirates and finished his career with 387 catches for 4,541 yards and 35 touchdowns. He broke the record against Tulane last season in a 34-6 victory. He moved pass the previous record of 349 set by Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles in 2011. Hardy had just one Division II scholarship offer in high school before ending up at East Carolina as a preferred walk-on. He had originally signed with Fayetteville State, but was given a release to walk-on at ECU. He spent his first year on the scout team before earning a scholarship a year later and quickly earning a lead role in the pass-heavy offense.

Round 5/137 — Grady Jarrett, DT, 6-0, 3/4, 304, Clemson

The son of former Falcons great Jessie Tuggle. He was a three-sport standout in high school and captured state titles in wrestling and the shot put. He was a team co-captain. He was named third-team All-American by Athlon and first-team All-ACC by the media and the coaches. He had 73 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 12 quarterback pressures, two caused fumbles and one recovered fumble in 530 snaps over 13 games (13 starts). Comes off the ball low and has natural leverage.

Round 7/225 — Jake Rodgers, OG, 6-6, 315, Eastern Washington.

Rodgers is athletic and could fit in a as a big guard. He was 250 pounds coming out of high school and was recruited as a tight end. He was moved to the line at Washington State. He redshirted and played for them in 2011. He started 12 games for the Cougars in 2012 at four different positions, but decided to leave the program. He transferred and missed half of the 2013 season with a knee injury. He returned in 2014 and started every game at right tackle and also played some at right guard.

Round 7/249 — Akeem King, S, 6-1, 212, San Jose State

Was his team’s fourth-leading tackler with 71 stops (tops among defensive backs) with two pass breakups and 1.5 tackles for lost yardage while starting all 12 games. Was a reserve over his first three seasons. As a high schooler, he also lettered in basketball and track and field, setting the school record with a time of 10.74 seconds in the 100-meter dash.


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