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Falcons show need for speed – and character – with Beasley

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — It was no secret the Atlanta Falcons were looking for pass-rush help in the 2015 NFL Draft.

But with the No. 8 overall pick Thursday night they elected to pass on Nebraska defensive Randy Gregory and Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, both of whom were rated higher than Clemson’s Vic Beasley by most NFL scouts at the outset of the pre-draft process.

While Gregory and Ray were answering to off-field issues related to marijuana, Beasley impressed during the interview process.

Gregory failed a drug test at the Scouting Combine in February and Ray was arrested on Monday on a possession charge just before 6 a.m. Ray was selected 23rd by the Denver Broncos.

Beasley registered 33 career sacks at Clemson and was among a group of pass rushers NFL teams were split on entering the draft.

“I’m a double-digit sack guy,” Beasley said. “I’m going to bring a great pass rush and just put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”

Since 2008, when Dimitroff and former coach Mike Smith were hired for one of the NFL’s biggest renovation projects, the Falcons’ defense has ranked 24th, 21st, 16th, 12th, 24th, 27th and 32nd. The pass defense has ranked 21st, 28th, 22nd, 20th, 23rd, 22nd and 32nd.

Since ranking 11th in sacks in 2008 – John Abraham had 16.5, nobody else had more than 4.0 – the Falcons have ranked 26th, 20th, 19th, 28th, 29th and 30th in total sacks.

The Falcons were elated to get Beasley.

“What he adds to this team is athleticism and the ability to get up and around the corner,” Dimitroff said. “We were, again, very fired up to have him on the board where we were picking.”

The team was so focused on improving its defense that it didn’t appear to consider Georgia running back Todd Gurley, the second-leading rusher in school history behind the great Herschel Walker.

Gurley was selected two picks later by the St. Louis and became the first running back selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2012.

Similarly in 2007, the Falcons, attempting to find a pass rusher opposite Abraham, selected Jamaal Anderson with the eighth overall pick. They passed on running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker Patrick Willis.

But this time, Beasley likely was selected over Kentucky defensive end Bud Dupree.

“For us, it was about adding some more speed to the group,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more fired up about him jumping right in and being a part of the group.”

The Falcons plan to use Beasley at their weak-side linebacker spot that Quinn calls the “Leo” position.

Beasley struggled at times getting off of blocks in college against the run, but Quinn said that was not a major concern for the Falcons.

“What we are looking for is what players can do, what they can do best as opposed to what they can’t do,” Quinn said. “One thing we do know is that he has the speed and athleticism to get after the quarterback (coming) off the edge. Those were the things that most fired us up.”

Quinn believes that Beasley has elite pass-rushing skills.

“I think it’s his first-step quickness,” Quinn said. “Usually, for a rusher when you can really get off the spot, those are one of things you talk about. How quick can he get off the spot? When we evaluated all of the guys, that was the thing that really jumped out is his initial quickness. When you can beat a guy to the punch, that’s when you can have your most success as a rusher, and he certainly has the ability to do that.”

Dimitroff didn’t want to directly answer a question about Gurley, but did note that he talked to St. Louis general manager Les Snead.

“Les never indicated to me that he was going after the Bulldog,” Dimitroff said.

But did the Falcons even consider it?

“That’s a good question,” Dimitroff said. “Our focus was on defense.”


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