One year after an athletic defensive end from a South Carolina based college went number one overall in the draft, another athletic defensive end from a South Carolina based college is trying to follow in his footsteps
Jadeveon Clowney out of South Carolina was a presumed number one overall pick from the day he stepped foot on a college campus, but Clemson's Vic Beasley is only a presumed first rounder at this stage. Dane Brugler, of CBS, recently had Beasley going 13th overall in his 2015 mock draft.
Beasley's first appearance of the season will come on Saturday against Georgia.
In their matchup last season, the 22-year-old put on a phenomenal display as he consistently got the better of senior left tackle Kenarious Gates. Gates couldn't handle Beasley's athleticism and now that he is graduated, John Theus is expected to take on that challenge this weekend. Theus played right tackle for Georgia last season, but the former five star prospect struggled.
Theus is a big body, listed at 6'6” and 313 lbs on the team's official website, but it's his quickness and balance that will need to be impressive if he is to contain Beasley.
Beasley's burst off the line at the snap is one of his greatest strengths. He is routinely the quickest to react to the snap and the furthest downfield amongst all of the defensive linemen on the field with his first step. On the above play, the arrows show that Beasley is already in position to attack the left tackle before the defensive end on the opposite side has even crossed the line of scrimmage.
This kind of speed puts an emphasis on the footwork of the offensive lineman. On this play, it's already clear that the left tackle is in trouble because his feet weren't quick enough at the snap. He doesn't effectively backpedal as his left foot never drops far enough away from the line of scrimmage to keep his body in between he and the quarterback.
Because his footwork was exposed at the start of the play, the left tackle is immediately put in a position where he must desperately try to recover. This means he loses all discipline in his technique. His shoulders become parallel with the sideline, while his feet are no longer backpedalling but rather turning to sprint towards his own endzone.
This is an awful position for a tackle to be put in because he overcompensates to try and stop the speed rush, giving up a wide lane to the inside. Beasley is able to punch him in the chest with his arms to knock him backwards, freeing the defensive end to run at the quarterback. If the quarterback hadn't got rid of the ball quickly on a throw to the flat, Beasley would have had a sack.
Gates was incapable of reacting to Beasley's speed at the snap during this matchup last year. That allowed the pass rusher to build pressure in different ways.
After that play, Beasley was able to dip underneath Gates while using his speed to penetrate the pocket past his outside shoulder before running right over the left tackle with his bull rush. Beasley routinely showed off excellent balance and good hand usage to get the better of the athletically inferior opponent.
Beasley was able to consistently get the better of those trying to block him because of his superior athleticism. His speed, fluidity and balance are very tough for college offensive linemen to match up to in space, while he has enough strength to beat your average starter at the college level on a regular basis. In short, Beasley is a physical specimen.
He is listed at 6'3” and 235 pounds, while carrying a lean, athletic body on the field. Beasley will likely need to bulk up a bit when he gets to the NFL, but at the college level his length and overall athleticism stands out.
That length and athleticism helped him to 13 sacks during the 2013 college football season. Those 13 sacks were good enough for the third most in the FBS. In the 13 games he played, Beasley had at least one sack eight times. Crucially, on one of the occasions he was shut out, he faced Morgan Moses, an impressive athlete who went on to become a third round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Moses, and the Virginia offense as a whole, put Beasley in the kind of situation that an NFL defensive linemen often finds himself in.
While being used to having an immediate advantage at the snap on pass rush attempts, Moses was able to negate Beasley's initial burst at the snap with his own quick feet. While he wasn't able to consistently shut Beasley down in fair competitions, he was able to comfortably establish a base beneath him after dropping into his stance at the snap.
This meant that Moses wasn't overplaying the speed rush and he was always in a good initial position to slow the defensive end down.
If Virginia had left Beasley and Moses in one-on-one situations without giving the left tackle additional help or calling plays that were specifically designed to neutralize the pass rush from his side, Beasley likely would have got the better of him. That is because Beasley showed on a number of occasions that he could disrupt Moses even without his initial advantage at the snap.
Offensive play calling is very important for slowing down the pass rush. By keeping the defense off balance you can create hesitation in pass rushers. That is the less direct approach. The direct approach involves double teams, rolling pockets and running back help within the design of specific plays. The Virginia coaching staff did an outstanding job of mixing up both of these approaches to slow down Beasley's impact on the play.
Virginia finished this game with 46 pass attempts, but Beasley and Moses' battle culminated early in the third quarter because the scoreline heavily favored Clemson. Up to that point, the offense had either assigned two players to block Beasley, rolled the pocket/threw a screen pass to his side of the field or used play action that drew his attention on 11 occasions. The duo faced off on 26 occasions, including both run and pass plays.
On this play, we can see that Beasley has no chance of getting to the quarterback in the pocket because the pocket rolls to his side of the field. By forcing Beasley to move sideways, it becomes much more difficult for him to penetrate forward into the pocket. Furthermore, when he does do a good job to beat the tackle outside, the running back is waiting for him so he is ultimately double teamed.
Beasley actually does very well to hold his position and eventually force the quarterback to throw the ball instead of potentially escaping for a scramble down the sideline.
On this play, Moses is given running back help from the start. He is able to overplay his inside shoulder, while shuffling sideways to mirror Beasley as he is forced outside. It takes a special pass rusher to be consistently productive against this kind of attention. It's the kind of attention that players such as Robert Quinn and J.J. Watt receive in the NFL.
In a fair competition, the defensive end is left in space against the offensive tackle. He can threaten both the outside and inside shoulders. The above image is one of the rare plays when Moses and Beasley were put in a fair competition. Beasley attacks his outside shoulder with a speed rush. Moses isn't able to be as aggressive on this kind of play and Beasley is ultimately able to put himself in a position to attack the quarterback in the pocket.
At point 3 of the above image, Moses isn't between Beasley and the quarter. He is desperately using his upper body strength to try and push the defensive end past the pocket.
At point three of the previous image, Beasley should have begun angling his way directly to the quarterback. Instead, he is unable to withstand the upper body strength of Moses. This is where Beasley's slender frame and lack of bulk hurts him. To be a top 10 draft pick, he needs to be able to take advantage of plays when he gets into this position. He should have the power and strength to drag Moses with him to the quarterback, rather than be pushed past him.
When defending the run, Beasley's lack of power and violence with his hands also shows up. He too often dips his shoulder and is washed out of plays.
Beasley isn't a perfect prospect, but he has phenomenal athleticism and has already shown an ability to be a versatile pass rusher. If he wants to potentially be the first player taken off the board during the 2015 NFL draft, he needs to show better discipline against the run and bulk up slightly to play with more power.
There is already a player in the NFL who has followed the type of development path that teams will hope Beasley can take. Not only is he one of the best defensive ends in the NFL, but also one of the best players in the NFL, Robert Quinn.