In today's football, the edge-rusher has become as coveted as the signal-caller. Every year, the first 10 selections of the NFL Draft are littered with prospects who have designs on making a living disrupting backfields.
Just in the past two drafts, Dion Jordan (Oregon), Ezekiel Ansah (BYU), Barkevious Mingo (LSU), Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina), Khalil Mack (Buffalo), and Anthony Barr (UCLA) have had their names called inside the top 10.
Clemson senior Vic Beasley (13 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, 12 pressures in 2013) could've joined that list once the draft process played itself out. But a preliminary second-round grade kept one of the most ferocious pass-rushers in school, much to the chagrin of every offensive coordinator on the Tigers' schedule.
However, a little more seasoning could make him one of college football's premier recent rushers.
Beasley is built similarly to former Texas A&M star hybrid linebacker Von Miller. At A&M, the two-time All-American played will linebacker in a 4-3-based outfit, joker (hybrid end/linebacker), and outside linebacker in an odd-front alignment.
When the 2011 draft rolled around, many pundits expected Miller to play OLB in a 3-4, but when he was drafted to the Denver Broncos' 4-3, many were befuddled. At 6'3, 250 pounds (but playing most of his college tenure in the 230 range), Miller wasn't considered to have the frame to hold up as an end. But Fox had a brilliant plan to use him as a sam linebacker in base and as a designated edge-rusher in sub packages. Miller posted an astounding 30 sacks his first two seasons in the NFL, making him the second fastest to ever reach that total.
(Miller also passed on a potential second-round pick as a junior in order to improve his stock as a senior.)
At Clemson, defensive coordinator Brent Venables has installed a multiple defense. Operating out of a 4-2-5 base, Beasley is the designated pass-rusher on the open side of the formation. At a listed 6'3, 235 pounds, you wouldn't think that he has the makeup to make a significant type impact as a hand-in-the-dirt six-technique. But au contraire, my friend.
Beasley looks as though he's carved out of granite, and he also possesses elite movement skills for the position. He has an ultra-strong base and plays with outstanding leverage. But it's his quickness, power, and pass-rush repertoire that separate him from other players.
Here's a beautiful display of Beasley's explosiveness. Lined up outside the tackle, Beasley hit him with a outside/inside combination. When you have the ability to get up field as quickly as this, tackles have to respect the outside step.
He has the ability to read a tackle's lean, similar to a great basketball point guard. As a matter of fact, you can almost compare this move combination to a crossover dribble in basketball.
His ability to squeeze through tight spaces allowed him to beat both the tackle and the tackle's backup. His closing speed then prevented the quarterback from escaping out the back door.
When Beasley can put all this together in one play, it's tough for any college lineman to deal with.
Here we see Beasley standing up before the snap, which we'll see him do more of in 2014.
"I think the majority of the year I'll be playing in a two-point stance," he said in an interview. "As I get scouted by pro teams it'll help me as an outside linebacker. As I go to the next level a lot of teams see me as an outside linebacker, so that will help my stock."
Playing that position at a high level requires a vast skill set. In addition to pass-rush duties, players must set the edge in the run game, tackle backs in the flats, drop into coverage in area principles, and cover tight ends and receivers when necessary.
Beasley doesn't have a lot of experience in coverage, but periodically is required to reverse into shallow zone drops.
Zone blitzes up the middle are most effective when edge players have the ability to drop into coverage. 3-4-based defenses apply pressure from all over the formation, as you can see here with the Tigers executing a cross dog blitz.
With the inside linebackers blitzing, Beasley becomes the de facto inside linebacker. He must have the range to cover a lot of space to make up for the void. He looks smooth in his backpedal and has the closing speed to be a legit-difference maker in coverage.
But make no mistake about it: Beasley makes his hay chasing down QBs.
The pass-rush arsenal
Offensive linemen these days are thoroughly prepped on go-to moves by pass-rushers, thanks to advance scouting. Trying to implement the same move continuously just isn't going to work (usually).
This doesn't apply to Beasley.
Here we see his ability to convert speed into power. When you're known for having a kamikaze-like approach on the edges, tackles will usually focus on your speed moves, which leaves them susceptible to the power.
While this linemen was still in his kick-step phase, Beasley beat him to the punch, getting his hands inside the shoulder pads, which provides himself with the proper arm leverage and disallows the tackle the chance to gain any of his own. He then proceeded to drive the tackle into the personal space of the QB -- capping it off with a sack.
When you can mesh speed and power, you make it extremely hard for linemen to guess what coming next. The element of surprise is an underrated aspect in football.
This is another prime example of converting speed to power. This sequence shows Beasley's ability to both run the arc and power through linemen. He uses a nasty hook move after exploding off the line like a heat-seeking missile. Beasley's skills are virtually impossible for just about any college lineman to deal with.
As is the case with most developing players, he's by no way a finished product. And that's the scary part about it. He has to work on maintaining his high level of play for the entirety of the year. He started and finished strong last season, but had a meager 10 tackles and one sack over a five-week stretch (which includes a game against the Citadel in which he didn't see much significant action), although he notched five tackles for loss in that period.
His virtual no-show (only two total tackles to his credit) in a pivotal game against the eventual national champions, the Florida State Seminoles, shows how far he still has to go. Don't expect a replication of that performance, as he looks primed to prove doubters wrong.
One thing's for certain. Beasley will soon have NFL defensive coordinators daydreaming. But only after he continues to give college offensive coordinators night sweats.