CLEMSON — Who says you can’t go home? Not Vic Beasley, and not the Atlanta Falcons.
The former Clemson defensive end and Adairsville, Ga. product raised 60 miles from the Georgia Dome was selected eighth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft Thursday night at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
“I thought I was going to go before the Falcons, to be honest,” Beasley said on a teleconference with team reporters. “But eventually, it worked out, and I’m happy where I’m at.”
Growing up rooting for the Falcons, Beasley had the foresight to wear a red shirt/tie ensemble under a black suit to the draft.
“Yeah, I picked it out way ahead of time,” Beasley admitted. “No better place I could choose than the Atlanta Falcons.”
“I am so happy for him because he wanted to play near his family,” head coach Dabo Swinney said, in a university release. “His father was so excited he could hardly stand up to hug him.”
The Falcons are breaking in new head coach Dan Quinn, the architect of Seattle’s fearsome defense which played in the last two Super Bowls, winning the first of the two.
“Coach Quinn did a great job coaching up there in Seattle, and he used Bruce Irvin very well in the Leo position. I think he’s going to do the same with me,” Beasley said. “I’m a double-digit sack guy. I bring a great pass rush and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
Beasley becomes an ideal fit for Atlanta, which has finished in the bottom five in the league in sacks three consecutive years.
“We were focused on Vic from the very beginning. This guy adds the full package for us,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “It’s nice to know we’re adding a pass rush to this defense. Seeing Dan’s approach to the defense, having a guy in tow like this is a nice addition for us.”
Atlanta has recorded a dismal 10-22 mark the past two seasons, but before that made three consecutive playoff appearances, including a loss in the 2012 NFC Championship Game.
On ESPN’s draft coverage, analyst Jon Gruden questioned Beasley’s play-to-play effort (particularly against the run), as the knock on Beasley is that he’s a one-dimensional player. Beasley had a modest 101 tackles (though 52.5 were for a loss) in 48 college games.
“What we’re looking for is what the players can do best, as opposed to what they can’t do,” Quinn said. “One thing we certainly do know is the speed and athleticism to get after the quarterback and come off the edge – those are the things that most fire us up.”
Graduating from Clemson as the school’s all-time sack leader with 33, the 6-3, 246-pound Beasley becomes the 25th first-round NFL draft pick in Clemson history. That figure trails only Florida State and Miami among ACC members.
This is the Tigers’ second three-year streak with a first-round selection, along with 1997-99. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was taken fourth overall to the Bills last year, and receiver DeAndre Hopkins went 27th to the Texans in 2013.
Beasley became Clemson’s fourth draftee in the single digits in the last nine years, following Watkins, running back C.J. Spiller and defensive end Gaines Adams. Clemson had just four such picks in the first 71 years of the draft’s history (1936-2006.)
Watkins and Beasley combine to make Clemson the only school to place a top-15 pick in each the 2014 and 2015 drafts.
The ACC fared well early and often Thursday night, providing five of the first 16 picks from five different teams - led by quarterback Jameis Winston, Florida State’s first No. 1 overall pick in school history. Beasley, Miami offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker and Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson followed - but only Beasley’s team won a bowl game in 2014.
Also, Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony slid up from his expected stock of second-round contention, taken with the 31st pick Thursday night by the defense-challenged Saints. Anthony led the Tigers in tackles each of the last two years, finishing his college career with 330 tackles.
Therefore, Atlanta and New Orleans, the NFL’s worst two defenses in 2014 by total yards, each turned to the NCAA’s stingiest defense in 2014 for reinforcements.
Anthony’s Saints host Beasley’s Falcons on Thursday Night Football, Oct. 15. The rematch is at the Georgia Dome in Week 17, on Jan. 3.
The draft resumes Friday at 7 p.m. televised by ESPN2 and NFL Network. Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is a third-round prospect, while defensive end Corey Crawford and cornerback Garry Peters are expected to be taken in the later rounds Saturday.