The Chicago Bears need edge rushers.
Jared Allen took a considerable step backward last year – his 5.5 sacks were a career low – and he turns 33 in April. In addition, new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio may install a 3-4 defense, a system in which Allen has never played.
Lamarr Houston is recovering from an ACL tear and will likely miss most of the offseason. The health of his knee will be the crux of his 2015 campaign. Any setbacks in his recovery will limit his productivity and could result in prolonged stints on the sideline.
Willie Young had 10.0 sacks in his breakout 2014 campaign yet he tore his Achilles tendon in the season finale, an injury that could take 12 months to fully heal. At this point, the Bears have to assume he’ll be out for most the 2015 season.
The Bears would love for Shea McClellin to emerge as a 3-4 OLB, his collegiate position at Boise State. There’s a possibility he’ll flourish in his natural position but after three years of disappointing returns, banking on McClellin would be foolish.
Christian Jones could be the sleeper for Fangio at OLB. Jones has speed, he’s solid in coverage and he was an edge rusher his senior year for Florida State. Yet the former undrafted free agent is no sure thing.
The Bears are dangerously thin at outside linebacker, a position from which pressure is applied in a 3-4 defense. Without a quality edge rush, Chicago’s defense will struggle to improve, even under Fangio.
OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson (6-2, 235)
Career Highlights: 2014 ACC Defensive Player of the Year (Media); ACC-leading 11 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as senior; 32 career sacks and 52 tackles for loss led all active FBS players last season; led ACC in sacks in 2013 and 2014; two-time consensus All-American.
-Explosive at the snap. Lightning quick off the ball. Top-tier first step.
-Has a full arsenal of pass rush moves: spin, rip and dip. Equally effective on inside and outside rushes.
-Has speed to turn the corner consistently and closes in a heartbeat.
-Good change of direction.
-Great playing speed. Can chase sideline to sideline.
-Extremely athletic with great balance.
-Very quick hands and feet. Active with hands in pass rush.
-Undersized. Lacks power. Relies almost exclusively on speed and quickness.
-Struggles to create separation once locked up with opposing linemen.
-Not a big hitter. More of a drag tackler.
-Lacks ideal experience in coverage. Rarely dropped back for the Tigers.
-Always moving up the field. Takes himself out of inside runs and screens.
-Struggles to set the edge against the run. Lacks stoutness at the point of attack.
Beasley is a pure speed rusher. He’s shot out of a cannon at the snap. He anticipates snap counts well and moves up-field quickly with his first step. He eats up offensive tackles who are slow in their kick step.
Once he gets an angle, Beasley drops his shoulder and flies around the corner. He closes on the quarterback in a hurry and gives good effort in trying to strip the ball from the quarterback’s blindside.
Beasley uses every pass-rush move in the book. He’s just as comfortable ripping through the inside shoulder of an offensive tackle as he is speeding around the edge. He’ll also mixes in the occasional spin move.
His ability to quickly penetrate up the field also helps against the run, where he can be extremely disruptive on toss and pitch plays. His straight-line speed allows him to chase down a lot of plays from the backside.
At the point of attack, Beasley does not have the requisite size or strength to hold his ground at the next level. He struggled mightily against plays run right at him. View the final play of the Florida State game below, one in which Beasley dives inside on an off-tackle run. He fails to set the edge, which gives the opposing running back a huge lane for the game-winning touchdown.
That will be a problem for Beasley in the NFL. He’s as quick a defender as there is in this draft but he’s one-dimensional. He has experience in a stand up position as well as in a three-point stance but he’ll be a revolving door if asked to set the edge as a 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the dirt.
As a situational pass rusher, Beasley has a load of potential. On passing downs, where he can pin his ears back and get after the quarterback, he could have an immediate impact for the Bears. His skill set, while limited, would give Fangio the one piece he’s currently missing.
Yet for all his speed and ability to turn the corner, his lack of size and strength could be a detriment against the run. In reality, he’ll be a faster version of McClellin, who himself cannot disengage from blocks at the point of attack. Having two outside linebackers who struggle to fill gaps isn’t an ideal scenario.
Beasley in Chicago?
On film, Beasley is very impressive. He’s going to give NFL left tackles fits on passing downs. Once he gets a step, he’s around the corner in a flash. He very easily has double-digit sack potential at the next level.
If the Bears are looking for pass rush in the first round, Beasley would be a solid option with the seventh overall pick in the draft.
Yet he’s going to struggle against plays run right at him. There’s not doubt about that. He could stand to add 10-20 pounds but that could compromise his quickness, which is his strongest trait.
Considering his potential as a very disruptive pass rusher, Beasley has value as a Top-10 pick in this year’s draft. Yet any team that drafts him must take into consideration his limited skill set, which could make him a part-time player.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.