The Atlanta Falcons were extremely happy to be able to draft Vic Beasley Jr. with the eighth pick of the 2005 NFL Draft. The rookie out of Clemson is the type of playmaker Atlanta has been lacking on defense for the last couple of years.
But an earlier move by the team that didn’t get as much fanfare will prove to be just as beneficial to the Falcons. Atlanta was able to sign unrestricted free-agent linebacker Justin Durant to a three-year, 10.8 million deal in March, prying him away from Dallas, who had interest in keeping him.
At first glance, the move doesn’t appear to be anything grand. Durant is a former second-round pick, who will be playing for his fourth NFL team and has only played a full season once in eight previous seasons.
But when healthy, Durant provides a versatile linebacker, who can play all three positions, has range and is very heady. When healthy, Durant is simply a playmaker and his experience can prove to be a valuable tool in the development of Beasley.
Sports Illustrated called the Durant signing the best acquisition of the offseason by the Falcons. Here is some of what writer Doug Farrar said in that piece of Durant:
“Durant is a perfect addition to a Quinn-led defense that demands that its linebackers fly around the field with abandon,” Farrar wrote. “Durant amassed 49 tackles in just six games before last year’s injury, and if he can keep that pace all the way through the ’15 season, he’ll make his three-year, $10.8 million contract look like a relative bargain.”
The key will be staying healthy.
Coming out of small Hampton University in 2007, the 6’1″, 230-pound Durant was drafted in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, so you know he had to be good.
When healthy, Durant has been. In 95 games, he has accumulated 516 tackles, including 20 pass deflections, five forced fumbles and three interceptions. His best season came in 2012 with the Detroit Lions, when he played in all 16 games, including 14 starts, and had a career-best 103 tackles.
And his versatility has always come in handy. With the Jaguars, Durant played mostly in the middle. When he went to Detroit, he moved to outside. In Dallas, he did both. With the Falcons, he has worked out mostly at weakside linebacker, a position in the 4-3 that would take advantage of his playmaking ability. New Falcons head coach Dan Quinn comes from Seattle which made Durant happy.
“It’s definitely going to be good for me,” Durant said in an AJC.com article. “When I was trying to make my decision, we use to watch (the Seattle defense in Dallas) all of the time. That was one of the teams that we learned from.”
Dallas didn’t want to lose Durant. Although he played in just 16 games the last two seasons, including just six last year before suffering a bicep injury, he showed he could make plays. Before his season ended, Durant led the Cowboys in tackles and forced fumbles. He also was tied for the team lead with four tackles for losses and also added an interception.
The only holdover from the Falcons’ linebacking corp is middle linebacker Paul Worrilow. Despite being undrafted two years ago, he has led the Falcons in tackles both years. Last year, he had 142 and two forced fumbles in a defense that ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed, first downs and third-down percentage.
This year, he should have some help. Along with Durant and Beasley, the Falcons also picked up Brooks Reed from Houston, who will challenge Beasley for the strongside linebacker spot.
It will be Durant, however, that will prove valuable both on and off the field for the young Worrilow and Beasley. With nine years in, Durant is a playmaker who will be able to show the guys how it is done.