Falcons make Youngstown State's Derek Rivers feel at home in workout

Derek Rivers runs during a combine drill on March 5. He had 41 sacks in 49 games in college at FCS power Youngstown State. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Former Youngstown State edge rusher Derek Rivers wasn't sure what to expect during his first private workout for an NFL team. As it turned out, Dan Quinn did the unexpected.

Rivers developed an immediate bond with the Atlanta Falcons coach as Quinn, a defensive line guru, showed his hands-on approach.

"Coach Quinn was actually real active in the workout,” Rivers said. “He pretty much ran them, yes sir. It was the first time I'd seen a head coach go out there and direct the D-line drills, so it was cool. It was real cool.”

Quinn might end up putting Rivers through drills on a regular basis. The Falcons no doubt would love to pair another edge rusher alongside NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., and Rivers is a prospect on the rise. He measured in at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds Thursday as he worked out for the Falcons along with fellow defensive end Avery Moss and cornerback David Rivers (no relation).

Rivers is projected to be drafted between the second and third rounds, but could elevate his stock between now and the April 27 NFL draft. Last year, some teams didn't have a first-round grade on safety Keanu Neal, the Falcons' 17th overall pick. Neal made an immediate impact as the team's starting strong safety.

The Falcons own the 31st overall pick in this year's draft, with an edge rusher and offensive guard looking like the top priorities after the team landed top free-agent nose tackle Dontari Poe. Rivers, from North Carolina, would be ecstatic to play for just about any NFL team. But he seems to have a genuine desire to be a part of the Falcons after spending time around Quinn, defensive line coach Bryant Young and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich.

“Even if the Falcons hadn't gone to the Super Bowl last year, I know I would be with an organization with awesome coaches,” Rivers said. “I love their coaching staff. I just love the vibe that they have. They are some of the coolest coaches that I've ever met. I'd be totally comfortable and super excited. I'd give my all anywhere, but when you love your coaches, you give an extra amount of effort because you don't want to disappoint them.”

Rivers said Thursday's workout lasted about 25 minutes. Falcons strength coach Jesse Ackerman conducted the warm-up and three agility drills. Then came five defensive line and pass-rush drills with Quinn and Young. At the end, Ulbrich had Rivers go through some drops to check out his hips.

So what type of feedback did Rivers get from Quinn?

“It was all good,” Rivers said. “He said both me and [Moss] did well and that we helped ourselves out. He said he liked how we strained hard and didn't take any reps off. He put into the context of, 'Both of you guys made some money today.'"

Quinn also relayed to Rivers exactly what he's looking for in an edge rusher.

“He just said, `We're looking for guys that are consistent every single play,'" Rivers said. “He said the type of pass-rusher they want is someone who keeps going and has a motor and someone who has skill. The biggest thing was consistency that coach Quinn said, coach Ulbrich said, and coach [Young] said.”

Rivers had 41 sacks, 56.5 tackles for losses, and 49 quarterback hurries in 49 games at Youngstown State, playing defensive end and linebacker. His NFL combine numbers included 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 30 bench-press reps and a 35-inch vertical leap.

“I love to pass-rush,” Rivers said. “My biggest asset that I bring to a team is my pass-rush ability and my leadership qualities. The biggest thing that separates me is my faith in God and my work ethic.”

Rivers said he and Moss spent extensive time watching other pass-rushers, including viewing film of Beasley coming out of Clemson even before Beasley's breakout season with the Falcons.

“I love the way he rushes,” Rivers said of Beasley. “His first step is ridiculous. And he's a strong kid. He's just an athlete, man.”

Beasley-Rivers sounds like a combination that could be a nightmare for quarterbacks for years to come.