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Is Atlanta Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley broken, or was he never elite?

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Vic Beasley went from top defensive player to forgotten pass rusher so quickly it will make your neck snap.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It feels like only yesterday I was gaga (scouting term) over Vic Beasley. Coming out of Clemson, Beasley had perhaps one of the best first steps to come into the NFL draft in years. The first step is huge. Find me a consistently elite pass rusher, and I can probably show you a guy with an elite first step.

The Elite First Step

Having grown up on Atlanta Falcons, I can tell you a guy like John Abraham had a truly impressive first step. Jamaal Anderson was always a step behind. That first step can get the rusher ahead of the tackle. It is far from the only move needed to become an elite pass rusher, but that quick first step, a la Dwight Freeney, is not coachable. If you’re slow off the snap, you probably aren’t destined for greatness.

Beasley has that first step. His athleticism has never been in question: Beasley “blows the doors off” the NFL combine not too long ago in 2015. He wasn’t a workout warrior either, finishing his last season at Clemson with 11 sacks.

The makings were all there for someone great. Dan Quinn had loads of success coaching up defensive linemen. It proved out when Beasley notched a league-high 15.5 sacks in his sophomore season.

Outside of then? Vic Beasley is a ghost.

Where is 2016 Vic Beasley?

Beasley has been criticized by relying too much on his speed, and in his fourth season he still lacks any other pass rush moves. He got a fair share of pass rushes against Chris Clark, a poor tackle that was previously unemployed before Tuesday. Despite receiving no help on many snaps, Beasley struggled to do anything. That should not happen.

It’s not really clear what happened with Beasley. It’s like he’s regressed. He lacks not only the pass rush moves, but the killer instinct we see in his counterpart. Takkarist McKinley totaled 8 sacks in his rookie season, including the playoffs. Beasley? 6. In two games in 2018, Takk has 2, and Beasley has 0. That’s a bad look when McKinley is four years younger, and typically lined up next to the defensive tackles that aren’t Grady Jarrett.

Atlanta’s Top Pass Rusher is Takk

For a lack of a better or clearer description, McKinley plays angry. We saw that attitude against the Panthers when a small skirmish broke out between teams: McKinley jumped in ready to back up his teammates.

When the team desperately needs to get to the quarterback, McKinley is way more likely to be there. It’s disappointing for a 2016 Pro Bowl, All Pro, and NFL sack leader. He finished 2016 with 0 sacks in his last four games, including the playoffs and the Super Bowl.

I can’t believe it’s come to this, but Brooks Reed needs to see more snaps.

Beasley’s Future

It’s not clear what is in store for Beasley. Quinn suggested a return to defensive end would improve his numbers. That didn’t come to fruition in week 1, and we saw Beasley dropping into coverage a lot in week 2 after the Deion Jones injury. The Falcons desperately need Beasley to step up, but so far we haven’t seen it.

Beasley is on the last year of his rookie contract, taking up only $4.6 million in cap space. The problem is 2019’s fifth-year option exercised earlier this year. The fifth-year option was the right move in April, but the early returns during the season must have the front office rethinking the option. Beasley is set to earn a base salary of $12.8 million. There’s no signing bonus or other way to hide or spread out the cap hit. He is slated to be the fourth most expensive player on the roster, after Matt Ryan, Desmond Trufant, and Julio Jones.

The fifth-year option is guaranteed only for injury, so it is entirely possible the Falcons rescind the option in the offseason to save on cap space. Atlanta may consider trying to sign him to a more team-friendly deal, but it may make more sense to add pass rushers in the draft. With players like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Austin Hooper, and De’Vondre Campbell more deserving of big deals, the Falcons may move on from Beasley entirely in favor of younger, better, and cheaper.

It is a little premature to suggest that, but there is no question that Beasley has fallen off hard since his 2016 season.