By Curt Macysyn
Most player evaluators thought that Odell Beckham, Jr. was a solid, if not spectacular, pick for the New York Football Giants in the 2014 NFL draft. After all, the rookie receiver from LSU won the 2013 Paul Hornung Award, emblematic of the nation’s most versatile player. That national honor was a testament to Beckham’s ability to catch the ball, as well as be a dangerous punt and kickoff return man. Ironically, in just his fifth game, Beckham has become too valuable to the New York Giants’ offense to risk injury in the return game.
After sitting out most of the entire off season and preseason, OBJ announced his arrival with emphasis, against some the NFL’s best teams and before national television audiences. Against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, Beckham had eight catches for 156 yards in a losing effort, and then backed the effort up with another seven catches for 108 yards against Richard Sherman and the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense on the Fox national game.
Sherman called Beckham “a great player” after the game on Sunday, a compliment that could not be given to many of his teammates on a woeful New York Giants team. At 3-6 on the season, Big Blue would basically have to win out the rest of the season to secure a playoff spot, and that is unlikely to happen. And while Beckham continues to hone his craft, he has quickly become the most important player on New York’s roster because of his youth and his game-breaking speed.
The Giants lost another potential game-breaker this summer when running back David Wilson had to retire because of a neck injury sustained last year against the Philadelphia Eagles. But Wilson, despite his speed, was always a work-in-progress for the G-men. Wilson had ball security issues that cost the team a game in Dallas last season, as well as pass protection issues. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield was not yet refined either.
Odell Beckham, however, has demonstrated that he is a plug-in and play performer. Certainly the rookie can and will make improvements to his game, but he has been productive from the get-go, a characteristic that not too many Jerry Reese draft pick have had. On the season, Beckham has 25 catches for 370 yards and three touchdowns. Surely the young receiver would like to surpass the 1,000 yard mark in receiving this year, which would be an incredible feat given where he was just six weeks ago.
The team needed someone to step up after Victor Cruz went down with a torn patellar tendon in his knee, and Beckham has answered the call. Hopefully, New York will reap the benefit of a Cruz-Beckham tandem next year.
Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin treats most rookies like the enemy, and Beckham was no different. Coughlin outwardly expressed frustration with Beckham’s progress from his hamstring injury, which caused the rookie to push the limit and re-injure himself. For a head coach who needs all the NFL talent he can muster on his roster, it was a foolish and short-sighted tantrum.
Overall, the Giants’ roster lacks speed, and it has for several years now. Offensively, Beckham brings that essential dynamic to the offense, but he also needs a better supporting cast. At this point, journeyman Preston Parker is quarterback Eli Manning’s second option on offense. Erratic might not even describe the mercurial wide receiver Rueben Randle well. For the record, Beckham already has one more touchdown than Randle, despite playing in four less games, and chances are that OBJ will surpass Randle in receiving yards against the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.
Pro Football Focus gives Beckham a (+4.6) grade on the season, good for 14th in the NFL, while Randle remains in the red at (-1.6), which ranks him 64th. For all the preseason talk about Randle stepping up to be the number one receiver on the team, understand that Parker rates 30 places ahead of Randle according to Pro Football Focus.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Beckham and his compatriots was demonstrated when Manning under threw him in the end zone in the third quarter of Sunday’s game. While blanketed by Sherman, Beckham still tried to bat away the pass, so it was not intercepted. Ultimately, safety Earl Thomas came down with the ball, but Beckham fought for his quarterback, something that Randle rarely, if ever, does. A case in point on the difference in effort shows that Beckham catches 71 percent of his targets, while Randle has caught only 54 percent of his. Receivers do not catch 100 percent of the passes when they give up the route.
The film don’t lie, and neither do the numbers. At this point, the only thing that Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham have in common is that both went to LSU. As the Giants tumble into NFL obscurity again this season, at least Beckham can be a beacon of hope for better days for fans of Big Blue.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.