An Auspicious Debut
Odell Beckham burst onto the NFL scene in 2014 like few players ever have before. After enduring hamstring issues throughout his first training camp, Beckham appeared destined to have a forgettable rookie season. It appeared to be a classic case of an incoming player simply being too far behind the learning curve, and not enough time to close the gap.
That turned out to be not quite the case.
He scored a touchdown in his first game, was fairly quiet in his second game, and scored two touchdowns in his third game. And then...well, then he unleashed hell on the collective defensive backfields of the NFL. Over the remaining nine games, he never had less than 90 receiving yards in a game, scoring nine touchdowns over that span (seven scores over his final four contests). Amongst the huge productivity, Beckham did things with style. Against the Cowboys, he hauled in what some consider to be the most amazing catch in the history of the league, a one-handed grab that showed up on every highlight reel for the remainder of the season. He caught everything. And after the early-season injury to teammate Victor Cruz threatened to derail the entire offense, Beckham almost single-handedly revitalized both the Giants' passing game and the fantasy stock of quarterback Eli Manning.
Entering 2015, Beckham is going off the board in the first round of just about every league in America. Unlike last season, there is no "wait and see" phase. This is no lottery ticket. He is a bonafide NFL superstar, evidenced by his appearance on the cover of the latest Madden video game. Everywhere you look, Beckham is there. Will he justify the hype and build on his newfound superstardom? Or should we be wary of his meteoric rise and temper the almost impossibly high expectations being placed upon him?
I don't anticipate having Beckham on many rosters this season, if any. Sure, he's got upside through the roof. But he carries significant downside as well. You pretty much have to burn a first round pick on him, meaning he needs to not only perform at an elite level over 16 games, but he needs to outperform some of the other elite wide receivers by a large margin (guys you can grab a full round later, in some cases), in order to justify his ADP. Hamstring issues aside, there have been a few red flags this offseason that would give me some pause before spending a high pick on him.
No, the Madden cover jinx isn't a real thing. But the fact that he was put on the Madden cover is a real thing. He's seemingly been busy with extra cirricular activities all offseason long, and very much appears to relish his New York star power. Enjoying his celebrity all offseason but then coming into minicamp and doing very little because of hamstring woes didn't put any fears to rest that Beckham has a little bit of "Hollywood" in him. Of course, other players such as Deion Sanders and Terrell Owens basked in the spotlight and also had Hall of Fame careers. But it would still be preferable to read more stories about Beckham's conditioning and fewer stories about his social calendar. He certainly doesn't seem to be the type of player to rest on his laurels, but the unknown factor of a whirlwind offseason has got to be at least somewhat disconcerting. I hope that doesn't come across as judgmental, because if I was an NFL player I sure as heck would be out partying all over the world and enjoying my celebrity status too. But we're talking about whether we want to invest a first round fantasy pick in the guy, not whether we want to join him for a night in Manhattan.
On top of that, there were some rumblings about locker room discord as well. There isn't always fire when there's smoke, but the New York media is a veritable minefield that isn't always carefully traveled. Beckham found that out the hard way when he had some complaints that his teammates' constant ribbing bothered him, only to semi-retract those statements within a week. In and of itself, the story is a non-story. But the hamstrings, the instant celebrity, the potential locker room discord, when all taken together, provide enough distractions that I'm looking in other directions. And that's before getting to actual production on the field.
Off-field issues aside, the Giants are not suddenly going to turn into the 1999 Rams. Eli Manning will benefit from a terrific stable of weapons, and the defense should be porous enough to provide a lot of work for the offensive skill guys to pile up statistics. But defenses that were caught somewhat off-guard a year ago now have a book on Beckham. Granted, he's got a book on them now too so it does work both ways. And he's still young enough that he could conceivably keep improving. But last season was almost a perfect combination of factors adding up to his monster campaign. Defenders will change the way they guard him, and he'll need to adjust. The return of Cruz and the addition of Vereen will mean Beckham won't need to be force-fed the football. And how will he react after his first 2 reception, 16-yard day? Even the best players have "off" games, but ever since Beckham started putting up huge stats, he hasn't stopped. We don't know how he'll react to adversity yet.
- Easily one of the most physically gifted wide receivers to enter the league in years, Beckham's production isn't tied to scheme or quarterback play. From a talent perspective, he could likely succeed in any system and with any passer.
- After just one season, Beckham has established himself as the go-to guy in the Giants' offense. He closed his 2014 campaign with 15, 15, 12, and 21 targets over the season's final four games. When you realize he posted those eye-popping stats in just TWELVE games, you realize that there may actually be room for statistical improvement.
- Teammate and fellow WR Victor Cruz missed most of last season due to a knee injury, during which time Beckham was the only real threat in the New York passing game. Cruz has returned, and the Giants also added veteran RB Shane Vereen to the mix. While Beckham obviously demands defensive attention, the Giants do have other weapons in the passing game to help take some pressure off.
- The aforementioned Cruz and Vereen will help alleviate some pressure on Beckham, but they will also steal away a few targets. It's not really a huge issue, because his target ratio was pretty out of control anyway and was bound to come down. But Cruz had established himself as one of the league's better receivers already, and if he's close to 100% then he will obviously have a significant role
- Beckham won't sneak up on anyone this time around. He is going off the board in the first round, so you'll have to pay a premium this time if you want to secure his services. It's already difficult for ANY first round pick to justify their draft slot considering how much turnover there is at the top of draft boards each year; when the hype is as high as this, it becomes nearly impossible to match expectations.
- Beckham endured hamstring issues that kept him out until Week 5 a year ago. This time around, he has already experienced hamstring issues once again and we're not even into training camp yet. He wouldn't be the first player to disappoint simply due to an inability to stay on the field.
I still think Beckham is more than talented enough and that the Giants should provide him with plenty of opportunities to post a fantastic campaign. A top-10 finish at his position is essentially a lock assuming health, and top-5 should be relatively easy for him to attain as well. But there are other elite receivers around the league, guys who have done it for half a decade or more. And their floors are significantly higher than Beckham's, with ceilings that are nearly as high as well. I just don't see rolling the dice with your first round pick for a small incremental advantage over the rest of the elite field as a good or safe decision.
- 96 receptions
- 1325 yards
- 10 TD
Beckham himself told the NY Post he was tired after a whirlwind offseason:
Beckham took a break but rarely stopped moving. He hosted a “Suits and Sneakers’’ fashion show in Phoenix during Super Bowl week. An avid youth soccer player, he got to meet his idol, David Beckham, during a visit to London. He was invited to attend a runway show by none other than Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor in chief. “To an extent it definitely is tiring,’’ Beckham said of his busy schedule.
Meanwhile, Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports says only simpletons would avoid drafting Beckham in the first round:
"He's a unique talent tied to a favorable offense who should be selected with the utmost confidence inside the overall top-10 and even higher in keeper formats"