Eli Manning is coming off his worst season as a pro, and the New York Giants are trying to recover from their worst campaign in nearly a decade. Those two items obviously go hand in hand, which is why the G-Men have recently gone out of their way to find Manning as much support as possible.
Earlier this month, New York spent one of its top three draft picks on a wide receiver for the fourth time in six years. The first of those picks, Hakeem Nicks, is gone after flaming out. The second, Jerrel Jernigan, has already been deemed a disappointment. The third, Rueben Randle, is entering a make-or-break year. But it's the fourth who everybody is counting on.
That's because 2014 No. 12 overall pick Odell Beckham Jr. isn't just the most recent early receiver taken by Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin, but he's also the highest-touted draft pick the franchise has possessed since Manning himself came aboard back in 2004.
The idea is that the speedy LSU product will be able to give the Giants that much-needed receiving weapon to complement Victor Cruz—someone who can be relied upon by Manning to make plays and create separation on the outside.
Cruz, of course, has no problem doing exactly that in the slot, but you need more than that nowadays. And since Manning's pass protection was mediocre last year and might not exactly resemble a brick wall in 2014, and because Nicks is gone, Randle is a question mark and there's no proven starting tight end in sight, the pressure is on Beckham right from the get-go.
So can a 21-year-old save this old-school franchise by becoming one of those rare Big Blue rookies to not only find his way onto the field, but also excel while doing so? Let's play with some pros and cons.
Pro: He's ready to go
When you have holes at tight end, guard, center, offensive tackle, defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker, and you take a receiver 12th overall in a draft loaded with top-quality players at that position, you're taking quite a risk. That's why it's at least important to note that the well-polished Beckham does appear to be ready to contribute right away.
It helps when you come from a conference like the SEC, and Beckham nearly broke the all-time SEC record for all-purpose yardage in 2013. At LSU, he played a major role on a national championship-caliber team for three consecutive years.
By the time he wrapped up his college career with a 1,117-yard, eight-touchdown junior year, Beckham was as reliable as any receiver in college football. He rarely drops passes or screws up his assignments and he's a superb route-runner.
That last point could be huge because Randle's biggest issue thus far has been his inability to consistently find a rhythm with Manning on his routes. Eight of the 76 passes Manning threw to Randle in 2013 were intercepted, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and a lot of that was on the 2012 second-round pick.
Manning needs to trust his receivers more than he appeared to trust Randle as a sophomore. Fortunately, as Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News details in this account, Manning and Beckham already have a strong relationship: "When Beckham attended the Manning camp last summer, he was running routes so precisely and catching so many passes that [high school coach Nelson Stewart] says 'Eli kept asking for him,' which allowed him to get in a lot of work with his future quarterback."
I'll add that Beckham is also already a fairly skilled blocker, which is another feather in his cap.
Con: Coughlin's rookie standards are high
|Most games started by Giants rookies since 2008|
|1. Justin Pugh||2013||16|
|2. Jayron Hosley||2012||6|
|2. Hakeem Nicks||2009||6|
|4. Bruce Johnson||2009||5|
|4. Greg Jones||2011||5|
|Pro Football Reference|
Like, the highest in football. The majority of rookies he's had during his 10 years with this team have essentially redshirted. But that wasn't the case with Justin Pugh, who started 16 games after being taken in the first round last year, so nothing is written in stone.
The point is that Beckham's leash won't be long. If he drops passes like these...
Or botches routes as he appeared to do here...
Then I can assure you that Coughlin will bench him faster than you can say, "David Wilson." Jernigan and Mario Manningham might not be as exciting or dangerous as Beckham, but if they're less likely to be liabilities, they'll take his place on the field.
We mentioned that eight Manning passes directed at Randle were intercepted last season (compared to only 11 total for starters Cruz and Nicks). Well, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had three picks in the first half against Ole Miss last season, and Beckham was the intended target on all three.
They all weren't necessarily his fault, but the point is that there are always warning signs.
Pro: It appears he suits the new-look offense
It'll be interesting to see if new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo will have a say in how much Beckham is involved this year, because during his time in Green Bay, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson all had plenty of opportunities as rookies. The Packers also like to be patient with their young players, but McAdoo could influence Coughlin to give Beckham some extra rope.
Why? Well, as we mentioned, he's an ideal fit for McAdoo's offense.
What exactly will McAdoo's offense look like? Can't answer yet—not this early—but if indeed he brings uptempo, quick-strike, West Coast principles to town, Beckham could have the ability to work wonders for Manning and the passing game.
These are the types of quick-hitters he excelled at with the Tigers...
The Giants have to make this offense more quarterback-friendly. These are easy passes to make and extremely tough to defend. Here's another one on the same drive against Texas A&M...
Those types of plays also lead to more yards after the catch, giving the entire offense a larger margin for error. Under Kevin Gilbride, everything was based on precise timing, requiring Manning to be nearly perfect. Now, if he can merely get the ball to Beckham, he can break away like this...
That's something we saw multiple times on the tape, which is something the Giants must have loved considering how much they've struggled to pick up extra yardage of late.
|Team yards after catch per reception, 2013|
|Green Bay Packers||6.40||3rd|
|New York Giants||4.86||29th|
McAdoo will surely look to benefit from plays like those right off the bat.
Con: He might never be a home run hitter outside
I know these things are unpredictable, but after watching tape from Beckham's entire 2013 season at LSU, I'm wondering if he has the size and speed to routinely get past NFL-level cornerbacks.
He's only 5'11" and 198 pounds, and he isn't as fast as he is explosive. That could be a problem on deep balls to the sideline, which is a concern when you consider that Cruz has pretty much monopolized the slot.
To get a feel for how he might handle facing an NFL-caliber defender one-on-one, I kept a close eye on his September matchup with TCU's Jason Verrett, who runs a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and was a first-round pick earlier this month.
Beckham had five catches in that game, but most came underneath or against another corner. He couldn't separate from Verrett with much success.
This team doesn't need another slot receiver.
Pro: He has big-play ability regardless
But it would only be fair to also show you the one stellar grab Beckham made against Verrett. He's got only an inch on Verrett, but he gets way higher than him after making a nice move on an out pattern, completing an impressive catch.
Beckham plays bigger than he is. He makes a ton of catches in traffic, especially in clutch moments. For proof, look no further than his big fourth-quarter performances against Ole Miss and Georgia. Against the Bulldogs, this came on a big third down from the slot...
And this came on a 3rd-and-23 in the fourth...
While Randle is a bigger target, it might not take long before Manning feels more comfortable throwing it up to Beckham when the game is on the line.
You'll notice that the pros outnumber the cons
But they're sort of supposed to when we're discussing a No. 12 overall pick. Beckham's ceiling is remarkably high. A lot of experts, such as SI.com's Don Banks, have compared him to DeSean Jackson, but he's got Pro Bowl potential regardless.
We don't know if he can make an impact in his first year, easing the burden on Cruz and Co., but to be a saving grace for Manning and this much-maligned offense he'll have to buck a major Coughlin trend and overcome some potential physical limitations.
Beckham can't be another Domenik Hixon or Mario Manningham. He has to be, at least, another Steve Smith or Hakeem Nicks, and without much delay. Or in Green Bay terms for McAdoo's sake, he'll have to be a Greg Jennings or a Jordy Nelson, and at least a Randall Cobb in Year 1.
Mettenberger was able to rely on him heavily in an NFL-style offense within college football's strongest conference. Now the question is whether he can make a fast enough transition for Manning to be able to do so within the NFC East in 2014.
With organized team activities underway, we're going to begin to get a feel real soon for the type of impact he can make.