Can Odell Beckham Jr. Be Spark Eli Manning Needs to Complete Reappearing Act?

Craig VanderkamFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2014

New York Giants' Odell Beckham before an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) was limited in practice throughout the week and is listed as questionable, but the No. 12 overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft said he expects to make his NFL debut Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post reported Beckham is confident he will play. The Giants use GPS monitors on their players to measure heart rate, acceleration and speed and, said Beckham on Friday: “I don’t know the number, but I know from the GPS that I was running just as [fast] or [faster] than I was last week. So I’ve been feeling pretty good, although at the same time, I’m trying to save some juice for Sunday.”

If Beckham plays, it will mark his first game action in 277 days, since LSU defeated Iowa in the Outback Bowl on January 1. He injured his hamstring on the first day of training camp, did not play in the preseason and did not practice until last week.

After back-to-back losses to start the season, the Giants have played well of late, with wins against Houston and at Washington, setting up Sunday’s home matchup with the Falcons.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Leading the way has been the resurgence of quarterback Eli Manning, who looks comfortable leading the offense’s West Coast attack brought to the Giants by offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The system is built around tempo and quick routes and designed for playmaking receivers to pick up yards after the catch. Jordan Raanan of NJ.com noted the Giants used no-huddle on their first five scoring drives in Week 4’s rendition of Thursday Night Football against the Redskins.

In the last two weeks—both Giants victories—Manning has completed 73.1 percent (49 of 67) of passes for 534 yards and six touchdowns. In Week 4, his first three touchdown passes went to Larry Donnell, who became the first Giants tight end with three touchdown receptions in a game since Joe Walton in 1962.

Victor Cruz has caught 11 passes for 215 yards during the winning streak, while Rueben Randle has made 13 receptions for 116 yards.

It also helps that running back Rashad Jennings has been a workhorse all season, ranking third in the NFL in rushing yards in his first year with the Giants.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

The debut of Beckham would give Manning yet another weapon to throw to. According to Raanan (NJ.com), Manning is hopeful that Beckham can be a big weapon for the Giants offense: “He definitely has a little burst of energy, a burst of speed. He can be a deep threat, can win on some underneath stuff. Can get him hopefully throwing some short passes and he can break it for some big plays.”

Against the Redskins, Cruz played 71 snaps and Randle played 67 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Beckham should cut into the snap counts of Preston Parker (45) and Corey Washington (20).

Conor Orr of NJ.com reported Beckham would be happy with a “limited number of plays,” while Orr’s expectation was that he plays more than 20 snaps.

If he plays, head coach Tom Coughlin does not expect Beckham to be limited, reported Michael Eisen of Giants.com. Coughlin said: “He’s been in every meeting. I would expect him to know everything. I wouldn’t shy away from that. He’s demonstrated an ability to handle whatever’s thrown at him. He’s done that throughout, so I would expect that. Now, under fire with adjustments and signals and things of that nature, we’ve got to see where we are with regard to that, too.

Manning said the tempo of the offense will play a role: “I don’t think we can keep just a small package for him because if we’re in there and going no-huddle or hurry-up, he’s got to know everything, so just make sure that he knows it all and we go over it a bunch, so when he’s in there he’s going to play fast and make plays for us.”

McAdoo took a more conservative approach, saying the Giants will take it slow with Beckham in his first game action.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Bleacher Report’s Ryan McCrystal provided a pre-draft scouting report for Beckham, comparing him to former Eagles and current Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson. He noted Beckham is shifty and difficult to tackle in the open field, capable of picking up extra yards after the catch and a smooth route runner—all strengths that play into the Giants offense.

He also has experience returning punts, recording two punt-return touchdowns while at LSU, but it remains unknown if he will take on that role Sunday.

After the Giants selected Beckham in the first round of the 2014 draft, vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross said: “We think he’s by far the most versatile receiver in the draft. He can make explosive plays in a variety of ways—receiving, punt returns, kick returns. He’s polished, smart, great work ethic, so he just fit all the criteria that we look for.”

If Beckham is physically ready to play this weekend, he will do so against a Falcons defense that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per game, 29th in points per game and is coming off a 41-28 loss at Minnesota, their fourth straight road loss and ninth in 10 road games dating back to the start of the 2013 season.

Former NFL head coach Brian Billick said on an Atlanta radio show this week: “I can’t think of another team in the league that has less quantifiable talent on it defensively.”

Mentally, Beckham is ready to play, saying, “I expect nothing less than greatness for myself. I don’t know what stats it’s going to be but I expect myself to make every play I can possibly make. That is the way I’ve always been. I’m just too competitive to let an opportunity to pass you by, because you never know when it’s going to be the last one.”

Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

Going forward, Beckham is unlikely to supplant Cruz or Randle, but he should settle in as the Giants' No. 3 receiver for the rest of this season. Immediate expectations should be tempered as he works his way into the offense, but he is capable of adding another dimension to the Giants with his ability to stretch the field. Even if his contributions do not show up in the box score, his speed will draw attention from the defense and open up the short passing game even more for Cruz, Randle and Donnell.

Long term, he is a game-breaking receiver and return specialist, and a perfect fit in McAdoo’s offense. He possesses potential similar to Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, although it’s unfair to expect that in the near future from a rookie who missed so much practice time.

Beckham is the only first round pick from the 2014 draft yet to appear in an NFL game. However, from this point through the end of the season, he could be the final piece to the puzzle for a rejuvenated Giants offense.

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