Film Room: Odell Beckham, Jr.
by Cian Fahey
Roughly a week after Kim Kardashian failed in her contrived attempt to break the Internet, Odell Beckham seemingly succeeded without even trying.
The New York Giants rookie wide receiver shot to widespread fame after making a reception that some deservedly called the greatest ever. Whether it actually was the greatest reception ever or not is unquantifiable, but it was certainly worthy of the hype. Beckham ran a route down the sideline and was well covered initially by Dallas Cowboys defensive back Brandon Carr. The rookie receiver kept working through his route though and tracked the ball better than Carr. This caused Carr to interfere with him heavily. Despite that attempted mugging, Beckham was able to make a three-fingered reception while falling backwards into the end zone.
It was simply a phenomenal play that showed off Beckham's exceptional talent.
Beckham will always have that moment. It's the kind of moment that will be replayed over and over for the next 20 or 30 years by different networks. It was the kind of moment that will likely pop into the minds of every person who ever hears Beckham's name in general conversation. It's still just one play though, one of 453 plays for which he has been on the field this season. As Giants fans will undoubtedly already know, one play doesn't make a career. David Tyree and, to a lesser extent, Mario Manningham can attest to that.
Beckham is unlikely to follow the paths set out by Tyree and Manningham. The former LSU wide receiver's catch against the Cowboys hasn't been an abnormality for his rookie. That catch was just the spotlight solo in the Broadway Show that has been his first season in the NFL. Although he was late to get on the field because of injury, Beckham's skill set has immediately translated from college to the NFL.
For even the most talented college receivers, it's an achievement to just become an adequate starter during their first seasons in the league. In that context, what Beckham has done so far this year is simply incredible.
Since he stepped on the field, Beckham has been Eli Manning's most reliable and dangerous target. He's not just an adequate starter, he's easily an above average starter and has seamlessly taken over the role as the team's No. 1 option from the injured Victor Cruz. Considering that Beckham missed training camp, preseason, and the start of the season in an offense that was changing its scheme, that is quite a feat. Because of his refined route running, consistent hands, and impressive physical skills, Beckham was the most pro-ready receiver in the 2014 class, but expecting him to be this effective this quickly was never realistic.
On 63 targets this season, Beckham has 41 receptions for 609 yards and five touchdowns. Of the 22 incomplete passes thrown his way, only three have been dropped. Thirty-three of his receptions have gone for first downs, while he has four receptions on plays where the defensive back covering him was penalized for interference. He has drawn two more penalties on plays where he didn't catch the ball.
Beckham has only been targeted 11 times when running a route from either slot. Fifteen more targets came when he lined up wide to the left, leaving 38 targets for routes when he ran from a wide right position. Despite his physical dimensions, Beckham is quite clearly not a slot receiver. That's not to say he's not very effective from the slot. His 11 slot targets have resulted in nine receptions for 119 yards, one touchdown, and seven first downs, with just one drop and one uncatchable pass. Where Beckham lines up and what route he runs is basically irrelevant. His skill set allows him to flourish in every situation.
As everyone saw on Sunday night against the Cowboys, Beckham can make big plays down the sideline. On that specific play, he ran a double move that was actually well covered. That in itself is an achievement for the defensive back, even though his coverage ultimately broke down.
Beckham has gained 15 or more yards on 13 plays this year. Eight of those 13 plays came on sideline routes, including straight runs down the sideline, comeback routes that primarily move parallel with the sideline, and double moves that are designed to free the receiver down the sideline. Beckham runs through every route and catches the ball at its earliest possible point away from his body with his hands. With that in mind, cornerbacks must be aggressive against his comeback route.
This is very difficult to do because Beckham has a low center of gravity, very quick and precise feet, and the strength to fight for position. If he doesn't lose the defensive back with his route, that defender can work his way back to the ball either around or through the receiver. Covering the comeback route when you know it's coming can still be very difficult, especially if that receiver is quick through his route and can win at the catch point. Covering it when the threat of the double move exists is almost impossible. That is something one of the very best cornerbacks in the NFL found out a few weeks ago.
The Giants didn't attempt to hide their 22-year-old receiver when they faced the Seattle Seahawks. He repeatedly lined up against Richard Sherman on the right side of the offense. Sherman got the better of Beckham on a late interception, but Beckham badly beat him on this double move. Sherman actually does a great job to cover the comeback and then turn with the receiver so he is still on top of the route. Beckham's route running and balance get him to this point, but now his physicality must come into play.
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Sherman attempts to take Beckham's route away from him by being physical from a more favorable position. Beckham has the strength to fight through that physicality. From there, the receiver is always in position to accelerate away from Sherman before catching a well-timed pass from his quarterback.
As we've previously noted, Sherman is susceptible to double moves, but those double moves are typically lateral. Beating Sherman past his outside shoulder when running a sideline route is something that very, very few receivers in the NFL can say they have done.
Beckham can create big plays in different ways. He has proven to be very elusive with the ball in his hands, while also showing off the power to overrun cornerbacks in space or bounce off of safeties over the middle of the field. He clearly has no issues creating space with his route running, be he working down the sideline or attacking the middle of the field. As we saw on Sunday night, Beckham can also win at the catch point in different ways. What's more important than his ability at the catch point, is his consistency at the catch point.
An underrated aspect of playing the wide receiver position is the ability to track the football in the air. During his debut, Beckham showed off his ability to do this against the Atlanta Falcons for one of his touchdown receptions. Once again, he is working the sideline and attempts to run a double move. However, the defender covering him, Robert Alford, is able to cover that route by being physical. That physicality quickly turns into holding when Beckham turns upfield. Even though he already has the penalty, Beckham doesn't settle for the yardage, instead attacking the football aggressively at its highest point. He is able to do that because of how quickly he recognizes the flight of the football. That allows him to cut back infield against the defensive back's momentum at the appropriate time.
Beckham is the kind of receiver who is open even when he is covered. His huge hands and exceptional ball skills combined with his overall athleticism gives him the ability to consistently make outstanding plays on contested catches. As this play against the Indianapolis Colts highlights, Beckham is capable of erasing the accuracy of his quarterback by adjusting to the football. On this corner route, he was open, but Manning threw the ball too high and too far infield. Beckham didn't panic or give up on the play, he comfortably snatched the ball out of the air in an uncomfortable position over the defensive back.
The benefit of being a smaller, explosive receiver with huge hands who can make these kinds of plays is that Beckham can work the middle of the field with greater ease.
It's not so simple as to suggest that all big receivers are slower in their routes than all small receivers, but part of Beckham's great route running is how light he is on his feet. He can create separation against defensive backs in very tight spaces with ease. His soccer background is often pointed out, and this is where it can be seen best. Beckham has a natural understanding for balance and deception that can't be taught. Furthermore, his (lack of) size allows him to better protect himself when working over the middle of the field against linebackers and safeties.
Two of Beckham's touchdowns this season have come when he adjusted to zone coverage in the end zone to find space with his route. This area of the game has nothing to do with his physical talent, but rather his mental acumen. Beckham already understands coverages and how to alter his routes without hesitating or playing slowly. This is something that he showed in college, but it's not something that would have been expected to translate so immediately after the way his rookie season in the NFL began.
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On the above play from the Giants' first game against the Cowboys this season, Beckham ran a short curl route at the goal line. At the end of his route, he was covered, so he quickly adjusted to find space between two defenders for the touchdown. His first touchdown against the Cowboys in their second matchup was very similar.
Beckham was the third wide receiver taken in the draft and a top-16 pick because he showed the ability to beat defenses in different ways during his time in college. Now that he is in the NFL, he is proving that he can do it on a weekly basis. On an inconsistent offense, he has been a model of consistency whose numbers have largely been limited rather than inflated by his teammates. Although he has three drops, two of those came when he adjusted to underthrown passes, and all three would have been relatively short gains.
Over the long run, Beckham has the chance to be a very special receiver.
That's not to say that he will be better than Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans over the long term, but he is definitely one of the leading players from a special 2014 class of wide receivers. In fact, it's relatively easy to argue that Beckham has been the most impressive rookie receiver when you consider how he entered the season and the way he is winning on the field. Watkins and Evans haven't been in great situations, but neither missed all of their preparation because of injury. Maybe more significantly, neither Watkins nor Evans is showing off as well-rounded a skill set as Beckham has shown to this point.
Beckham can do everything that either of the receivers taken ahead of him can do right now. That's not something that can be said for the other two.
3 comments, Last at 29 Nov 2014, 9:33pm
#1 by formido // Nov 28, 2014 - 5:25pm
He didn't "badly" beat Sherman on that play. He beat him, which is amazing enough on its own for a deep sideline route against Sherman. In fact, Sherman left a small window that Eli had to lead Beckham on perfectly at his fingertips to avoid Sherman picking it. As you mention, Sherman caused an INT on the next deep sideline target for Beckham against Sherman, which is odds the defense will take all day.
#2 by etcetera99 // Nov 28, 2014 - 8:11pm
That catch against Butler of the Colts - why is just extending the caught ball with one arm? To get yardage? It's hard to tell. Why isn't he securing it to his body with both hands? Going for style points?
I had similar issues with "the catch" against the Cowboys.
#3 by Theo // Nov 29, 2014 - 9:33pm
He had to break his fall with the other arm, so he extended the other to make sure the ball stayed in and not hit anything making it an incompletion.
The stretching out thing was just a thing players do to get extra yardage from the ref.