After the Travis Beckum discussion broke out in the comments section of Monday's look at New York Giants free agents, I promised you guys a closer look at the third-year tight end/H-Back. So, here it is.
The basic debate is this: Is Beckum a potential star in the making who has been misused by the Giants? Or, is he a guy who can't block and simply has not done enough to force the Giants to play him more often, and throw the ball in his direction more regularly?
Before I even get into this I am going to take the position that the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
The Giants under Tom Coughlin have been very traditional in their thinking about the tight end position, and Beckum is a very un-traditional tight end. That doesn't mean the Giants don't know how to use Beckum -- it means that Beckum's skills don't fit naturally into the way Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride approach offense.
The flip side of that is that Beckum, now entering his third season out of the University of Wisconsin, has to take advantage of whatever opportunities he does get and make plays that force the Giants to re-consider his role and get him on the field more often. To date, Beckum has not done that. With wide receivers falling by the wayside in droves a season ago there was a natural opportunity for Beckum to make his presence felt -- yet he caught only five balls in the last seven games he played. Beckum has 21 catches over two seasons for 171 yards and two touchdowns, both of those last season. His average yards per catch over those two seasons is a pedestrian 8.1.
Let's take a closer look at Beckum's 2010-2011 numbers, using Pro Football Focus. Beckum played 276 snaps in the 2010-2011 season and was thrown at 18 times with 13 catches and one drop. Eli Manning took 1083 snaps and Sage Rosenfels 20, so that means the Giants ran 1,103 offensive plays in 2010-2011. Beckum was on the field for 25 percent of the Giants' offensive plays. As a rookie, Beckum was on the field for only 65 snaps, was thrown at 10 times and caught eight balls.
What you see there is that Beckum played more than four times as many snaps in 2010-2011 as he did in his rookie season, yet his pass-catching production did not go up accordingly. A four-fold increase in snaps, yet not even double the passes thrown in his direction. Were the Giants ignoring him, or was he just not able to get open? I don't have the film, so I can't tell you for sure.
A question arose in Monday's discussion about Beckum's run-blocking. He came out of Wisconsin with a reputation for not being a capable blocker, and PFF ranked him at -3.4 run blocking in 2010-2011, 29th among tight ends who played 25 percent of their team's snaps.
You can look at the numbers and say, well, Tony Gonzalez was -13.3 (in 1,049 snaps) and Kellen Winslow was -13.7 in 682 snaps. Or, you can look at it and say Beckum would have been -12 or -13 if he had played the same number of snaps as Gonzalez. Any way you slice it, Beckum's run blocking was not good enough.
So, the conundrum for the Giants is the same as it has been since the day they drafted Beckum. Is there a way to actually use him consistently?
Boss is a better all-around, every-down tight end. Beckum is not taking his snaps. If the Giants go to a four wide receiver set Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Steve Smith are locks, if Smith is healthy. Then you have Ramses Barden, Domenik Hixon and possibly Jerrel Jernigan or Victor Cruz fighting for a spot. Who comes off the field for Beckum? You can argue that none of those guys should, at least based on Beckum's production to date. What about using him out of the backfield on passing downs? Well, the Giants do have Bear Pascoe, who offers pass-catching ability and is a legitimate lead blocker. That's two skills vs. one.
So, how do you play the guy? You really don't unless he shows up and training camp and starts making plays that simply force the Giants' hand. I have been at nearly every practice of the past two training camps, and Beckum simply has not done that. In fact, in last year's camp he barely practiced due to injuries. That's not going to help a guy force his way into the lineup.
To be honest, I don't think I answered the question I started out to address -- which is, how good is Beckum? Truth is, I really don't know. I honestly don't think the Giants know the answer to that, either. Problem is, there really is still no easy way to get him on the field and find out.