Rookie Spotlight: Odell Beckham Jr. -- an LSU perspective

The inside scoop on Odell Beckham Jr. from someone who has watched him closely for several seasons.

To find out as much as we can about wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the New York Giants first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, we turned to SB Nation's LSU web site, And The Valley Shook. What we got was a well-thought out, insightful view from LSU blogger 'Paul Crewe.'

Ed: We've heard how polished Beckham is as a route runner. Does he end up as more of a possession guy at the NFL level, or can be a game-breaking vertical threat?

Crewe: One of the things I love most about Beckham is that I don't feel he's a one-trick pony out wide. Sure, he may not have ideal size, but his athletic traits make up for that. He has a great catch radius, both due to his leaping ability and arm length. And, as you mentioned, he runs the full tree of routes, something he's dedicated himself to perfecting. So I think the possession designation is the low-end of his potential. He'll give you that... and more. Beckham's a guy that can get vertical. Take a look at the stats laid out by Greg Peshek. Beckham made most of his hay in the 11-20 yard range. 17% of his catches still came from the 20+ yard variety, so there's an ability to get deep. His YAC is 5.29, but I think that's a reflection of the fact that he was averaging about a 1st down every single time he caught the ball, another testament that he's not a guy catching slip screens or slants and turning them into big gains, but catching the ball down field. We ran tons of comebacks and post/corners, which made up about 68% of all his catches in 2013, so you can plainly see he's a guy that gets open down field. He's also got a 6.45 percent drop rate, which is lower than average.

To me, all of this says he's a guy that can do it a lot of different ways. You can use him in the screen game and on short routes, but he's also a guy that can get open down the field and open up targets for underneath receiving options, as the defense accounts for his speed and big play ability. He can be a move piece, but he can be a guy you can put outside and use too. He may need to get a little stronger to combat NFL-level athletes in the press, but I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that he will do that.

Ed: Can he be a 50-60 catch, or more, guy right away in the NFL?

Crewe: I say this on ATVS all the time, but people often criticize him for being "inconsistent." The label comes from a couple of instances of drops and a single fumble on a PR this year during a costly moment vs. Georgia. The guy caught 40+ balls every year he was on campus, including starting as a true freshman. That freshman season his QBs were Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. If you aren't familiar, those aren't exactly players considered Tiger legends. To give you an idea, our starters only completed 165 total passes in 2011. So as a true freshman with two average-at-best QBs, he was able to step in and absorb 25 percent of the catches right away.

So to me, I'm looking at a situation in New York where he's walking in to play with a QB we know can get the ball to all his targets and an offense that's going to allow for quite a few passing opportunities. If he's able to develop chemistry with Eli early on, something I imagine won't be difficult considering they share a fair amount in common and have probably interacted at the Manning camp, he can easily catch 50-60 passes from the word go.

Ed: Reuben Randle hasn't really stepped into the limelight yet. Better player coming out of LSU -- Randle or Beckham?

Crewe: Beckham, not even close. Here's the deal, Randle came to LSU the superstarry-est of superstar recruits. He was compared to A.J. Green, Randy Moss, etc. He had a solid, productive career for a guy who never got to play with a QB that could be described as anything more than marginal in an offense that could best be described as sluggish, but was oftentimes an utter, confusing mess, for all manner of reasons. I think a lot of LSU fans looked at that and said, "Well, it's not Randle's fault."

But for me, I just never saw that alpha dog mentality that I love in a WR. Randle never aggressively attacked the ball. His NFL career has played out as much. He's a nice player to have and certainly athletically gifted, but he's not one to own the stage. I think it's just not in his personality. That doesn't make him a bad player, but it's also what prevents him from capitalizing on what are some pretty strong physical gifts.

Beckham is a guy that carries that mentality. He's not afraid to go up and get the football. He's a pure hands catcher that can challenge on jump balls, despite his lack of height.  He tracks the ball in the air very well and is not afraid of contact or going up to get it:

Beckham_medium

via cdn3.vox-cdn.com

Everything just seems to come so naturally to him. And lest that comes across as me saying he doesn't work, that's not the case. He's made it a point of pride to perfect his route running. I think all those things make him a superior product to Randle, which is why he went 12th and Randle was the last pick of the second round. For all the failures in evaluation, the NFL is smart enough to recognize when a player was held back due to a lack of supporting case (see Johnson, Calvin). There's a reason Randle went where he did, which again, doesn't make him a bad player. Just not one with as much potential as Beckham.

Ed: From what I can gather in other posts you have done about him, I gather you think ODB can be a good, but not exceptional, return man?

Crewe: Yeah, this one's a bit murky. I think on KOs there's a ton of upside there. The question is, do the Giants want to deploy what will be one of their top 2-3 receivers, in return duty? They may not consider it worth the injury risk. Sure, if you need a big return, use him here and there, but on every KO? I wouldn't think so. The guy averaged 25.1 yards per KO return, so he's gonna get you out in good territory.

On punts, I'm more skeptical. He did have a sensational punt return vs. Ole Miss, so there's some of that in him, but his 9.3 return average with very good STs units tells me he's probably just average at it on a more consistent basis. Plus, the aforementioned turnover vs. Georgia. Again, it's maybe something he can do if you needed a spark and potential field position flip, but I doubt they'll want him there full time.

Ed: Were you surprised at all that he ended up with the Giants?

Crewe: You know, I was. But after it settled, it makes a ton of sense. Nicks is gone, and outside of Cruz, there's not really another WR that stands out as a super reliable target on the roster. I think most suspected the Giants would go OL to help keep Eli upright, but he needs targets to throw to and right now that seems like a hole in the roster. I've seen some comments suggesting he's too much like Cruz and others replying that Cruz is better in the slot but not outside. I think they are a bit different. Beckham's a bit better athlete than Cruz, while Cruz is a bit bigger. And I think both can be effective on the field at the same time. It gives Eli two guys who can catch and that he can trust, which is important for a QB who likes to throw to spots and throw people open... they need to be where he expects them to be.

On a personal note, I'm an Eagles fan (booooooooo, I know), so it was disappointing to me, because I'd rather not face him 2x a year, every year. I thought he might be a guy the Eagles could move up and get, and I think they were interested, so that's a double sting.

Ed: What is he like away from the field? In the community? In the locker room? Is there some 'diva' wide receiver in him, or he is a more down-to-earth guy?

Crewe: Beckham's about as good of a kid as there is. Never once in trouble, never once suspended, never once anything reported about his academics. I think his folks both being successful athletes really grounded him. He knew from an early age he wanted to be great and his parents ingrained in him that that was possible... but that you'd have to work for it. So he comes from a great family and I've never really heard anything negative about him away from the field, which is pretty remarkable considering there's a giant LSU message board which tons of students go to, so undoubtedly there's been plenty of interactions with him and chances for something to go wrong, even if unintended. But not any bad words I can remember.

I don't see a 'diva' mentality, either. Maybe not the best way to encapsulate this, but Beckham's not a selfish player. He'll block in the run game. He won't pull the ole T.O. and check out of a game because he's not targeted early and often. You never saw him blowing up at teammates. Hell, he spent the entire week of A&M preparation as the scout team QB imitating Johnny Manziel. You tell me if that was effective? And that didn't even stunt his offensive production, as still he caught 5 of Mettenberger's 11 completions on the day.

So yeah, I think you're getting a grounded, mature kid that will love playing in NYC, feed off the energy of the crowd, be well-liked by his teammates and not get into any trouble. If he were to find himself in trouble, it'd be surprising to me.

Ed: In your mind, what is his ceiling as an NFL player?

Crewe: Pretty high. I try to keep perspective on LSU players entering the draft. It's impossible to tell from everything I've just said about Beckham, but I'm usually pretty level when it comes to LSU guys on the next level. In fact, I was pretty roundly attacked on ATVS for discussing my concerns about Jarvis Landry as an NFL prospect. I also didn't think as much of Sam Montgomery. So I try not to be the "OH EVERY LSU GUY WILL BE A STUD IN THE NFL, YOU JUST WATCH" guy.

When I go down the negatives for Beckham, I just don't see a ton. He isn't huge, so there's a little concern there. If he can get stronger, that will help a ton, but he's not a guy you'll have to be concerned about not working at his weaknesses. I also think his arms/leaping/intelligence/mentality make up for some of that lack of size. But then, what else? Speed and quickness are superb. He's a great route runner, so this isn't a guy who caught bubble screens or just ran go routes all through college. His character is strong, so no concerns there. He's a hands catcher, so no major concerns with drops and/or a guy who lets everything get into his body.

When you start breaking it all down it becomes really clear why he went top 12, why teams were reportedly aggressively trying to move up to get him and why he was so well-liked by scouts. So I put all that together and say, why can't this guy be Steve Smith? I would say DeSean Jackson, but I think his character and versatility are better than DeSean's. I will say this, considering the respective situations and where Beckham landed, it wouldn't shock me at all if he wound up the best WR in this draft class.

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