Let’s get this out of the way up front. Odell Beckham is a talented wide receiver, one of the best in the league, even. His talent and ability are not what is in question. His mental fortitude is what would concern me as a Giants fan. Odell has had one of the best three year runs of productivity to begin a career in the history of the league. The big question is whether he can he keep up this streak or is he headed for a cliff?
When you try to find a comparison to Odell in the annals of NFL history, you would probably look towards the likes of Terrell Owens. An incredibly talented wide receiver (and possible hall of fame inductee this year) that had his own demons and loved the spotlight, Owens wore his personality on his sleeve…much like Odell. Unlike Odell, who in his first three years has looked rudderless at times and is expected to be “the guy” while only twenty-four years old in one of the biggest sports markets in the country, Owens was able to develop and learn from the GOAT at his position. You can’t tell me that being on a team with Jerry Rice wasn’t incredibly beneficial to a receiver of Owens’ talents and temperament. Where the Giants have basically fed into Odell’s view of himself, Owens played second fiddle for years. With that second fiddle status, Owens was unable to break onto the scene like Odell did, and was therefore unable to have the NFL and ESPN hype-machine pump him up like he was the greatest receiver in the world. Owens worked hard to get that title and continued to show that work ethic through his fifteen year career. Sure, Owens forced his way out of many of the teams he was on, but was rarely out of the conversation for best receiver in the league in that time. He was able to back up his antics with production through the prime of his career, only totaling less than 1000 receiving yards once from 1998-2008 (not counting an injury shortened 2005 campaign that saw him on track for over 1400 yards). Owens could be a headache, just ask Bill Parcells, but he was often the best player on the field.
While I can understand the comparison to Owens, where I think Odell matches up a bit more is with Desean Jackson. Jackson was an electric receiver who also made a mark in the return game, but would often be a bit much to handle within the game regarding his antics. I’m sure many people who bleed Giants blue remember the return he had against them that he celebrated before crossing the goal line, dropping the ball before the touchdown was scored. If that doesn’t feel like an Odell move, I don’t know what does. Jackson was looked at as the next big thing in Philadelphia, but his antics and personality overshadowed his production in a big enough way to prompt the Eagles to move on from him after only his sixth season in the league in 2013 (a career-high season in nearly every statistical category). What Jackson was missing early in his career was a mentor with some clout. Instead of learning from Jerry Rice, as Owens was, Jackson was learning from Hank Baskett and Jason Avant. Serviceable wide receivers, yes, but not someone Jackson, or any receiver, would come in and immediately think they were subservient to. That Eagles team had a lot of leadership in the likes of Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins, but none in Jackson’s position-group that could really put him on the straight and narrow and help him harness his potential. Odell is encountering the same problem in New York.
Much like the 2008 Eagles, the Giants have leadership in other positions, but the receiver position seems to be Odell and everyone else. Part of that has to do with the unfortunate injury history of Victor Cruz, and part of it has to do with the sports media hype machine surrounding someone that can catch the ball with one hand. Replacing a hard-nosed disciplinarian coach in Tom Coughlin with a younger offense-first guy in Ben McAdoo might not be the best idea to reign Odell in either (evidence of that can be seen this year with the kicking-net and hole in the wall fiasco). The Giants have a lot of work to do to ensure that Odell doesn’t flame out after his rookie contract is complete.
Luckily, there is still time for Odell to turn things around. Like many receivers in the league, he has an incredible amount of talent. The problem is that as age increases, talent generally decreases. A player like Owens was able to stave off the decline for a little longer by being in better shape and working harder than most. Once the talent begins to fall, the likelihood of a team putting up with a high-priced head case is very low. The best thing the Giants can probably do in the offseason is try to sign an “old guard” receiver to mentor Odell and hopefully instill some of the work ethic and behavior patterns in him that will make him a little more Terrell Owens and a little less Desean Jackson as he moves into the prime of his career.