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When it comes to Odell Beckham Jr. ... buyer beware

·Columnist
·5 min read
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Odell Beckham Jr. has cleared the waiver wire. Now he's free to sign with any team he wants ... and that wants him.

Perhaps it’s Seattle, as ProFootballTalk reported was his preference Monday. Or perhaps it’s a playoff contender (the Seahawks are just 3-5) as many others have reported is a priority.

Beckham is a tantalizing addition, especially since no one else with his potential is likely to come available the rest of the season.

That said, what exactly is a team getting at this point of his career? Not just in attitude – although, more on that later – but aptitude from a 29-year-old wideout?

Beckham is one of the most famous players in the league, capable of generating enormous fan and media interest. Much of that stems from a three-year stretch of play with the New York Giants that slips deeper into history with each successive week.

Beckham burst into the league by averaging 96 catches, 1,374 yards and 11.7 touchdowns per season over his first three years. He made a famous one-handed touchdown catch as a rookie against the Dallas Cowboys – part of a 10-for-146-and-two TD performance – and became a star.

He was incredible.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 23:  Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants scores a touchdown in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on November 23, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
A single catch in 2014 put Odell Beckham Jr. on the map. But he hasn't been that same player in years. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Yet a fractured ankle wiped out most of his fourth season and while there have been flashes of the old OBJ since, it’s never consistent.

The man who caught 35 touchdown passes from 2014-2016 has just 16 since. There were thousand yard receiving seasons in 2018 (with the Giants) and 2019 (with Cleveland) but his 108.8 yards per game average as a rookie has fallen in recent seasons to 64.7 in 2019, 45.6 in 2020 and 38.7 thus far in 2021.

He grades out as the 79th best receiver in the league this year, per Pro Football Focus, behind Seattle’s Penny Hart, Jacksonville's Jamal Agnew and Las Vegas’ Bryan Edwards.

Is that because, as Beckham (or at least his father) has noted, he isn’t targeted enough? Football is a complicated game. So you never know.

But Beckham has caught just 50 percent of the balls thrown to him (17 of 34) this season, ranking 169th in the league and third to last for wide receivers who have caught more than 10 passes, per PFF.

He’s 3 of 7 on contested catches. He’s flat-out dropped two when he was open.

His former teammate in Cleveland Donovan Peoples-Jones is 9 of 10 on contested passes and hasn’t dropped an on-target ball all season. It might help explain why the Browns won without OBJ this past Sunday as DPJ’s influence in the offense has grown in recent weeks.

Does all of this mean Beckham has no value? It would be foolish to suggest that. He’s still capable of plenty. However, he’s something of a Tinder profile. He looks good if you focus on the picture that was taken five years ago that is seared in everyone’s memory. What actually shows up on the date is anyone’s guess.

Is he still fast enough as he approaches 30? Does he still work with the hunger he had coming out of LSU now that he has earned nearly $80 million in NFL salary (per Spotrac.com) and millions more in endorsements? Can he coexist inside an offense with other proven options?

Beckham sees himself as a No. 1 receiver. He wants to be a major focus. And if that doesn’t happen, he has generally let everyone know about it.

Yet throughout his career he has appeared in just one playoff game, a 2016 loss by the Giants where he caught four passes for 28 yards. He was on some bad teams, for sure, but Cleveland the past couple wasn't among them.

The presumption is that a change in address will cause a change in attitude. It may. Perhaps this will be like 2007, when Randy Moss forced his way out of Oakland and to New England. Moss was coming off a season he caught just three touchdown passes and 553 yards only to promptly put together one of the best seasons of any wideout ever – 23 TDs, 1,493 yards. At the age of 30, it was a rejuvenation.

Oakland was horrible in 2006 though, a 2-14 team with Andrew Walter and Aaron Brooks as the starting quarterbacks. The season before, however, Moss gained 1,005 receiving yards. And the season before that, in Minnesota, he hauled in 13 TDs.

Beckham hasn’t put up those kinds of numbers in a couple of years, and hasn't been dominant since 2016.

Can Beckham be great again? Can he be another Moss and rekindle the breath-taking brilliance of his early career and have his career recalled as someone capable of being a team-first winner for a playoff team, not just a brief fantasy star and highlight-reel endorsement guy? Can he provide a pop of talent for a contender?

Certainly. Writing off Odell Beckham Jr. would be a mistake. But as teams consider whether to sign him, it isn’t just his mindset they have to wonder about.

It’s whether he’s still capable of doing what everyone thinks he’s still capable of doing.