On Thursday night, when the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins were putting NFL fans to sleep on NFL Network (now with a CBS simulcast, so you can have more Phil Simms in your life!), Sportscenter’s Twitter account flashed a pretty wild statistic about da gawd Odell Beckham, Jr.:
Crazy Stat of Day: Odell Beckham Jr. has most receptions (110) & fantasy points (234) by a WR in 1st 15 career games. pic.twitter.com/Zp7CqjWnPq
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 25, 2015
110 receptions would be an impressive career high for any receiver, and Odell has it in less than a full season’s worth of games. Of course, it doesn’t count as any sort of real record, since he’s had the benefit of a second training camp (though he missed the first one and part of the second due to hamstring issues), but it still illustrates just how mind-bending the beginning of ODB’s career has been. Once he took the field a month into the 2014 season, it was as if he arrived fully formed as an elite receiver who needed no training wheels and had no learning curve.
Of course, there was a big reason why Beckham was immediately the primary receiver, and it was mentioned in the highlight video. Victor Cruz had been the Giants’ primary weapon, but his knee exploded making a catch during the Giants’ sixth game of the season, and he was the only legitimate receving option Eli Manning had. Behind him and Beckham on the Giants’ depth chart were Rueben Randle, whose talent has never been in question but whose route running is comparable to an octogenarian using Google Maps for the first time, and Preston Parker, whose hands were only marginally better at catching footballs than his feet (and who was cut this week after one drop too many). The Giants’ leading rusher last season was rookie Andre Williams, who averaged 3.3 yards per carry and was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the eighth-worst running back in football.
To put it another way, Odell Beckham, Jr. has had an unprecedented level of success while being the only legitimate threat on his entire team, which makes his feat even more impressive. Since the league caught wise last year, he’s faced every team’s top corner (and often double coverage), and hasn’t slowed down. He could even be credited for saving Eli Manning’s career — or at the very least, helping Eli get his big payday.
Consider that in 2013, the year before Odell entered the league, Eli suffered through the worst year of his career. He led the league with a career-high 27 interceptions, and had his lowest Adjusted Yards per Attempt (a Pro-Football-Reference stat) since his rookie season. It was not looking good for Eli early in 2014 either. Beckham actually did start off pretty slowly in October, before the Giants’ bye in Week 8. Here are Eli’s yardage totals month-to-month in 2014: 974, 599 (one week short in October), 1,507, 1,330. Eli wasn’t even that good in November, despite the crazy yardage total, as he threw seven picks to his eight touchdowns and the Giants lost every game. He’s always needed a receiver who could deal with his inaccuracies — Plaxico Burress, those two good years of Hakeem Nicks — and he finally got the ultimate version of that. Without ODB making insane catches, Eli might be doing standup comedy rather than signing record-high contracts.
The Giants beat the Redskins on Thursday night to take their record to 1-2, but even though the Eagles are also 1-2 and the Cowboys are wounded, the Giants don’t look like a team ready to make a playoff run. Their offensive line is patchwork, but it still looks like a pro bowl unit compared to the defense. Shane Vereen was added to the backfield, but he hasn’t made much of an impact yet. Once again, the Giants’ offense has looked aimless except when Eli is forcing the ball to Odell, who is still, improbably, making that strategy work. Anything can happen in the NFL, but unless some more talent magically makes it to New York, it looks like we’ll all be deprived of watching ODB do awesome things in the playoffs this year.