Odell Beckham Jr.’s mixture of skill, attitude may just be the key to a Giants playoff run
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As Madison Square Garden erupted on Saturday night when Conor McGregor knocked out Eddie Alvarez in UFC 205, Odell Beckham Jr. sat their stone-faced. It was a moment that social media immortalized, implying Beckham either wasn’t impressed or is good with Alvarez. But after helping the Giants beat the Bengals 21–20 on Monday night, Beckham explained his reaction.
“Everyone was killing me on Twitter,” Beckham said. “But my mind is wired differently.”
Instead of going nuts with the crowd, Beckham said he was searching for inspiration and studying. And it’s not a far stretch to compare the Giants receiver to the MMA reigning champion and ultimate showman. Like McGregor, Beckham is known for his look, brashness and individuality. McGregor’s post-fight “I’d like to apologize to absolutely nobody” rant is reminiscent of some of Beckham’s outbursts throughout his career.
But just like McGregor, Beckham combines showmanship with impeccable craftsmanship. Beneath the hair, the dances and the kicking net shenanigans is an outstanding technical wide receiver who is getting better. Beckham is as good as any receiver in the NFL not named Antonio Brown at creating separation out of his breaks. His 2014 draft profile on NFL.com noted that he needed to polish his route-running. But now Beckham is consistently beating coverage despite extra defensive attention.
On Monday, Beckham was forced to take what the defense gave him, settling for underneath catches and just waiting for something to break. Finally, Beckham got his chance late in the second quarter in the red zone when he was matched up one-on-one with Pacman Jones. Beckham went out for an eight-yard hook and put on a double move that left Jones, who’s seen every move, frozen. Quarterback Eli Manning called it a “whirly-bird.” But it was more like a full speed stop, 360, and immediate acceleration. It was the football equivalent of Allen Iverson crossing over a defender. Beckham easily caught the Manning pass in the back of the end zone.
“It was a tough position that [Jones] was in,” Beckham said. “They are taught to drive on things and as he drove, we spun right back behind it. It was a great play call.”
While Beckham displayed humility, sort of, Manning credited him for helping him expand the playbook.
“We hit the same play [with Beckham] against Baltimore for a big play,” Manning said. “We brought [the play] into the red zone. We were able to build the play off another play. …. [Beckham] does a really good job selling it.”
Beckham’s technique on the touchdown, however, was quickly forgotten as he broke into a spot-on Michael Jackson thriller dance. Beckham’s been doing a lot of dancing of late—he has five TDs during the Giants’ four-game win streak and is quickly putting some of the controversy from early in the season, like the aforementioned dalliance with the kicking net, behind him.
The pattern of Beckham’s style overshadowing his substance has been there from the start. Fans may not realize he has the most prolific statistical start of any receiving in NFL history. On Monday, he became the fastest recover to reach 3,500 receiving yards (36 games according to Elias Sports Bureau). He entered the game as the all-time leader in yards per game at 98.0—although most of the leaders in this category are currently playing.
“I set the bar high for myself,” Beckham said. “I went to the UFC fight to watch McGregor—a guy who is strong in his beliefs and backs it up every time. … Just watching him gave me more motivation. … I had seen that I needed however many yards it was to break that record. Really that stuff is secondary right now. We are 6–3. I haven’t been 6–3 since I have been here.”
The Giants also sat at 6–3 in 2007 and 2011—their most recent Super Bowl years. On a night when former champion Giants coach Tom Coughlin, GM Ernie Accorsi and star DE Justin Tuck were being honored, New York fans dared to dream that this team could follow the same path. This group is built differently. The QB is the same and they always had contributing wide receivers. But they never had a focal point like Beckham. Some critics wonder if all the attention he gets is a detriment. But right now, Beckham is channeling another sport’s star, the UFC champ McGregor. Perhaps Beckham's mixture of attitude and skill is just what New York needs for its next unlikely playoff run.