Why Odell Beckham Jr. is the most important receiver in the NFL
After a 2-3 start to the season, the New York Giants have won six straight games and have given themselves a better than 75 percent chance of making the playoffs for the first time since they won Super Bowl XLVI at the end of the 2011 season.
There have been some close calls in that six-game winning streak, but outside of the Cowboys, the Giants can claim that they are playing as well as any team in the league.
Oh, and they just so happen to be the only team that has beaten the Cowboys this year.
Make no mistake about it, the Giants are viable Super Bowl contenders.
They can thank their improved defense, which is Top 10 against both the run and pass. They can thank their run game, which has shown some signs of life in recent weeks, providing some semblance of balance to the New York offense.
But most of all, they can thank Odell Beckham — not only for this year, but also for everything that's led up to it.
It's not hyperbole to say that Beckham saved Eli Manning's career in New York.
Had the Giants not picked up the LSU product with the No. 12 pick of the 2014 NFL Draft and had he not thrived from day one, it wouldn't be a stretch to think that Manning might not be the quarterback of the Giants today.
Lest we forget how poorly Manning was playing before Beckham showed up in the Big Apple — the year after his second Super Bowl triumph, Manning's yardage dropped by 1,000. It wasn't good, but no big deal, right?
In 2013, following the post-Super Bowl downturn, Manning remained in the canyon. He even started digging a bit deeper — he threw for 3,818 yards but had 27 interceptions to 18 touchdowns.
There were calls for his job in the New York media following the team's sub-.500 campaign, Manning's first since his rookie season.
At the time, Manning's contract ran through the 2015 season, but as is the norm with quarterbacks, they're either extended going into the final year of a contract or the team goes in a new direction — Manning was entering a make-or-break year with a downward pointing arrow.
Then the Giants drafted Beckham.
The rookie wide receiver didn't play until October, but it only took three weeks for Manning to realize that Beckham was his lifeline. After a two-touchdown game at Dallas in the final week of October (but not that game against Dallas), the Beckham era started. In the last nine weeks of the 2014 season, Beckham caught 81 passes for 1,199 yards.
The late-season offensive surge helped Manning land a contract extension, and Beckham, who was targeted 159 times last year and 109 times through 11 weeks this year, has been the critical component in Manning living up to that deal.
This wasn't some late-in-his-career renaissance for Eli — this was him getting a thoroughbred and being smart enough ride it to the finish line, wherever that might be.
Beckham's brilliance is underrated because he is both a wide receiver — a position that never gets full credit for its impact in the game (they go hand-in-hand with quarterbacks, but things don't always go the other way) — and consistent.
We have become so used to week-in, week-out brilliance, that we had forgotten what the Giants' offense looked like without him.
Beckham, who had a bit of screw loose at the beginning of the year — he was having toddler-like tantrums on the sideline — gave us a quick reminder when he put up dud performances against the Vikings and Packers — two Giants losses that dropped them to 2-3 on the year.
But the next week, Beckham, engaged — literally (we think) — to the kicking net in a bizarre sideshow, had one of the best games of his career, hitting the Ravens for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
OBJ was back, and while the numbers haven't matched that spectacular level every week, his impact on the Giants' offense has. The team is thriving when he thrives but still winning when he isn't at the top of his game, just so long as he's engaged and threatening defenses.
Where would Manning and the Giants be without him?
There are half a dozen incredible receivers in the NFL — Julio Jones, Mike Evans, A.J. Green, Antonio Brown, and Dez Bryant can all make the claim with Beckham that they're the best in the league. We're truly in the golden era for wide outs.
But none of those players can claim that they're as critical to their franchise as Beckham, the most important receiver in the NFL.