National Football League
Bending it like Beckham: Malik Nabers should be Giants' best WR since Odell
National Football League

Bending it like Beckham: Malik Nabers should be Giants' best WR since Odell

Published May. 14, 2024 1:48 p.m. ET

The last time the New York Giants had a wide receiver like this was six years ago, right before they traded Odell Beckham away. He's the last one they've had with anything close to this kind of potential, explosiveness, and overall talent.

They've been searching for someone like Malik Nabers ever since.

Maybe that's too much pressure to put on the 20-year-old from LSU that the Giants just selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but that's the bar for the expectations. The Giants have tried and failed for years to find a true, No. 1 receiver to replace Beckham. They've failed in free agency, the draft, and even in their attempts to develop their own.

But they think the 6-foot, 200-pound Nabers is a can't-miss kid, with the ability to revive their dormant offense and maybe even rescue their franchise quarterback. To them, he's more than just the next in the long line of great receivers to come out of LSU.


He's exactly what the Giants need.

"I think at that position, (it's) the toughness, some of the competitiveness. Some of the best ones I've been around, they have that," said Giants general manager Joe Schoen. "What separates all the guys that are six-foot, 200 pounds and run a 4.45 — there's a bunch of them out there — to me it always goes back to grit, toughness, tenacity. You can't coach that. You can't teach that. I think this kid best illustrates it."

"Generators," is the word Giants coach Brian Daboll used to describe players like that. "People that can do stuff with the ball in their hands. Whether that's take a jet sweep and go 30 yards, or whether that's running a double move and catch it 50 yards down the field to help you score points.

"Malik, I feel that he is that."

Saquon Barkley was the last generator on the Giants offense, but there was always a limited amount a running back could do playing behind a struggling offensive line. Beckham, who played for the Giants from 2014-18, was the last one they had at receiver — and he generated a ton of offense. He reached 1,000 yards in four of his five seasons in New York — all but 2017, when injuries limited him to just four games. He even had 77 catches for 1,052 yards in just 12 games in his final season. The Giants' passing offense ranked 11th in the NFL that year.

The Giants haven't had a receiver reach even 800 yards in a season since. Their passing offense hasn't finished above 18th since and it's ranked in the bottom four in three of the past six seasons. The struggles and injuries of quarterback Daniel Jones is a big part of that, but the quality of his receivers hasn't helped.

Nabers is different.

"He's got quickness, explosive, good run after the catch," said Daboll. "He's got a great mindset in terms of the competitive style he plays with. Played well in big games."

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Daboll's praise is always a bit muted, but there have been no Giants receivers in the last six years who could be described like that. They certainly tried to find one, though. They gave Kenny Golladay a $72 million contract (with $40 million guaranteed) in 2021, only to watch him become one of the biggest free agent busts in their history. They planned to take DeVonta Smith in the 2021 draft before the Philadelphia Eagles traded ahead of them to grab him, leaving the Giants to grab the troubled and injury-prone Kadarius Toney, who was dumped by Schoen midway through his first season as GM. They took Jalin Hyatt in the third round last year and Wan'Dale Robinson in the second round in 2022, and both have promise.

But Nabers is in a different class. He has drawn not-unreasonable comparisons to the line of LSU receivers that he's followed into the NFL — Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and, of course, Beckham. Being a part of that elite group is why Nabers, a Louisiana native, stayed home and went to LSU.

"I wanted to be great just like those guys," Nabers said. "I knew if I followed in the right footsteps, and went to my home state, they were going to show me love no matter what, and they were going to get me prepared for this day here. … Just watching those guys, how they compete, how they run routes, how they were able to come from LSU and make a name for themselves in the NFL … (I'm) just hoping to follow in those guys' footsteps and make a name for myself."

Nabers did that in his two years as a starting receiver for the Tigers, but he really took a step up with a monster final year. He caught 89 passes for 1,569 yards and 14 touchdowns. That wasn't quite what Chase (84-1,780-20) and Jefferson (111-1,540-18) did in their final seasons at LSU, but it was close. And it was better than Beckham's (59-1,152-8).

What matters most, though, is what he does next. Fair or not, his bar was set by a young Beckham in 2014 when he shook off a summer hamstring injury and lit up New York with 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games — good enough to make him the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. Beckham became a human highlight reel and arguably the biggest star in New York at the time. And he got better in each of the next two seasons before injuries finally began taking their toll.

Both Beckham and Chase talked to Nabers after he was drafted and offered him some advice. Nabers, for his part, insisted he's not worried about the comparisons and is just focusing on himself. But he knows the comparisons are there. And he understands he's special. He glows about his own ability — another sure sign he's a true No. 1 receiver. He talks about the "Spiderman talent" he has for knowing where his closest defender is and just how close his feet are to going out of bounds.

He also insisted that "when the ball is in the quarterback's hands, Malik is going to be open." That's less of a boast and more a reality from what the Giants saw when they scouted him over the last two years. It's exactly what former Giants GM Jerry Reese saw in Beckham a decade ago, too.

That's why the comparisons aren't going to go away. Nabers looks like a young Odell Beckham on the field and they need him to produce like Beckham, too — even if they're going to bend over backward not to say that out loud.

"Yeah, I'm not going to compare him to anybody," Daboll said. "I think he's a fantastic player. He's got a lot of good attributes, starting with his personality and demeanor, his competitive stamina. He's got some dog to him. (But) he's his own person."

"I'm just trying to be the best football player I can possibly be for the Giants organization," Nabers added. "I'm not coming in trying to replace Odell, I'm just trying lead into my own legacy."

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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