By SAMANTHA DESMOND
Move over Victor Cruz, there’s a new king of New York.
And thank God he has come to play. After missing the first four games of the season, Odell Beckham Jr. has become an explosive catalyst for the Giants’ offense, hauling in a franchise record 71 catches for 972 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. He’s even got his own meme, a viral response to his sensational catch against the Cowboys on Nov. 23.
Despite his rapid rise to football superstardom, Odell Beckham Jr. continues to dazzle the NFL with his talent, with more than 90 receiving yards in seven straight games. As if that were not impressive enough, Beckham has surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark five times in his rookie season. Suddenly, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin are less prominent discussions for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Beckham is being lauded as one of the premier receivers in the league.
He’s not only leading the Giants’ receivers, but he’s forged a strong bond with Eli Manning, creating the kind of on-field partnership that most quarterbacks dream about. Matt Stafford might have Megatron, and Tom Brady might have Gronk, but Eli’s history with dominant receivers has Giants fans salivating looking into the future.
Yes, we had Steve Smith, Plaxico Burress and Hakeem Nicks. Yes, we will have Victor Cruz back. But Beckham is different. He’s not only young – only 22 years of age – but he’s dynamic. Despite his small stature, he plays large like Dez Bryant or Megatron. Throughout this 2014 campaign, Beckham has been the only Giants receiver to give Eli a window to throw the ball. He can get vertical. He can get long. Most importantly, he works back to the ball, saving Eli from sweating it out in the pocket – something the offensive line has been notoriously inept at.
With the Giants only facing a few more weeks in the regular season, and a long offseason without a playoff berth, the organization can take comfort in the fact that they have one genuine and viable offensive weapon in Beckham. They also face the dilemma – yes dilemma – of what to do once a healthy Victor Cruz returns to the field in 2015.
Cruz was the Giants’ most lauded offensive player before going down early in the season. Last July, he inked a new five-year, $43 million deal despite being dissatisfied with the money. Expectations were automatically set for the veteran receiver had never been higher, and were unfortunately not met before Cruz’s gruesome injury. He struggled in Ben McAdoo’s new West Coast offense, lining up mostly on the outside versus the slot position where he thrived in 2013. Returning from injury in 2015 won’t lower anyone’s expectations, especially with the emergence of Beckham.
However, Beckham’s clear strength on the outside would allow Cruz to return to the slot, where he certainly works best and is most effective. The Giants could have a genuine dual receiver threat – one would be virtually unmatched throughout the NFL. That is contingent on Cruz returning to his old self (2013 preferably), and Beckham returning as a premier receiving powerhouse.
And while the future for the Giants is unclear, there is one clear-cut and absolute fact – Odell Beckham Jr. is, without a doubt, the most promising talent that has come through New York in too many seasons. For the first time since Michael Strahan, Tiki Barber or Eli Manning, the Giants have a potential franchise man who could become a fixture for years to come. Sure, Big Blue carries an unfortunate 5-9 record, but eyes across the league are now fixed on New York to see the Giants’ lucky number 13.
Jerry Reese, you might get to keep your job after striking gold with our beloved Odell Beckham Jr. (emphasis on the might).