The 2020 National Football League season is just a few months away and for Odell Beckham Jr., it may very well be the most important season of his professional career.
Every season comes with pressure on teams, coaches and players to live up to expectations. Expectations that have been placed on them by the respective owners, fans, the media and themselves. In most cases, the pressure eases up in the course of the season, as expectations are put in perspective. Teams may not succeed because of injuries. Coaches cannot rely on certain players. Players are not put in position to have a successful season due to things they can not control.
When it comes to Odell Beckham Jr., undoubtedly one of the NFL’s biggest and most recognizable stars, it feels like the expectations for him have continuously been relativized in past seasons. However, for 2020, there is pressure on OBJ that will only increase as the games go on.
Do you remember when Odell Beckham Jr. was in conversation as the best wide receiver in the NFL? Back when Antonio Brown was still elite and Michael Thomas was merely considered “good”, OBJ was mentioned alongside the very best, demonstrating his talent and putting up impressive numbers week after week. A few years back, debates even went as far as to discuss whether he could become the greatest receiver of all time.
In 2020, Odell Beckham Jr. is still great, but is he in the conversation as the best at his position? When you think about elite receivers in the NFL, Odell comes to mind because of his fame, not so much because of his success in recent years. Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, all of them have been more productive in recent seasons.
Despite averaging over 1,000 yards in 2019, Beckham’s numbers continued to plummet compared to his pre-2017 form. In his first three seasons with the New York Giants, he accumulated 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns. In his next three, he posted only 2,389 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Granted, injuries played a crucial role in that drop-off. Odell was forced to miss 12 games in 2017 and four games in the 2018 season. However, debating the best players is never exclusively about talent. In terms of that, nobody would deny that Odell Beckham Jr. is one of arguably the best of all time. The statistics matter, and so does a player’s consistency.
Remember when Odell sat in an interview, next to Lil Wayne, and implicitly criticized his former quarterback Eli Manning, claiming he would not be “given an opportunity to be the very best that he can”? In retrospect, this is quite ironic, considering that, thus far, Beckham has never been more successful than with Eli Manning at the helm, and that nobody embodies “the best ability is availability” more than the two-time Super Bowl champion.
After being traded to the Cleveland Browns for the 2019 season, Beckham continued to throw shades at Manning by comparing him to his new quarterback, Baker Mayfield: “I’m going to have to get adjusted to the speed because he has an arm”, Beckham said. “He’s throwing that ball hard. Just catching him from the first day, it was like, ‘Wow! This is completely different.’ It just takes time.”
The Browns finished the season 6-10. Freddie Kitchens was not qualified to be the head coach, Baker Mayfield struggled on the field and Odell Beckham looked like he wanted to be in Los Angeles or New York. All in all, Beckham’s comments backfired immensely. And so did his blame game. He should not be held accountable for all things that went wrong in Cleveland last season, especially since he plays a position that is dependent on good coaching and a capable quarterback. Nevertheless, using the same excuse twice, by blaming his quarterback, would certainly not work in favor of him. Instead, people would question whether he can be part of the solution, or is actually part of the problem.
Odell Beckham Jr. is entering his seventh season in the NFL, he turns 28 in November. Thus far, the sports world has seen what this generational talent can do on the football field. However, it has also seen the sideline antics and the costly injuries that kept him off the field. 2020 will reveal how we shall perceive Beckham going forward. If he can return to just three quarters of the playmaker he used to be, while staying healthy and putting up respectable numbers, Odell will re-establish himself as one of the elite wideouts in the National Football League. If not, maybe it is time to stop looking at him as what he used to be and start to lower the expectations, despite what the salary on his illustrious contract might say.