The Best Players of the Les Miles Era: #15 Odell Beckham Jr.

Stacy Revere

This Best Of series captures the opinions of the ATVS writers and readers to determine who they believe are the best players and what they believe are the best games in the Miles era. This kicks off the players, starting with number 15, Odell Beckham Jr.

If you hadn't noticed, I'm a big Odell Beckham Jr. fan. Since before he stepped on the field, I made the case for him being the first "small" WR to make a major impact in the Miles era. From that evaluation I wrote:

I do believe Beckham can be the first "small" WR star to come from LSU in some time. Jarvis Landry also fits the bill, though his skill set profiles more as a "big" WR. Landry is tough, tenacious, run blocks like a demon, works the middle and hand catches. Beckham doesn't display the same blocking prowess, but flashes speed to burn with good RAC ability. They complement each other quite nicely, really. Over the course of their careers, I could see Landry developing as the "safety" valve guy, who will always be there when you need a 1st down, while Beckham becomes a big-play artist. That is not to say that either of the two can't do the other, just that they profile differently.

Boy, did that ever play out in 2013? But the road to get there was a bit winding. Beckham even earned a reputation among the fanbase as being a guy prone to major mistakes, though with obvious big-play capability. Even in 2013, fans gnashed their teeth about his muffed punt against Georgia (it was an awful play) to the point that they ignored that he racked up six catches for 118 yards and another 175 yards in KO returns. It's funny to me that he earned a reputation for inconsistency, particularly considering this:

2011: 41 catches
2012: 43 catches
2013: 57 catches

The only other player to catch 40+ passes in his first three seasons in LSU history is Michael Clayton. In fact, the only other player I've found to have three consecutive 40-catch seasons at LSU beyond those two is Brandon LaFell. Wendell Davis caught 31 his first season, and he's the next nearest to the club. If that's not consistency, then what is?

The Production

Unlike baseball, we don't spend an awful lot of time dwelling on the record books and where a player falls. When Beckham broke the single season all-purpose yardage record for LSU, few even batted an eye. Yet, after three seasons Beckham's named is cemented in the LSU record books:

Career Receptions: 9th (tied with Craig Davis)
Career Receiving Yards: 7th
Career Yards Per Catch (min. 50 catches): 4th
Career 100-yard Receiving Games: 7th (tied with Michael Clayton)
Career All-Purpose Yards: 5th
Career Yards from Scrimmage: 7th
Career Punt Return Yards: 10th
Career Kickoff Return Yards: 6th (every player above him returned more kicks)

Sans touchdowns, he ranks in every major category, despite spending two seasons in an offense that managed under 2,700 yards passing (one of which barely broke the 2,000-yard mark). Beckham brought such a well-rounded assault to the LSU offense, whether making big plays in the passing game, flipping field position in the returns, or simply opening up underneath coverage for Jarvis Landry to work. Want a quick visual that depicts exactly how dangerous Beckham proved to be in 2013?

To me, this is far more deserving than the 15th best player of the Miles era, particularly when a player he out-achieved in the same time frame, at the same position, cracks the top five.

The Emotion

Production alone doesn't dictate why Beckham is deserving of a top 15 spot. For me, there was a sheer, exhilarating joy in watching him with the ball in his hands. Oh yeah, he was pretty damn special before getting to that point as well:

Beckham-gif_medium

via cdn.fansided.com

That catch vs. Iowa is one super example of Beckham's sensational catch radius, something that allowed him to play like a guy that's 6'3", despite being only 5'11". There was an absolute sizzle and sex appeal to the way Beckham played the game. How many times did he catch a ball on the move, with two defenders in near perfect position, only to blow right past them into a 20+ yard gain?

Ud111_medium

How often did he run a seamless route that saw defenders fall off him and present major throwing windows for Zach Mettenberger?

Mettenbergerhealed_medium

via poseykyle5.files.wordpress.com

Oh and you know what? He's pretty damned tough too.

Beckham-kills-mosley_medium

via i2.wp.com

I've always loved the idea of the five-tool player in baseball. I keep a soft spot for guys that can do a little bit of everything, and as far as football goes, Beckham is a five-tool guy. To me, what separates him from other players of his ilk, the speedy guy with return abilities, is that he's truly a refined receiver as well. In this piece from Jason La Canfora (which we can still point and laugh at for him stating Beckham would post "modest" numbers at the combine), there's this gem of a quote:

"I could literally just run routes all day," Beckham said. "That's what I pride myself on the most."

Somewhere, an NFL scout is smiling reading that. It's part of his craft that he's refined and worked over to the point of perfection. When added to his immense physical gifts, you are talking about a rare type of player. From an early age Beckham knew he was fast, but he also knew that wouldn't suffice.

Summary

For me, Beckham is this unique combination of character, work ethic and talent that puts him a notch above many other players of the Miles era. Of the writers, only I ranked him above Jarvis Landry. Of the readers, only one ranked him in the top 10, with many leaving him entirely off their lists. That's rather shocking for a guy that's been so productive for so long and is also coming off a record-breaking season.

In many ways, playing across from Landry may damage his historical standing in the eyes of many. If you polled LSU fans about the top plays of the year, it's likely most would rattle off any number of Landry's jaw-dropping catches, yet easily forget that Beckham returned a missed field goal for a 110-yard score, posted a 200-yard receiving game, caught three touchdowns in a single game, and any number of other ridiculous things he accomplished this season. What all this means to me is that not only is Beckham not the 15th best player of the Miles era, he's the best wide receiver of the Miles era and that's something that should land him in the top five.

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