Odell Beckham Jr. might be the most physically gifted receiver ever to wear an NFL uniform. He’s blessed with a remarkable ability to make the most difficult catches seem routine and high- end speed that makes him almost impossible to chase down once he is headed for the end zone.
But if Beckham is to continue on a pace that never has been seen before, he will have to master a far more challenging part of his game than running routes and catching passes. He has remarkable control over his body, but what is inside his head ultimately might determine how far he goes.
In his first 25 games, Beckham had more catches, yards and touchdowns than any other receiver at the same juncture. But what happened in his 26th game might have offered the most telling glimpse into a weakness that could have a major impact on his future.
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman took up residence inside Beckham’s head with such disturbing effectiveness throughout the Giants’ 38-35 loss on Sunday that the wide receiver became unhinged. Beckham lost all sense, costing his team the game and himself a one-game suspension.
Beckham’s intentional head shot on Norman in the third quarter prompted the NFL to sit him down for Sunday night’s game against the Vikings. Unless he successfully appeals the ruling by NFL vice president Merton Hanks, Beckham will serve a well-deserved timeout for one of the most gratuitous shots you’ll ever see in sports. But as much as the sanction will hurt him and his team, the aftereffects could be even more significant.
The incident serves notice to every NFL cornerback that you can mess with Beckham’s psyche to the point that you will mess up his game. Do not think for a second that defenders who face Beckham in the future won’t try to antagonize him the way Norman did, not only during the game but in the days leading up to it.
While Norman may have gone over the line with insults directed at Beckham and deserves a hefty fine for his actions during the game, rest assured that future opponents will do whatever they can to mess with Beckham’s head.
It’s no different for any NFL player who quickly develops a reputation for greatness. Beckham has been spectacular on the biggest stage in sports, and the reverberations of that hype extend to every NFL locker room.
Taunts like the ones Norman directed at Beckham will continue to be directed at the receiver. It’s no different for Beckham than it is for any rising star, because the better you play and the more attention you get, the bigger the target you become for opposing players.
What Beckham did was wrong, and surely he must realize that now — especially after hearing his coach, Tom Coughlin, say in no uncertain terms that the head shot was unacceptable. Coughlin should have made his point clearer immediately after the cheap shot by removing Beckham for at least a series, getting in his face and telling him to knock it off. He needs to sit down with him and firmly reinforce the message.
But if Beckham learns anything from this experience, it’s that he needs to work on restraining his temper as diligently as he works on making one-handed catches. He needs to pay attention to what his teammates and coaches need, not to what his ego demands.
Let this serve as a learning experience for the young receiver: If you want to be great — and we mean Hall of Fame great — it’s what you do for your team, not yourself, that counts most.