It’s not cast in stone that the New York Giants have to have a dominant Odell Beckham, Jr. to win a Super Bowl.
At the New York Giants‘ organized team activities these past two weeks, the major headlines have revolved around the players who aren’t here such as WR Odell Beckham, Jr. and DE Olivier Vernon. But the real story should be about the players who are in attendance, the brick-and-mortar players that will actually help this team win a championship.
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said last week that he can only coach the players that are here and that is exactly what he and his staff are doing. With OBJ working out on his own out in California, the other receivers on the roster are strutting their stuff in New Jersey this spring.
Free agent signee Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis and Tavarres King are all looking sharp thus far as is first round draft pick, Evan Engram. These receivers are all ready, willing and able – as well as hungry – and should the Giants ever have to play without their superstar wideout, they might just be ok.
Marshall alone gives the Giants a No. 1 receiver and he arrived at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center is top physical condition ready to work. He has looked smooth and is already in sync with QB Eli Manning.
Shepard was a second round selection (40th overall) out of Oklahoma in last year’s NFL Draft and very well could have gone in the first round. Shepard outperformed all four wideouts selected before him in the draft last season catching 65 passes for 683 yards and eight TDs. He finished second among all rookies in all three categories to New Orleans’ Michael Thomas, who was selected seven spots after Shepard.
This season, Shepard is working on solidifying his rapport with Manning and becoming more dynamic by increasing his yards after the catch ability. Since the media has only been allowed access to one OTA session, we’re going to rely on Giants’ in-house reporter Dan Salomone’s assessment of Shepard:
“Shepard’s top priority this offseason is to increase his yards after the catch. The sophomore is confident that he’ll be able to do so with a year working with Manning under his belt. It showed today as the two found each other throughout practice, beginning with the first play of the day. Shepard later made a great, sliding catch over the middle. Those are the types of plays that build trust between quarterback and receiver. Shepard made a number of them in the clutch last season.”
The addition of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Davis Webb appear to have subliminally motivated Manning this spring. He’s firing bullets and bombs all over the yard and it doesn’t phase him that none of them are to No. 13. He’s using whose here and using them well. From Salomone:
“The two-time Super Bowl MVP aired it out a lot today. He connected with wide receiver Tavarres King for a pair of touchdowns, including a deep one down the right sideline that caught the defense off-guard. King was wide open, and Manning laid it in. The two later hooked up for another touchdown from the red zone. In addition to finding second-year wide receiver Sterling Shepard a number of times on Wednesday – we’ll talk about him next – Manning hit Roger Lewis down the left sideline for the longest play of the day. Like King, Lewis is fighting for reps in a deep receiving corps.”
Engram is lining up all over the place, not just at TE. The reason the Giants selected Engram over the offensive linemen and pass-rushers available in the draft is that he is a versatile, explosive player very much like Beckham. They have become too “Odell dependent” the past few years and it’s hurt their offense. They need another player to a) compliment him and/or b) eventually replace him.
Last season, OBJ drew 169 targets, second in the NFL to Tampa’s Mike Evans, 64 more than Shepard and nearly 100 more than Victor Cruz. In 2015, Beckham was targeted 158 times, 68 more than the next receiver, Rueben Randle, and nearly twice as many as the third target, RB Shane Vereen (81).
Randle was not re-signed and Vereen missed 11 games to injury last season which caused the Giants to severely alter their offensive strategy. Shepard stepped in and the returning Cruz was practically phased out as the season went on. That created chances for Lewis and King and they will be battling to stay afloat on the team’s depth chart which goes as follows: Beckham, Marshall, Shepard, Dwayne Harris, Lewis and King. If those two are your five and six, that’s a deep rotation.
Plus, you can add Engram to the mix in some formations as you know that OC Mike Sullivan plans on splitting him out as much as possible like the Redskins do with Jordan Reed. With Vereen returning and Paul Perkins expected to field passes out of the backfield this year, Beckham’s targets will undoubtedly take a hit.
[graphiq id=”bBUq0K44ciV” title=”Odell Beckham Jr. Receiving Yards and Touchdowns in 2016″ width=”600″ height=”557″ url=”https://sw.graphiq.com/w/bBUq0K44ciV” frozen=”true”]
That’s not good for Beckham, who like any beast, needs to be fed. And he is a beast. That has not been lost on me, folks. He is one of the greatest receiving talents I or anyone else has ever laid eyes on. But less Beckham good is more for the Giants. This is a team game and players like him have to learn how to operate within a team framework. He has to learn to play without the ball like John Havlicek, the great Boston Celtics swingman who made things happen without touching the ball. Beckham can be that type of player for the Giants if he buys into the plan.
The Giants have to become less reliant on him if they are to take their Super Bowl aspirations to the next level. They know it and have made moves in that direction. His absence here is actually helping them advance that initiative
They cannot win without a more equitable pass target distribution plan. Just looks what happens when Beckham is thrown off his game or gets the dropsies. The Giants lose and lose big. They’ve smartened up over the winter. Sure, they’re going to let OBJ be OBJ but they are changing the terms on their relationship with him.