Eli Manning Odell Beckham Jr.
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

When things are toughest and most chaotic, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning rises while Odell Beckham Jr. crumbles.

Robby Sabo

He’s faster than a speeding bullet. Quicker than the chicken Rocky Balboa once chased. More graceful than a galloping gazelle. (Do gazelle’s even gallop? Are they even graceful? Actually, what the hell is a gazelle?)

He’s Odell Beckham Jr.—one of the most entertaining playmakers of this NFL generation.

Beckham Jr., 26, is a five-year pro whose accomplishments smashed previous records for a professional wide receiver over a three-year initial start. His abilities could only dare be matched with the likes of Antonio Brown and Tyreek Hill.

Speed, hands, elusiveness—it doesn’t automatically equate to completeness.

What the man the kids call OBJ possesses is raw physical talent. What he lacks is winning talent and it’s apparent during every crunchtime opportunity the New York Giants grant their players. This includes a critical moment in the team’s latest contest, a thrilling 30-27 overtime win against the solid Chicago Bears.

After a Chicago score, all the Jints had to do was recover the onside kick to secure a hard-fought victory. Naturally, Beckham stars on the second level of the hands team. These are the dudes who are taught to go get the ball. They are drilled by the special teams coach (their entire life, mind you) to attack the ball.

It doesn’t matter what happens in front of them. Beckham is the star of this specific special team.

“No contact Beckham.”

“It was a great kick,” Beckham said, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. “Sometimes, somebody makes a better play than you do. I can dive in there and still not get the ball. It was a very tough call.”

“Nobody should ever question my effort or my heart,” Beckham said, according to SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano. “That’s the last thing you can do. You can question me as a person, as a man, whatever you want, but my heart and my effort can never be questioned. Ever.”

Nonsense. Effort, heart isn’t something that can be “talked” away. It’s something that can only be measured by action. This is the first lesson he either needs to learn on his own or with help via a teammate.

The casual observer will shake it off. The OBJ fanboy will excuse it. The “business decision” move far outweighs any minor positive in a lost Giants season. Overtones of “why should he risk himself at this stage of the game?” remain loud on the casual spaces of Twitter.

There’s just one little issue with all of it. The locker room knows.

For all intents and purposes, Beckham is a great teammate. Fellow players like him as he gets along with most everybody. But when the times get tough, the locker room knows. It remembers. It knows the receiver punked out while the old, decrepit quarterback threw a walk-off touchdown to Sterling Shepard that didn’t come to fruition.

Winning talent is demonstrated when players risk life and limb at any situation for any of the 52 employees who set foot on the field. A record of 4-8 brings even more reason for sacrifice. It showcases grit. It embodies leadership. It helps flip the culture while sending a very strong message titled, “I got your back,” to the rest of the squad.

Words simply can’t convey such a message.

Rewind two seasons. On a chilly pregame day on the famed Frozen Tundra of Lambeau field, Beckham Jr. directly stared into the eyes of his great opportunity.

The result? He literally dropped it.

During the 2015 season, rumors of Eli Manning’s demise had begun gaining steam. Many argued it was Manning who held back a potent Ben McAdoo offense. The TV-viewing only football people couldn’t grasp just how poor the offensive line was during the late stages of the Jerry Reese era.

Defenses would literally play two-deep while rushing four on every play. Due to the fact the offense couldn’t rush the ball against even a seven-man box, eight in the box has been a rarity since that very season. Furthermore, a four-man rush was all that’s needed in getting to No. 10.

It continued down this path for quite some time. In fact, until just a few weeks ago.

The O-line was shuffled around enough to partially protect Manning while allowing young Saquon Barkley to flourish. The results have been met with three wins in four weeks with everybody forgetting that Eli Manning was “done” or “trash.”

But forget the fact Manning can still make every throw on the field. Forget the absolute certainty that arm strength isn’t a top trait at the position (see Philip Rivers). Forget the fact that replacing the still competent Manning may be the best move for the franchise this spring.

The man still rises when things are at its most dire.

Think of Eli Manning’s career. The man was never a bonafide NFL stud. He was never a true superstar at the position. His true talent can be described as “winning talent.”

Eli is best when things are chaotic. The David Tyree play. The 2011 NFC Championship Game when he smacked down on the turf nearly 20 times. The two-minute drill. He’s made a career of inconsistency during the dull time and excellence when it matters most.

On that chilly Green Bay day, the “over-the-hill” Manning came out humming the ball.

It was his weaponry (namely Odell Beckham Jr.) who let the squad down in a major way.

It wasn’t exactly the same as Miami six days earlier. Notice I haven’t even brought up the off-the-field stuff yet?

That wide receiver Miami trip. The notorious powder-pizza video. The Lil’ Wayne interview. The “I don’t know if I”m happy in New York” (after signing a mega-deal) comment. The look-at-me social media antics. The sideline noise involving a fan, kicking net and whatever else he could get his hands on. The childish petulant attitude when things aren’t moving swimmingly.

… it’s all understood by the locker room.

Talk and happy faces are easy to come by when things are going great. Rationalizing your superstar wide receiver’s behavior only works for an undetermined shelf life. Wondrous feelings during a media stunt or meeting with fans and kids is a tremendous plus No. 13 displays on a consistent basis.

It simply doesn’t hide the fact the locker room knows who the dudes are who can be relied upon when things are either at its lowest, most compromising or critical.

Until Beckham Jr. understands going after an onside kick on a 4-8 team with everything he has is just as important as doing it in the Super Bowl, his leadership won’t blossom. Until he figures out those little things do, in fact, matter towards the greater good, it remains Manning who rises while he crumbles when things are toughest.

If Odell Beckham Jr. can learn just one thing from Eli Manning before he moves on, it’s that every play, every moment, no matter the situation, matters. It makes a large difference not only to the game itself, but towards building a winning culture.

Robby Sabo is a co-founder, CEO and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor - Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. SEO: XL Media. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (Sold in 2020). SEO: XL Media. Email: robby.sabo[at]jetsxfactor.com