In every draft there are a handful of prospects that slip out of the first round but still make an immediate impact. This year, Odell Beckham Jr. fits that description.
Beckham isn’t the top-rated wide receiver in this year’s draft class, but has the skill-set to be a complimentary piece on a championship-caliber team. This season, Beckham broke LSU’s single-season record for all-purpose yardage (2,222 yards) en route to being named the Paul Hornung Award winner, an honor granted to college football’s most versatile player.
On the year, he hauled in 57 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns, and totaled 806 yards on kick returns.
The athleticism of Beckham is undeniable. He has superior acceleration and explosive speed, as well as natural instincts as a playmaker. He is an above-average receiver after making the catch and eluding defenders due to his great footwork, the ability to create separation between defensive backs and can make catches in stride. Of course, it’s a major boost to his draft stock that he can not only play wide receiver but serve as both a kick and punt returner.
Beckham isn’t considered a unanimous first-round selection because he doesn’t have the height or strength of a No. 1 wide receiver and at times shies away from making receptions in the middle of the field.
Some scouts liken Beckham to Cecil Shorts of the Jacksonville Jaguars, as both players are dynamic once they get the ball in their hands. Like Shorts, Beckham will need to improve with time.
With that in mind, Beckham is a bit lower on most draft rankings and is largely not considered a first-round selection. He’s ranked 10th by CBS Sports, but is outside of the top 50 by ESPN Scouts Inc. and outside the top 25 by Mel Kiper Jr., who pins him as the sixth-best wideout in a deep crop.
Marqise Lee of USC and Sammy Watkins of Clemson are expected to be the first two receivers off the board come May, leaving teams to decide between Mike Evans, Jordan Matthews, Kelvin Bejamin, Brandin Cooks or Beckham.
The Philadelphia Eagles at No. 22 could be an option, as Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are set to become free agents this offseason, and if there’s any element Chip Kelly can work with it’s speed, something Beckham certainly brings to the table.
The Carolina Panthers seemingly always have a need at wide receiver, and their veteran Steve Smith is definitely showing signs of decline at 34. Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn have proved to be inconsistent over the years, so an explosive player like Beckham may be a fit.
If Beckham makes it to the second round, he’ll have to get by the San Francisco 49ers. Anquan Boldin is a free agent after this season, leaving Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis as the team’s only receiving threats. Jim Harbaugh is an excellent coach when it comes to developing players, and Beckham could certainly add another element to the Niners’ passing game.