Eagle Eye: Odell Beckham’s Open-Field Speed

Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports Images.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports.

Through the first 16 games of his career, Odell Beckham Jr. piled up more receiving yards than any other player in NFL history.

His one-handed catches have become things of folk lore, but the most frightening thing about the 22-year-old phenom isn’t his incredible catching ability; at least, not according to the Eagles defenders who face him on Monday night.

It’s his open-field speed.

“He’s special when he gets the ball in his hands,” Byron Maxwell said. “He has great ball skills. He’s got good routes, but I think the thing that separates him is that when he gets the ball in his hands, he turns into — I don’t want to say a running back, but he’s a playmaker. He can make people miss, and he can create big plays.”

It’s what Beckham has done to plenty of cornerbacks and secondaries this season: turning catches into big yards and touchdowns because of his swift, agile movements and breakaway speed.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Here, Beckham uses a simple stutter step to create a huge gulf of separation between him and his defender. He fakes an out route about eight yards downfield, and then takes off on a fly down the right sideline.

Eli Manning under-throws the ball, which should have been a touchdown, but Beckham still demonstrates his speed and run-after-the-catch ability.

When Beckham catches the under-thrown ball at the San Francisco 33-yard line, he has to slow down, while the cornerback is sprinting at full speed to catch up. Theoretically, Beckham shouldn’t be able to accelerate back to top speed before he gets tackled from behind.

But Beckham runs away from the corner, picking up 21 yards by going diagonally down the field to slow the cornerback’s speed while he accelerates after the catch.

One thing to look at in this example is the cornerback sitting back and giving Beckham plenty of space off the line of scrimmage.

Here’s another example of what can happen when you give Beckham space off the line.

And here’s another example.

Giving Beckham that much space to start his route and get up to top speed isn’t the best plan for defenders trying to limit his explosive impact.

A couple of Eagles think that defending Beckham with tough, physical press coverage is a much better way to stop the slightly under-sized wide receiver, who stands just under six feet.

“My thing with speedy receivers is you go out there and press,” Walter Thurmond said. “That’s how you slow a fast guy down, is by getting your hands on him and not letting him run free. I think our corners have some ability in press coverage, and have the ability to run down the field as well.”

In Maxwell’s eyes, an important part of defending a player like Beckham is making sure you don’t give him the same looks each time you line up.

“I think you’ve got to change up the looks on him,” Maxwell said. “You can’t just give him one look. Any good player in this league, they’ll figure out what you’re doing if you keep coming at them over and over with the same thing. They’ll figure out what you’re doing and find a solution.”

Against San Francisco, Beckham kept seeing space on the line of scrimmage, and he kept finding ways to use that to his advantage.

By the time the 49ers tried using bump-and-run coverage on him, Beckham had picked up plenty of yards and confidence.

“The thing with [Beckham] is, I think his best attribute is his swagger,” said Jordan Matthews, who is friends with Beckham. “He plays with a swagger that’s hard to compare to a lot of people. I think everything comes from that, from his confidence.”

Here, the cornerback changes up his approach and tries to get into Beckham’s way and disrupt the receiver’s route, but he doesn’t do it early enough or strong enough to successfully knock Beckham off.

Beckham has already beat the San Francisco secondary plenty at this point, so he takes the corner for a ride with his speed, and the corner has no choice but to cling to him and get called for defensive pass interference.

The second-year wideout is one of the best in the league when he has space to get past a defender and catch the ball with open field around him. He’s especially dangerous when he can build confidence as the game goes along.

In the 2014 season finale against the Eagles, Beckham caught 12 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown, torching a Birds secondary that was short on confidence and talent.

If Beckham gets to his game early on Monday with a few big plays, the Eagles could be in for another losing tussle with Beckham.

“He is a dangerous deep threat, and one of the best in the league as far as taking it the distance and running after the catch,” Thurmond said. “You really have to limit those opportunities, try to frustrate him and get him out of his game.”