By Jason Keidel
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When Calvin Johnson broke into the NFL and quickly earned the moniker Megatron, we assumed he was also ushering in a new NFL prototype. You want your receivers big and long and impervious to the bone-shattering Sundays they will endure over a decade.
And while no one questions Johnson’s bona fides, he’s on the back nine of his career, with no one of similar contours to take his place.
Now, it turns out, the best wideouts in pro football are under 6-foot-0. One of the best and most accomplished is Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Though it kills me to put anyone before any member of my beloved black and gold, Brown is not No. 1.
That would be Odell Beckham Jr., of your beloved Big Blue, who’s catching passes and smashing stereotypes about what works in the nouveau NFL. And taking a giant eraser to the record books.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Beckham is off to the most scalding start to a career in NFL history. After 25 games, no receiver has more catches (176) or yards (2,625).
Not Jerry Rice. Not Michael Irvin. No one. Beckham is darting past a roll call of Hall of Famers on his way to blinding stardom. And the scary thing is he’s in the fledgling stage of a career that will also find him in Canton. At just 23, he has about a decade to turn YouTube into his personal highlight reel.
Beckham is second all-time in TD receptions (24) after 25 games. He also has seven TD of at least 50 yards over the last two years, the most in the NFL. Just pluck a stat and there’s a chance his name is in front of it.
This year alone, Beckham has 85 catches for 1,320 yards and 12 TD — with three games to go. He also caught 12 TD last season while missing the first four games.
We all know about the galling fourth-quarter gaffes that have haunted the Giants this season. They’ve blown four games in the final 60 seconds. With a 23-13 lead over the Cowboys and 5:47 left in the game, the Giants had a 98.94 percent chance to win. They lost. That is but one on a long, solemn list of squandered chances.
So while we could play the “What If” game for eons, how about pondering the Giants’ fate if not for Beckham? He’s accounted for 36 percent of the team’s total passing yards, and nearly half its passing touchdowns.
Many fans wondered how Miami could have let Beckham stroll down the field with nary a defender near him in the fourth quarter, when Eli Manning found him for an 84-yard score.
But don’t the great ones make all their deeds seem absurdly easy? How many times did Montana find Rice galloping unmolested down the sideline? Randy Moss also had an uncanny knack for finding the crevice in any secondary. It’s just part of their athletic genius.
And Beckham doesn’t have John Taylor, as Rice did. Or Alvin Harper, as Irvin did. He didn’t have Cris Carter to mentor him, as Moss did. That’s not to imply that the aforementioned legends would not have flourished on their own. It just speaks to Beckham’s brilliance that he entered the NFL as polished and productive as he did.
If anyone knew Beckham would be this good, he wouldn’t have lasted until the 12th pick in the draft. But the Giants bagged the singular, seminal talent, and thus had the happenstance of being lucky and good.
Maybe the Giants would be in better position if Eli had taken a sack here, or if Coughlin had kicked a field goal there. But they’d be almost unwatchable — and certainly uncompetitive — without Beckham, pro football’s pass-catcher nonpareil.
Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonKeidel.