Odell Beckham Jr. burst onto the scene as a rookie last season, quickly becoming one of the NFL’s most dynamic players. Not only is the New York Giants wide receiver in the conversation among the best players at his position, but he’s already drawing comparisons to the greatest that’s ever done it.
Through 13 games in 2015, Beckham leads the Giants with 85 catches, 1,320 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s been so impressive that Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera says the receiver reminds him of Jerry Rice.
“Watching what [Beckham has] done in his first two seasons is tremendous. He really has an opportunity, I think, to be one of those guys you'll talk about him and Jerry Rice," Rivera told reporters ahead of his team’s Week 15 matchup with the Giants.
"I had the great fortune of watching Jerry Rice, and man, I see a lot of flashes," Rivera continued. "I played against Jerry as well, and I see a lot of flashes in Odell's game. I just think he's a tremendous football player."
Rice is widely regarded as the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. He holds the all-time records for catches (1,549) and receiving yards (22,895), and his 208 touchdowns are more than any running back or receiver in history. Beckham has a long way to go before he can ever come close to matching Rice’s production, but it’s not hard to see why Rivera thinks Beckham can be an all-time great.
Beckham’s raw talent is undeniable. He had his coming out party when he made what might be the greatest catch in NFL history last season, and he went on to set a record with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 scores in just 12 games as a rookie.
While he got off to somewhat of a slow start this season, Beckham has proven that he was no one-year wonder. He continues to make seemingly impossible catches, and he’s been one of the league’s best offensive players. After catching seven passes for 166 yards against the Miami Dolphins in Week 14, Beckham has the record for most receptions and receiving yards by any player through their first 25 career games.
Even though Beckham’s receptions (176 to 94) and receiving yards (2,625 to 1,801) easily best the numbers Rice put up in his first 25 games, Beckham isn’t ready for the comparison.
“To be mentioned in the same sentence as Jerry Rice is still shocking to me,” Beckham said Thursday. “What he accomplished and the things he was able to do, that’s where you want to go, the direction you want to go. But I’m nowhere near there. I do appreciate the compliment and I’ll keep working.”
Rice took off in his second year, starting a string of 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons, reaching at least 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns 10 times in that span. It will be incredibly difficult for Beckham to have a similar decade-long stretch, and even if the 23-year-old puts up the same numbers, it won’t be as impressive.
NFL rules changes have made it much easier for teams to pass the ball. Last year, 23 players had at least 1,000 yards receiving or 80 receptions. When Rice played his second NFL season in 1986, 16 players reached the 1,000-yard mark and only seven players caught at least 80 passes.
When Rice was in his prime, he was clearly the No.1 receiver in football. An argument can be made that Beckham is the NFL’s best wide out, but he’s far from the consensus choice. Antonio Brown has more catches and yards than Beckham in 2015 after leading the league in both categories in 2014. Julio Jones is the NFL’s top receiver this season, and he’s on pace to have the fourth-most receiving yards in a single season.
Beckham has a long way to go before he can be considered among the best ever, but his production at such a young age might be a sign of even bigger things to come. He’s been incredibly consistent, totaling at least 100 yards in 15 of his 25 career games, and his current stretch of six straight 100-yard games is second-most all time.
The Giants receiver faces his toughest test of the season on Sunday when he goes up against the undefeated Panthers and Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman.