Taking one of the five best receivers in the game out of an offense isn’t the ideal recipe for success. In an NFL era where explosive passing games rule, players like Odell Beckham seem necessary. The more talent and weapons a team has, the more points they’re likely to score.
So why do the Giants seem to think there’s a chance their offense will be better now that Beckham is gone?
It’s because of the faith Pat Shurmur has in the offensive teammates Beckham left behind.
“I think when you play offense, you try and get the most out of the players you have,” Shurmur said last week at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. “You have to use their skillsets. I do believe that it takes a village to spread the ball around. The quarterback gets the ball out. We have a lot of fine players on offense. We will spread the ball. We will find a way.”
That’s what they did at the end of last year, as Shurmur noted. With Beckham sidelined with his quad hematoma over the last four weeks, the Giants averaged 25.5 points and 373.8 yards per game – an increase of more than three points and almost 25 yards from their 12 games with Beckham. And that included a shutout loss to the Titans in a rain storm. Take that game out and they averaged 34 points and 411 yards.
Of course, the offense had already shown some signs of improvement before Beckham got hurt, so the final surge wasn’t just about him. But it was a sign that maybe Shurmur is right, that his “village” has what it takes to be a potent offensive team even without a star receiver.
For that to happen, he’s going to need some big seasons from several of his villagers. And here are the five players who figure to benefit the most from Beckham being on another team:
TE Evan Engram – He had quite a resurgence when Beckham was out, catching 22 passes for 320 yards in the final four games of the season. Shurmur said that had more to do with Engram shaking off ankle and hamstring injuries than Beckham being absent. “By the end he was feeling good, running well and playing well,” he said. “That’s a function of Evan doing his thing.” OK, maybe, but the numbers suggest there’s more to it. In 11 games Engram has played with Beckham, he’s caught 38 passes for 413 yards (10.8 yards per catch). In 15 games without Beckham, he has 71 catches for 886 yards (12.1 yards per catch). And Shurmur clearly wants to use him more – and more creatively. “Typically, tight ends are guys that can do everything,” Shurmur said. “I can flex Evan out, put him outside the wide receiver and move him around. … As we get a better feel for him, we will keep him in the mix.”
WR Sterling Shepard – When Beckham went down late in the season the Giants actually had high hopes for Shepard, but were disappointed that he wasn’t able to be more productive. He did have one big game in Indianapolis in Week 16 (six catches, 113 yards). But in the other three games he only totaled eight catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Given Beckham’s role (and less coverage) he didn’t step up. He’ll get the opportunity now, though. And though he might get a little more attention from the defense, it’ll help if Engram is healthy and with the addition of Golden Tate. Shepard has the skills to sneak up on defenses around the league.
RB Saquon Barkley – It took a little while for Shurmur to come around to what he wanted to do from the beginning – run his offense through Barkley. He has always raved about what a versatile running back can do in his offense, but it was difficult to fully commit to that in the first half when the blocking wasn’t there. In the second half, it was. Now, Barkley did tail off in the four games Beckham missed at the end of the season, averaging only 88 rushing yards and 29 receiving yards per game. Teams clearly focused their attention on the star running back after that. If Shurmur can develop a more diverse offense in Beckham’s absence, though, Barkley should have a lot more room to run free.
QB Eli Manning – The difference for Manning without Beckham may be hard to tell, because presumably he’ll be much better if the offensive line actually blocks. But there is an addition-by-subtraction element here. It’s not nearly as pronounced as it was in the 2000s with Jeremy Shockey, but Manning operates better when there’s calm around him. Having a star waving his arms after a miss, complaining about the offense, acting up on the sidelines (whether in anger or to fire everyone up) is not Manning’s style. He’s always been more cerebral and analytical. And he’s at his worse when he’s forced to mostly look in the direction of one player – one well-covered player – in at least a partial effort to keep the peace. He’d rather spread the ball around, to make the smart play – and the right play – regardless of who ends up with the ball.
WR Corey Coleman – The Giants gave the restricted free agent a second-round tender worth $2.025 million, which was interesting considering he had just five catches for 71 yards after the Giants signed him for the final eight games last season. That’s an indication that the 5-11 burner, who was the 15th overall pick in the 2016 draft, has some untapped potential. He’s never done better than the 33-413-3 he had in 10 games as a rookie with the Browns. But a broken hand short-circuited that season and the next, before he bounced around from the Bills to the Patriots to the Giants last season. What do the Giants see? That he’s only 24, can run and can catch when he’s healthy. They figure to slot him in as their No. 3 receiver and a possible deep threat. He’ll be given every opportunity to show the world why he was the first receiver taken in that draft – 25 spots before the Giants took Sterling Shepard in Round 2.