By James Bewers
As the 2015 football season approaches, the DIG Sports staff decided to take a look back at the best LSU players of the Les Miles era (2005-present). The Tigers have had 64 players drafted into the NFL with Miles at the helm, and the program led all schools with 38 former players on active NFL rosters during the opening weekend of the 2014 season.
No. 3 Odell Beckham Jr.
Position: Wide Receiver
Career Highlight: 109-yard touchdown return off missed field goal against UAB in 2013
Eye-Popping Stat: Set LSU single season all-purpose yards record in 2013 (No. 2 in SEC history)
NFL Draft: 2014 / Round 1 / Pick: 12 / New York Giants
Everyone in Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia thought it was going to be a bruising run play.
Leading 13-7 midway through the second quarter, No. 2 LSU brought in two tight ends and 270-pound fullback J.C. Copeland on its own 48-yard line, attempting to convert a 3rd-and-1 against No. 16 West Virginia on Sept. 24, 2011.
“Big-time size advantage for the LSU offensive line,” said ESPN color analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who was expecting a run. “You know it’s coming. Can you stop it?”
Quarterback Jarrett Lee kicked his leg back to send freshman wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in motion, putting Beckham just a few feet to the left of his initial position on the right side of the line of scrimmage. Lee then took the snap and turned toward running back Spencer Ware, who had Copeland barreling in front him, for a handoff. Beckham sprinted off the line, gave a slight hesitation and took off down the field again.
Lee had sold the play-action fake beautifully, and Beckham did the rest, leaping for the catch and sprinting past a Mountaineer defensive back for first his first career touchdown.
The 52-yard score may have been the product of a timely play call and exceptional execution by the quarterback, fullback, running back and offensive line. But Beckham’s route running, hands and elusiveness were on full display in just his fourth collegiate game.
“He is going to be a good one, folks,” said play-by-play commentator Brent Musburger following Beckham’s touchdown.
The broadcasting legend had the foresight to see something that continued to manifest itself the following week against Kentucky, where Beckham eluded at least seven defenders across the field on a 51-yard touchdown reception. He was just a rookie, but the ESPN three-star prospect was proving he was more like a seasoned veteran in the Southeastern Conference.
By the time his junior year was in full swing, the New Orleans native had become one of the nation’s most lethal playmakers and formed one of the best receiving duos in LSU history with Jarvis Landry.
Coming from a family with well-publicized athletic genes, Beckham is the definition of fluid. He showed early in his career an ability to run in and out of routes with noticeable ease, leaving defensive backs in his dust with sharp cuts that wasted no movement.
His speed, obviously, gives him advantage against many defenders, but, when the ball is in the air, he consistently gets to it first, retrieving the pass at its highest point to make up for a lack of elite size.
But what separated him from other great LSU receivers and ultimately garnered him the Paul Hornung Award – college football’s most versatile player – in 2013 was what he could do with the ball in open space, especially on special teams.
In his sophomore season, the No. 7 Tigers were on the ropes against unranked Ole Miss, trailing 35-28 on November 17, 2012. With about nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Beckham received a punt deep in LSU territory.
He could have easily called for a fair catch with Rebels swarming to the ball. Instead, he did what he does best – juking and hurdling tacklers – to return a game-tying touchdown, eventually leading to a 41-35 win.
Many LSU fans, though, remember Beckham’s night against UAB in 2013, where he accounted for four total touchdowns and 331 all-purpose yard in a 56-17 win. In a game that was never in doubt, Beckham provided all the highlights needed, including 109-yard touchdown return off a missed field goal.
Auburn’s Chris Davis received the recognition nationally for his 109-yard field goal return to cap the Iron Bowl later that year, but Beckham did it first.
It’s quite possible Beckham’s professional career could be better than his an outstanding collegiate career. After missing the first four games of the regular season, the 2015 NFL Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler set the world on fire with his three-finger grab against the Cowboys in week 12, finishing the season with multiple rookie receiving records.
It might have been unbelievable to see him ascend to such great heights in such a short period of time. But, if you thought the man, who graces the cover of Madden NFL 16, couldn’t have done it, you didn’t watch him at LSU.