LSU has sent several receivers to the NFL in the last few decades. From Eric Martin to Eddie Kennison back in the day, to Devery Henderson and Dwayne Bowe more recently, the Tigers have been a good source for raw talent at the position. And in the 2014 draft, there are two such players looking to make their mark on the NFL. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. are very different players, but they've been tight since the day they each walked on campus -- and even before.
"It’s an interesting relationship," Landry said at the scouting combine last week. "I got a chance to meet him our sophomore year of high school and we talked about playing together and competing against each other each game, each week. We finally had a chance to go to LSU together, and it was surreal just to think that all that we talked about, we were experiencing."
Both were high-school standouts in Louisiana. Landry was at the top of all the recruiting lists out of Lutcher High, from MaxPreps to Rivals to Scout.com, and Beckham joined Cooper Manning as the only players from Isidore Newman High in New Orleans to post a 1,000-yard receiving season. Rivals.com listed him as the best receiver prospect in the nation. But it was when they joined forces at LSU that their styles of play meshed perfectly together, and ushered in a new level of productivity. In 2013, Landry grabbed 77 passes for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Beckham caught 57 balls for 1,117 yards and eight scores. Their yards per reception totals (15.5 for Landry, 19.6 for Beckham), clearly outline their disparate but complementary skills.
"We each bring different things," Beckham said last week. "He's a possession guy -- he can catch everything around him. I'm a guy who's going to take the top off a defense and use my speed and strength. He's a physical guy who's going to make the tough catches. I'm looking forward to seeing how the draft plays out."
One of Landry's underrated attributes is that he's effective from anywhere in the formation -- from outside, to in the slot, to inside and outside in trips and bunch formations. He doesn't have top-end field speed, but he has developed the skills possession receivers need to succeed in the NFL -- he has good hands, runs the whole route tree and makes tough catches in traffic. He's practiced at getting yards after the catch on short passes, and he's a willing (if not always on-target) blocker. You'd like Landry to be a little bigger with his specific skillset -- slower, tougher guys really help if they can jump up and win in the red zone -- but he can help any NFL team if the scheme can account for his difficulty in gaining separation at the line of scrimmage.
Beckham has no issue gaining separation -- as he said, he excels at taking the top off a defense. As a receiver and returner, he's got rare speed, and the ability to hit a top gear at a moment's notice. Over and over, you'll see him hang with a defender for a split second, and just accelerate into another dimension. He's incredibly shifty in short spaces and has amazing downfield vision. And Beckham isn't just a straight-line threat. His understanding of routes, while not on the same level as Landry's, is impressive. Add in a surprising catch radius for a player his size (5-foot-11, 196), and you've got a sure first-rounder able to help any offense in the NFL. Though Clemson's Sammy Watkins is the consensus top receiver in this class, I'd say that Beckham is the better home-run threat -- and in my opinion, there isn't a lot to separate the two in overall value.
Landry's combine performance wasn't anything to write home about -- he posted the slowest official 40 time among all receivers at 4.77 -- but that isn't his game anyway. That probably makes him a low second- or high third-round pick in theory. Beckham, on the other hand, went off at Lucas Oil Stadium, as I wrote in my pool report.
Overall, the thing that impressed me most about Beckham in these drills was that he’s very comfortable with his speed. Not only is he track and field-fast, he also glides through routes and catches the ball with confidence. On the gauntlet drill, he ran through and caught everything, keeping his feet on the line all the way through. A lot of receivers weave through (Mike Evans had an issue with this), but Beckham stayed with his speed. He’s compact in his movements and doesn’t shoot out of line. This matches up with his game tape — even when he’s creating explosive plays, he’s consistent with his movements.
Beckham looked pretty good on the six-yard slant, making a quick in-cut to catch the ball. But on the 10-yard out to the left, he rounded his cut a bit, though he caught the ball. The 17-yard in-and-up was a bit more of an adventure — Beckham was a bit slow in his break off the line, and he rolled through the second pylon. And if there’s one thing I’d say he needs to work on, it’s the consistent ability to cut and keep with a quarterback’s timing. On deep routes with fewer angles, Beckham was in his element – fluid off the snap and great acceleration up the field. Moreover, that speed is consistent, meaning that quarterbacks can time him with confidence. And I believe that’s one of the more underrated attributes a receiver can have. He adjusted to his right and left on deeper routes to grab passes that were a bit off, and you love to see a player who can bail his quarterback out. Again, that’s consistent with his LSU tape.
Beckham was slightly choppy on the 12-yard curl, but he was clearly trying to be better with his cuts there, and he was OK. He ran through nicely and sank his hips into the breaks. The final route was a deep post corner, where the receiver starts at the 15-yard line, cuts in at the 26, out at the 34, and bends the route to about the 50-yard line. He sat in his breaks (adjusted to cut momentum) very well here and made another nice adjustment to catch the ball.
Beckham ran an official 4.33 40, good for a tie for fifth among all receivers, and he was as athletic in the drills as he was on the field. This should be no surprise, as athleticism runs in the family. Beckham's father played running back for LSU from 1990 through '92, and his mother, Heather Van Norman, was an All-America track runner at LSU from 1991 through '93, playing a big part in the Tigers' string of five straight national championships.
As athletic as Beckham is, he wasn't quite sure he could beat his mom in a straight race right now. He said last week with a somewhat straight face that the two have a race planned for sometime after the combine.
"I'd definitely say it helped out," he said. "My mom being a track star -- it definitely made me who I am today. My mom's always coaching me up on track stuff, and my dad's always helping me with football. I remember her texting me after games, and I've had decent games, and she's said, 'Oh, your form looks great.' It's funny to hear coming from her, but she's a track coach."
Beckham has a lot of confidence in his ability to transition to the NFL, and the tape backs it up.
"I'd definitely say I'm up there with the best. It just depends on what a team needs, and which team likes you."
Landry knows where he stands in the scheme of things, and he's appreciative of the differences between himself and his teammate and friend.
"It’s like apples and oranges. We’re both great players. We’re both weird players. He takes the top off things a lot. For me, it’s intermediate, it’s special teams and kickoff. It’s the dirty work mostly, but you know, I love to do it." [si_video id="video_2EE76AF9-5F92-A679-9FDA-6974D1627FE5" height="470"]