OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even as children still chant his name and devolve into hysterics at the mere sight of him, the tables have turned for Odell Beckham Jr. Almost a decade ago, he was the new kid on the block, torching every defense he came across during an explosive rookie year for the Giants — but 2014 was a long time ago. Pro Bowls, injuries, adversity, a Super Bowl ring and a handful of teams have put Beckham in a situation that is somewhat new for him. Now in his first year with the Baltimore Ravens after missing all last season with an ACL injury, he’s the leader of a younger group of wide receivers that is looking to him for guidance as they attempt to ingratiate themselves into the NFL.
Beckham appears to be taking this change in status all in stride at training camp, clearly embracing his position as the leader of this pack on the field with the other Ravens receivers that are still trying to make a name for themselves in this league. He’s attentive, giving his teammates praise, correcting them on some of the finer points of receiver play and generally staying engaged throughout their learning process.
Over the summer, Beckham traveled to Florida to practice with quarterback Lamar Jackson and rookie first-round wide receiver Zay Flowers, which is where Beckham appears to have fully realized his role as the wily veteran on the team.
“I feel like I know my role,” Beckham said. “‘Oh, I used to watch you in middle school!’ I’m a little older so I know I’m a leader and a follower all in the same breath — and I think that’s important for leaders to be able to follow and listen.”
If Beckham is going to be following anyone on the field, Flowers has the best chance to be a consistent source of big plays. Flowers didn’t break loose for many big gains against the Ravens’ stalwart defense during Thursday’s practice, but his speed is visibly apparent and he should be able to quickly factor into this offense with more practice reps and more time with the playbook. Even in the early stages of his first training camp, Flowers realizes the opportunity he has here to play and learn from a receiver that is as accomplished as Beckham.
“Working hard everyday, really going for what you want,” Flowers said when asked about what Beckham has started to instill in him. “He did it as a young player. He had 1,000-yard season after 1,000-yard season and I’m just trying to learn what he did and take a routine from him.”
The Ravens will need this duo to lean on each other this year to start maximizing their window to win with Jackson’s new albatross contract starting to kick in this season. Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews has been carrying the bulk of this passing game over the past few years, but if the Ravens are going to end up as the best version of themselves they’re going to need more lifting from the receivers. Last season, Andrews led the team with 847 receiving yards, almost 400 more than second place on the team. Beckham and Flowers, along with former first round pick Rashod Bateman (who is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list), will need to be a huge part of that.
The task that lies ahead of the rookie and the vet is large, but it isn’t insurmountable. Beckham may not be the absolute force he was earlier in his career that got him lauded as one of the greats immediately, but he’s learned more than enough to be a beacon of knowledge, information and enthusiasm for a player who is in the position he was in almost a decade ago.