Odell Beckham Jr.: Rams star went from seen as villain to top teammate


LOS ANGELES – As Odell Beckham Jr.takes aim at his first championship ring , it’s jarring to think he’s no better than the third-best wide receiver playing in Super Bowl 56 – at least based on how the 2021 season unfolded.Yet the likes of Los Angeles Rams Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp and Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase are a long way from approaching the still-dynamic legacy OBJ has somehow crafted in just eight NFL seasons.It was apparent this week that there’s a real peace about Beckham, 29, who projected striking self-awareness while also appearing fully cognizant of his lofty place in the league’s pantheon.”I appreciate you saying I’m only 29 because a lot of the conversations that I’ve had, they really try and make me feel like I’m the old head,” he told USA TODAY Sports when asked about the influence he’s had on so many young players.NFL NEWSLETTER: Sign up now for exclusive content sent to your inbox “Knowing that responsibility that I carry to set a standard, to know that some of them look up to me, is the reason why I feel like I’m how I am now instead of the 23-year-old me.You’ve got to go through things to grow through things.”I remember when I was in Cleveland, (Browns rookie) Anthony Schwartz comes up to me and he’s like, ‘Yeah, bro, I remember watching you in high school.’ And I’m like, ‘You don’t need to tell me that, I don’t need to hear that.’ It is crazy because my 29 feels like I’ve been in the league for 12 years.

I feel like I’ve had so much happen – ups and downs, goods and bads – it feels like a very long career in a short period of time.” A first-round pick, 12th overall, by the New York Giants in 2014, a hamstring injury cost Beckham the first month of his rookie season.But after his seventh game – at MetLife Stadium …in prime time …against the Dallas Cowboys – everyone knew who OBJ was after his fall-away, one-handed, 43-yard TD catch over cornerback Brandon Carr .It was the epitome of a viral highlight and changed everything for Beckham.”It was after the catch where I literally watched life change.

I watched how people handled me change,” he reflected.

“Everything changed after the catch.

That’s 100% the moment.” The moment he became an instant superstar.A brand.An acronym.Seven-plus years on, Beckham is playing in his first Super Bowl.

In the interim, he’s been a Pro Bowler; a sideline sideshow at times; traded by the Giants to the Browns; oft-injured – including an ACL tear that prematurely ended his 2020 season – and cut by Cleveland last November for reasons it seemed no one could satisfactorily explain.Yet despite the histrionics over the years and the polarizing image OBJ engendered, that portrayal doesn’t seem to square with actuality.Why is that? SUPER BOWL 56 BREAKDOWN: Who has the edge once Rams and Bengals take field? MOVE OVER, TOM BRADY: Rams’ Andrew Whitworth relishes new status as NFL’s oldest active player Ask anyone with the Rams about Beckham, and a throughline emerges tying together the responses.”You say, ‘Perception vs.reality.’ From the outside narrative, you thought he was a selfish player, a guy that just wanted to ball and didn’t care about his teammates,” said Rams receivers coach Eric Yarber.

“But the reality of all that, he’s not a selfish player – he loves his teammates, he plays for his teammates.He prepares in a manner just like the rest of the guys.The effort that he gives on the field is just like all the great ones – you don’t have to push him.

“I saw that from Day 1 in him.He wanted to be coached, and he wanted to be better, he wanted to be a good teammate.It wasn’t like, ‘Give me the ball, give me the ball.’ ” LA receivers tell a similar tale.”Odell has been a great teammate ever since he got here,” said wideout Van Jefferson, who recalled first seeing “the catch” on his phone when he was in high school.

“He’s been nothing but helpful towards me.Telling me different things about the game, things I need to be better on and me learning from him.He came right in, he learned the playbook as well as he needed to, and he’s been making plays over all over the field.I’m glad that he’s here, I think everyone is glad that he’s here.He’s definitely one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had.” Adds receiver and return specialist Brandon Powell: “Having a player like that of that caliber come up to you and say, ‘Man, you’re gonna take one to the house,’ or ‘I need a big return from you,’ that just gives you extra motivation.It’s like, ‘This is Odell Beckham, one of the best receivers in the game, he believes in you.’ That just gives you an extra boost.”It’s been a great feeling to be on a team with him, just having a player like that support you.” Even Kupp, who’s having perhaps the most impressive season a receiver ever has – 170 catches for 2,333 yards and 20 TDs in 20 games – is amazed.”For him to do what he’s doing – for him to be producing the way he has been – speaks volumes to the player that he is, the teammate that he is, the football intelligence that he has to be able to learn this stuff and be able to go out and execute it.

It’s been so impressive watching him work,” said Kupp, noting how quickly Beckham synthesized coach Sean McVay’s playbook while trying to fill the void created by the season-ending knee injury to receiver Robert Woods.”I’ve just got a lot of respect for him and the football player that he is – and that’s not just what he does on the football field but also how he handles himself off of it.” It would seem mission accomplished for Beckham, who felt a calling to join the Rams after being jettisoned by Cleveland.

He wasn’t worried about disproving naysayers when he came to LA and knew better than to expend so much energy trying to live up to outlandish expectations that he’d reinjure himself.His mindset was simpler.”The perception of me is going to walk into the room before I walk into the room,” he said.”If I carry that energy and try to be someone who they don’t think I am instead of just being me, it’s never gonna go the right way.Coming in here, I was just gonna be me.”I hope that they see me for who I am and not what the world had made me to be.” MORE: SoFi Stadium, site of Super Bowl 56, is multibillion dollar dream for three, and nightmare for thousands ‘ONE HELLUVA STORY’: How Kelly and Matthew Stafford found happiness and a Super Bowl in LA What’s the wellspring for the Beckham Admiration Society, especially since it may not be so apparent to outsiders? “OBJ is probably the most – outside of Tom Brady – the most influential football player we’ve seen in the NFL since maybe Michael Vick,” former Bengals receiver Andrew Hawkins, now an NFL Network analyst, told USA TODAY Sports.

“A lot of people don’t get that, but you’ve got to realize when OBJ comes into a locker room, it’s not just a football player coming into a locker room – it’s an icon.”A lot of these guys that are in the locker room – especially young guys – this is someone they’ve looked up to.

There have been other people with a blond mohawk.When OBJ became OBJ – I was at the football camps, I’ve seen all the little kids all rocking blond mohawks trying to catch the ball with one hand, trying to dress like him, look like him, dance like him.

He had that kind of impact.” Beckham, who has more than 15 million followers on Instagram, understands – noting how important football camps have been to him and his impossible-to-slake desire to personally coach and attend to every youngster.He donated his Super Bowl tickets to the “Watts Rams,” a local youth team supported by Beckham’s Rams.”It’s the reason why I do this,” said OBJ, “it warms my heart.” And maybe that more accurately speaks to who Beckham is.

“There’s a lot of conversation around who he is as a teammate, yet you don’t hear ever any of his teammates say he’s a bad teammate.

That’s rare,” said Hawkins.”He’s the easiest target in the NFL, but you don’t hear it because it’s just not true.He’s not a bad teammate.He does his work.

The spotlight follows him no matter where he goes.” Beckham knows it can burn hot.”The world we live in, it’s easier to sell something that has a little more drama than it is the heartfelt and good stories,” he says.Heartfelt love will also flow from the opposite sideline Sunday.”To me, he’s a generational talent,” said Cincinnati receivers coach Troy Walters.”Anytime someone’s a generational talent and can do the things he does on the field – with ease – people gravitate towards it.”He’s got a great personality, always seems like he’s excited, happy, fortunate to be playing the game, and that rubs off on his peers and people want to be like him.” Count Chase among them.

The Bengals’ newest star is a Louisiana native like Beckham and attended LSU …like Beckham.OBJ spent time around Chase’s 2019 national championship team, but now the young standout can’t wait to finally share a field with his Rookie of the Year predecessor.”It will be an unbelievable experience to see him play for the first time (in person),” said Chase.”I didn’t get to see him play when he was with the Browns, but I’m excited to watch.” Beckham had a modest regular season with the Rams, posting 27 catches for 305 yards and five TDs in eight games.But, even though Kupp is quarterback Matthew Stafford’s primary target, OBJ is back to resembling a No.

1 receiver in the playoffs, where he’s had 19 grabs for 236 yards and a score in three contests.”This is a gifted athlete,” says Yarber.”His skills are still at a high level, man.

He’s quick as two cats.

He can run 22, almost 23 miles per hour.

He has the hands of a guy 6-5, the arm length of a guy 6-5.

Great hand-eye coordination.All the things you want to see in a receiver, all the qualities you want in a receiver – he has them still.

I just think a change of scenery helped him out.” Beckham was massive in the NFC championship game win over the San Francisco 49ers , his 113 receiving yards marking the first time he’d topped the century mark in more than two years.His glee on the field was evident, but Beckham also took time to console Niners All-Pro Deebo Samuel, who took the loss hard.”This whole thing has been a full-circle moment for me,” said OBJ, noting the Super Bowl will be his first game against the Bengals since he ripped up his knee in Cincinnati on Oct.25, 2020, and endured the challenges that followed.”Once you’re playing with that joy in your heart, only good things are gonna happen.” Today, he’s a man only too happy to share his testimony.He’s a man awaiting fatherhood, his first child due to arrive any minute – though Beckham fervently hopes he can attend the birth and play in the Super Bowl.After all, this could be the time when the perception of OBJ as an all-time great could be cemented by reality.”I’m just truly blessed and thankful for this opportunity, but the job’s definitely not finished.

I just want to lock in and be able to hoist that trophy up and share this memory with brothers,” he said.”What an opportunity.

Just want to find a way to take advantage of it, man, and be able to call myself a world champion.” *** Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis ..

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