The New York Giants' best punt returner doubles as their top receiver. Who knows, he may also be their best running back, cornerback and kicker as well.
It’s actually quite simple -- Odell Beckham Jr. is the Giants' best playmaker, which puts coach Ben McAdoo in a sticky situation considering the damage Beckham did as a punt returner on Sunday in Cleveland.
The Giants resisted the temptation to use Beckham to return punts for most of his first three seasons. But they were so displeased with Dwayne Harris’ decision-making and Bobby Rainey’s lack of ball security as punt returners that they turned to Beckham last Sunday. After seeing the results against the Browns, the Giants might change their minds on Beckham's special-teams role with the team entering a tough stretch run -- beginning this Sunday on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Beckham, 24, had punt returns of 12, 28 and 59 yards against the Browns. The last of the three went for a touchdown but was negated by a penalty. The 28-yard return was also brought back by a penalty.
It was still more than enough to open the coaches' eyes. Harris and Rainey haven’t produced a return of more than 17 yards this season.
Beckham at punt returner could be the added weapon the Giants need considering their struggle to score points this season.
“It was electric,” McAdoo said following the 27-13 victory over the Browns. “When he has the opportunity to get his hands on the ball, he’s sure-handed back there. He’s electric with the ball in his hands.”
The dilemma the Giants face is weighing whether the added risk of Beckham getting injured while returning punts outweighs the potential reward from getting the ball in the hands of their best player a few more times each game. Beckham was averaging six touches per game entering last week. Adding punt-returning responsibilities would boost that total.
Antonio Brown is considered by many to be the best wide receiver in the NFL and he serves as the Steelers’ primary punt returner. It allows Pittsburgh to put the ball in his hands more.
Brown is averaging 8.5 touches per game and it hasn’t resulted in an injury. He has played in 64 straight regular-season games for the Steelers.
The Giants must look at the rate of injury before making their decision. They must also factor in Beckham’s injury history, which includes a hip problem earlier this season and thumb pain that forced him to leave Sunday’s game for a few plays.
McAdoo wouldn’t commit Monday to using Beckham as the Giants’ full-time or part-time punt returner.
“We’ll take a look at it and talk through it in the game plan meetings this week,” he said.
Beckham wouldn’t seem to mind, especially with the Giants having trouble putting the ball in his hands at times this season. He had just three touches in the first three quarters of the previous week’s win over the Chicago Bears. He finished with five touches in the contest.
Adding punt-return responsibilities would increase the potential for big plays.
“You’re going to have to talk with Coach about that one,” Beckham said after the win over the Browns. “Between us, I wouldn’t mind doing it. You never know. Maybe I might get back there. It just depends. With Dwayne being as banged up as he is -- this guy really comes out and gives us his all every day, he had the touchdown on offense [Sunday]. It was great. … He really gives us his all every day and we appreciate it.”
But Beckham may be able to give the Giants even more on punt returns. The solution may be to use him part-time in that role.
Don’t be surprised to see the Giants pick their spots -- late in games, against top teams or in the playoffs -- with Beckham as their punt returner.
Jordan Raanan | espn.com | November 29, 2016