LSU’s dynamic duo (Photo Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
The LSU football team hasn’t matched expectations. That isn’t because their offense cannot move the football, which has typically been the biggest problem for the Tigers in the Les Miles era. LSU’s pipeline of top-level quarterback prospects has been dry for some time. The pipeline of top-level wide receiver prospects has been mostly landmines for teams who have been willing to drop early round picks on them.
The Tigers skill-position players are out to change that, particularly junior receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. As senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has improved under NFL outcast Cam Cameron’s tutelage, Beckham and Landry have plundered opposing secondaries for big plays.
Statistical improvements for LSU’s passing attack are notable, with credit spread across the board. Yards per game are up from a meager 197 yards in 2012 to 268 yards in 2013. Yards per pass attempt follow suit at 10.3 yards (3rd in FBS) in 2013 from the previous season’s 7.2 yards.
Trying to decipher the dynamics of a talented quarterback with talented receivers is no small task. Is the quarterback making the receivers look better than they really are, or vice versa? Zach Mettenberger’s improvement from his junior season to senior season cannot be understated. With growth in his accuracy, footwork, and delivery, there were bound to be statistical improvements in Baton Rouge. When breaking down LSU’s passing game, it becomes clear that Mettenberger isn’t necessarily carrying the Tigers offense though. While he has been playing at a high level, his receivers bring something to the table that has brought out the best in Mettenberger. His production has been less the case of picking apart defenses and dropping dimes down the field, as it has been laying in contested balls to receivers he trusts, who complement the way he extends the ball down the field.
Both Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry possess developed pass-catching skills that are a huge part of the Tigers offense. Each has their own style and play off of each other to give LSU multiple ways of attacking some of the best defenses in the country. Their exploits at the college level are the type that will translate to Sundays as well, which will make them valuable assets for a team to go after on draft weekend in May.
Odell Beckham falls under the playmaker category for the Tigers, but also has the skillset to become more of a high-target pass catcher in the NFL. We begin with a route he works to perfection and what he’s capable of with the ball in his hands.
This play occurs late in the first quarter of the Florida game, with LSU trailing 3-0. The Gators secondary shows man coverage on the outside, which isn’t something LSU wouldn’t have expected. Loucheiz Purifoy is singled up with Odell Beckham, who is running a deep comeback off play action.
The key to this route is having the explosiveness to press the cornerback deep with long speed and sell the nine route. It’s also important for Beckham to free himself from contact. If Purifoy can get a hand to the hip of the receiver, he can bump him on the route and more quickly adjust when the receiver breaks it off. Beckham strategically clears himself from contact by fighting off Purifoy’s hands mid-route. The space he has cleared at the route break makes Purifoy’s task impossible.
Beckham isn’t the type of receiver who wastes steps on this route either. He has an impressive ability to come under control in a flash and plant his foot to change direction. Notice how far he sinks his hips while maintaining his balance. That’s where the ability comes from.
This is where Beckham picks up his quarterback on a difficult throw in a way too many receivers are unable. Mettenberger’s throw travels approximately 35 yards in the air, throwing from the far hash. On a majority of comeback routes where the quarterback gets what he wants (isolated defender on a receiver like Beckham) the ball comes out before the receiver’s break and arrives on time. Mettenberger checks deep before throwing Beckham’s way, which leaves work to do for the receiver.
It’s far from uncommon for a receiver to lazily come out of his route while waiting for the ball to arrive, just asking to play tag with a cornerback who is taking the ball the other direction. Beckham comes out of his route and drives back to the football at least six yards, considering he comes all the way back to the sticks to haul it in. He even sets himself up to slip the defender after the catch. Beckham plants his outside foot in anticipation of the ball arriving, and drives back to the inside when he tucks the ball away. He picks up another 12 yards after the catch, simply by utilizing his balance and athleticism along with his nuanced route running technique.
To simplify things for this next play, it all comes down to an ability to flat out catch the football. As crazy as it sounds, this might be a trait that is somewhat overlooked in wide receiver prospects.
The coverage has the upper hand on a simple nine route from Beckham on this occasion. Mississippi State brings five man pressure with a Cover 2 man look. That means they’re manned up across the board, with two deep safeties. The cornerback over Beckham can get inside leverage on his route, press him to the sideline, and rely on his safety help.
With Zach Mettenberger’s willingness to throw into coverage and trust his receivers, coverage is never that simple for opposing defenses. Mettenberger lifts the ball up over the cornerback to allow Beckham to highpoint it. Beckham lifts off the ground with an impressive vertical and snatches it out of the air with impeccable pass-catching technique.
A receiver who makes a habit of trapping the ball with his body won’t be able to make this play in the routine fashion that Beckham does. You would be hard-pressed to find many examples of Beckham allowing the ball into his body on a catch. Instead, he extends for it and plucks it out of the air, which makes him that much more reliable. Being able to adjust to the ball in the air and make these types of catches while covered means a quarterback can place the ball in Beckham’s general vicinity and rely on him to go get it.
For further evidence of the reliability Beckham brings, we go back to their first game of the season against a talented TCU secondary.
The Tigers run a patented double post concept. When Mettenberger sees a single-high safety, and his two post routes are run by Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, he smells blood in the water. The safety will have to make a choice, and the other receiver will have a 1 v. 1 matchup.
Beckham gets a step on the cornerback out of his break. Mettenberger has already read the safety, who’s come forward to help on Landry. The deep ball is actually somewhat underthrown from the cannon-armed Mettenberger. Instinctively, Beckham slows while holding the cornerback off behind him. He tracks the ball and snatches it out of the air in a place where the cornerback can’t make a play on it. If he tries to keep running away from the cornerback while reaching back to catch the ball below his waist, the defender would have been able to make a play on it.
It’s yet another example of where Odell Beckham shows an understanding of some of the finest points of playing his position. He’s able to pick up his quarterback in contested ball situations in a way that will make him immediately effective in the NFL.