Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has always operated with the premise that his season in Baltimore is about where it ends, not necessarily where it is in the moment. In his often contemplative way, it’s about the journey and the destination.
Over the past few weeks, the two have finally started to come together.
That merging has been significant. In his past three games, Beckham has found a rhythm with quarterback Lamar Jackson as well as a level of speed that he had yet to display since joining the Ravens, with 10 catches for 212 yards and two touchdowns in that span. That included 116 yards in Baltimore’s 34-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night, the most he’s had in a game since Week 2 in 2019 when he was with the Cleveland Browns.
It was against the Browns on Sunday that Beckham also showed off his wheels, taking a short slant and turning it into a 40-yard touchdown. On the play, he hit 19.2 mph, according to Next Gen Stats, his fastest speed as a ball carrier since Week 14 in 2021.
The week before, in a 37-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks, Beckham had five catches for 56 yards, including his first touchdown as a Raven courtesy of backup quarterback Tyler Huntley after Jackson had been pulled amid a blowout.
With tight end Mark Andrews likely out for the rest of the season after suffering a severe ankle injury against the Bengals, performances like the ones Beckham has had in recent weeks will become more paramount. He’s finally having the kind of impact the Ravens had hoped for but weren’t sure he could deliver when they signed him to a one-year, $15 million deal in the offseason.
“Early on in the season, I was hurt, and I just couldn’t be myself,” Beckham said Thursday. “I didn’t have the explosion; I couldn’t move the way that I wanted to. I don’t think people really knew what I was dealing with.”
Initially, neither did the Ravens.
When Baltimore signed Beckham last April, it wasn’t even sure how well the 31-year-old receiver who tore his ACL in October 2020 and again in February 2022 could even run. The move was done in part to appease Jackson, who was embroiled in his own contract negotiations and had requested the team sign Beckham, and in part because the transcendent star was the kind of player who would sell jerseys and tickets.
Still, the Ravens liked enough of what they saw when they were one of several teams Beckham worked out for last March and hoped for the best.
“We saw everything we needed to see, knowing that it’s going to just improve,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in April. “That’s the thing — when a guy has a serious injury in general, it only gets better. It may take time; sometimes it takes longer, but it only gets better. What we saw was extremely encouraging.”
It’s also perhaps why when the two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection injured his ankle on the opening drive of the Ravens’ Week 2 game in Cincinnati and later exited for good in the third quarter, alarm bells weren’t going off inside the team’s Owings Mills headquarters — or in Beckham’s head.
“The best thing that DeCosta and [coach John Harbaugh] did [was when] we were playing the Bengals last time, and they were like, ‘It’s a long season. Just sit down,’” Beckham said. “That changed the entire trajectory of my season. I had the time to get my legs underneath me, and we’re just trying to go up from here.”
Still, the ankle injury Beckham suffered in Week 2 ended up keeping him out of the next two games. One of those was a loss to the Indianapolis Colts in which the Ravens led in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime.
When Beckham returned in Week 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he continued to struggle with his chemistry with Jackson and wasn’t explosive as the Ravens again lost despite leading in the fourth quarter. Beckham had just two catches on four targets for 13 yards, and he was unable to break free from rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. on a short fade route in the end zone in the fourth quarter that ended up being intercepted.
The following week against the Tennessee Titans in London wasn’t a lot better with two catches for 34 yards, as well as a dropped pass and a scuffle after the game with Titans defensive end Jeffrey Simmons. In Week 7 against the Detroit Lions, Beckham had five catches for 49 yards, but the next week he was held without a catch against the Arizona Cardinals. It was just the second time in his eight-year career that he didn’t record a reception, though he was at least the beneficiary of two pass interference calls and a holding penalty.
Then came the game against Seattle. Though it wasn’t Jackson who threw the touchdown pass to Beckham, the quarterback celebrated with the receiver after the play, which fittingly featured a route named “Odell” that the Ravens had put in their playbook last season. It also came on the receiver’s birthday.
“It’s just been a long time coming — a lot of hard work,” Beckham said. “It’s just a step in the right direction.”
And for the Ravens, perhaps just the beginning of the journey to where Beckham wants to ultimately help take them.