Odell Beckham Jr. ready for new chapter with Baltimore Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Odell Beckham Jr. thrives on confidence, and as the Baltimore Ravens' training camp nears, Beckham's counting on that confidence now, just like he did at the biggest point of his career.

Beckham remembers waking up on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, feeling like he was going to be the best player in Super Bowl LVI. Finally, at the end of his eighth season and first with the Los Angeles Rams, it was going to be his opportunity to hoist a Lombardi Trophy.

"I've never seen you like that before a game," Beckham's mother, Heather Van Norman, told him.

Beckham believed he was on his way to earning Super Bowl MVP honors as he caught two passes for 52 yards and scored the game's first touchdown on a 17-yard reception in the first quarter. Then, with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left in the second quarter, Beckham ran a shallow crossing route before reaching back for Matthew Stafford's pass, which was slightly behind him. Nobody hit Beckham, who fell to the SoFi Stadium turf, clutching his left knee.

His Super Bowl was over.

"It sucks. There's no way around it," Beckham said recently. "I didn't get to live out that moment. This is really something I've dedicated my entire life to -- this game and this sport -- and I just wanted to have that moment."

The Rams went on to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20, but for Beckham, it was bittersweet.

"It's hard when you get to the pinnacle of success in this sport, and you feel it was taken away from you," he said. "It wasn't something that was easy to live with."

Beckham, who signed a one-year, $15 million contract with Baltimore in April, hasn't played since. When he lines up for the Ravens in September, it will mark his first game in 574 days.

His long-awaited comeback is driven by his desire to reclaim that ripped-away moment. Beckham never again wants to taste what he has described as bitter champagne.

"I'm excited, but I'm also very determined and hungry," Beckham said. "So through the smiles there's still this, 'I really want this badly.' I'm ready to be great, ready to be excellent again."

Known for a remarkable one-handed grab while with the New York Giants in 2014, Beckham is looking to dazzle the football world once again, but history suggests it won't be easy. Only five wide receivers in NFL history have produced 1,000 yards after missing a full year, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. No wide receiver has accomplished this since Jordy Nelson seven years ago.

"The doubts are for whoever has them to have them, but it's not what enters my mind and my body," Beckham said. "I know what I can do."

The Ravens believe in Beckham. They showed it with their wallet -- it was the largest one-year payout to a wide receiver in franchise history, and the pursuit of OBJ was so important it included a rare free agent call from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.

The Ravens signed Beckham while quarterback Lamar Jackson was deciding whether he wanted to return to Baltimore. The acquisition was viewed as a way to help entice Jackson to stay.

Asked whether the signing move was a gamble, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta explained how the team has had other players come back from this type of injury and flourish. He pointed to how Beckham performed at such a high level in the Super Bowl and how he played huge games against the Ravens in the past.

"Remember the game [in 2016], it was a tough game for [coach] John [Harbaugh] ... I don't know how many yards he had, but it was probably about 200," DeCosta said.

Harbaugh quickly added, "Odell remembers. He reminded me."

Beckham recorded a career-high 222 yards receiving against Baltimore in 2016, scoring the winning 66-yard touchdown for the Giants with 1:24 remaining.

But it was the interactions with Beckham over the past year, after he became a free agent, that convinced the Ravens, as well as Beckham, that this was the ideal fit for both sides.

Baltimore's courtship began last October, when team officials first spoke with Beckham's agent, Zeke Sandhu, about a deal. The Ravens then talked with Beckham after the season, but nothing materialized.

On March 11, the Ravens were among 11 teams who attended Beckham's private workout in Arizona. Team officials later watched the video of Beckham running routes. They dissected his burst, agility and conditioning.

"What we saw was extremely encouraging," DeCosta said. "That's probably the thing that we're most excited about. We're getting somebody who's ready to explode again."

Two weeks later, DeCosta spoke with Beckham at the league meeting, where he was immediately assured that Beckham would be 100 percent invested in the team and its culture.

"I have to tell you, after two minutes in Arizona sitting across the table from Odell, I had no doubt in my mind that this was the right guy for the team," DeCosta said.

For Beckham, he was ultimately persuaded to come to Baltimore by another conversation. Bisciotti made the uncharacteristic move of reaching out to him, which got Beckham fired up about the opportunity to play for Baltimore.

"He made me feel like somebody wants me to be here, wants me to be great, wants me to be a part of this team and this organization," Beckham said. "And at this point in my life, that's everything I need -- is to be wanted -- and that's pretty much the story for me."

After talking to Bisciotti, Beckham texted his agent: "I want to be a Raven."

Two weeks after signing with Baltimore, Beckham ran into Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey at a boxing match in Las Vegas.

Instead of rehashing their on-field scuffle a few years ago, they spoke about winning a Super Bowl.

"I know his mind is right," Humphrey said.

But is his body? If Beckham wants to lead another team to the Super Bowl, it's all about where he is physically. The injury in 2022 wasn't his first to his left knee.

In October 2020, while with the Cleveland Browns, Beckham suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee while tackling a Bengals defender following a Baker Mayfield interception. But he said the surgery wasn't successful.

After getting released by the Browns and signing with the Rams in November 2021, Beckham said the Rams' team physician told him he didn't have an ACL in his left knee.

Beckham declined to redo the surgery. He said he told the doctor: "I came here to help win the championship."

After having the ACL reattached, Beckham returned to the practice field with the Ravens for the first time in the middle of June for minicamp, and he practiced on a limited basis for two of the three days. He didn't create any instant highlights, catching one pass from Jackson during team drills. But the more important takeaway: Beckham ran without any problems.

"He's in a place in his career where I feel like he has a lot to prove," Harbaugh said. "I think he feels like he's going to be the healthiest he's been in a few years. So, let's go."

After his first practice with Beckham, Jackson referred to him as a "legend" for what he did with the Giants. Beckham had five 1,000-yard seasons through his first six years in the league, becoming one of the most popular players in the league. But he hasn't had a 600-yard receiving season since 2019.

Beckham will turn 31 in November, which stirs up more questions on whether he can become a Pro Bowl wide receiver again.

"If you can play, you can play," Beckham said. "It's more of a mindset, and that might just be me trying to not get old, but that's just how I feel."

One quote that Beckham has emphasized is "You're only as good as your last game."

"I'm not worried about coming back from this because I've come back before, and now I'm way past the mental part of, 'Am I going to be alright?'" Beckham said. "At the end of the day, we can write all the stories in the world, but it all comes down to what you do on the field during the season."