Ford: Will Green-Beckham ever catch on?

Eagl08-o
Receivers Nelson Agholor (left) and Dorial Green-Beckham (right).

Dorial Green-Beckham is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, fast and agile, and 23 years old. If you wanted to build an elite NFL wide receiver – a slightly taller, comparably quick version of Julio Jones, the elite pass catcher the Eagles face on Sunday – the prototype would look a lot like Green-Beckham.

This isn't news, and hasn't been for a while. When Green-Beckham was coming out of high school, Rivals.com named him the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Not just the No. 1 wide receiver recruit, which Jones also was as a high school senior, but the No. 1 recruit at any position.

So, what happened between then and now? How is it that Green-Beckham, as he should be entering the most exciting, productive period of his professional career, is the most scorned receiver for a team on which that's not an easy title to hold.

Green-Beckham was the intended receiver on five passes last Sunday against the Giants, but didn't catch any of them. For the season, he has 18 receptions on 36 targeted attempts and has seemed to sort of drift around the field at times, usually in the close company of a defender. When the ball does come his way, this often appears to be a surprise to him and he reacts like a man trying to catch a balloon while wearing oven mitts. Overall, it hasn't been pretty.

"It didn't go as well as we planned in the game. Going against coverages like that, we just know every week we have to continue to work on those little things, those little details," Green-Beckham said after practice last week. "The first thing you have to do is get the timing down, starting at practice, and every day after practice we work with the quarterbacks so during the games, situations like that don't happen."

Doug Pederson went out of his way to express his support for Green-Beckham after the Giants game. It isn't as if Pederson has so many talented receivers he can afford to cast one aside. Green-Beckham was on the field for 65 percent of the offensive snaps against New York and there's no reason to believe his workload will decrease this week. What exactly he was doing on the 44 plays in which he wasn't involved is a good question, but Pederson is sticking with him.

"He's a young player. Again, remember we got him late here, so he's been kind of behind the teaching curve," Pederson said. "He hasn't had a full offseason yet, under our system."

Unless Green-Beckham improves in the second half of this season, he's even-money to never have a full offseason here. So, this is something of a career dividing line for the best recruit in the country who has somehow become the worst receiver on a bad receiving team. There are factors working against him, as there have been throughout his life, but maybe this time it clicks.

Dorial Isaiah Green grew up in a Springfield, Mo., family that was not just broken but shattered. He lived in a succession of foster homes until the age of 16, when he and a brother were adopted by his high school coach, John Beckham. It was a difficult early life and it would take more expertise than can be employed here to say if the receiver's later problems, off the field and on it, were a result.

In any case, there have been problems, some of which are the reason Green-Beckham is with his fourth team in four years. He was dismissed from the Missouri team after two seasons following a series of run-ins with police, none of which resulted in criminal charges. He was twice arrested for marijuana possession and, more seriously, was accused of breaking through the door of an apartment in search of his girlfriend and knocking another woman down a short flight of steps during a brief melee. The alleged victim declined to cooperate with police.

Green-Beckham transferred to Oklahoma, but only practiced with the Sooners during the 2014 season because the NCAA denied his request for a waiver of the transfer eligibility rule. He entered the 2015 NFL draft and was taken in the second round, 40th overall, by the Tennessee Titans. One underwhelming season and most of one frustrating training camp later, the Titans traded him to the Eagles in exchange for Dennis Kelly, who had been a backup tackle here and who is a backup tackle there.

"I think a lot of times it has to do with culture," said receiver Jordan Matthews. "I wasn't in Tennessee, but there are some receivers who aren't there anymore. And there were some older players on the back half of their career who don't have to put as much on the field to perform in games. We have to practice [here] on a whole 'nother level. That's what's going to take DGB to the next level. His routes are getting crisper, he's more focused, he's learning the plays. He's doing all those things."

Can it be that simple, that Green-Beckham has never been in an environment in which work and precision are demanded? That seems unlikely, but at 23, perhaps he is finally about to get it.

"You have to be in the right place at the right time. If the route is 12 yards, go 12 yards. That's what the quarterback needs," Green-Beckham said. "You have to be patient. Opportunities are going to come."

True enough, but Dorial Green-Beckham isn't going to turn things around and become the receiver everyone expected until he fully focuses on the fact that opportunities can go, too.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports