Going Deep: Odell Beckham Jr.’s Intriguing Opportunity in Cleveland

Ryan Kruse covers Odell Beckham Jr.'s move to the Browns and 2019 outlook.

The Giants trading away their star wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., to the Cleveland Browns was one of the more eye-opening NFL offseason moves. Now, one of the most talented receivers in the game is moving to an offense with high expectations heading into 2019. Fantasy football is a game where success is predicated upon players’ talent and opportunity, so let’s break down both.

 

Talent

 

At 5’11” and 200 pounds, OBJ has surprisingly average measurables. That being said, his athleticism, speed, and yards after the catch stats are some of the best in football. Beckham Jr.’s ability to quickly run crisp routes while shaking defenders, high-point the ball, and make dazzling one-handed catches more than makes up for his stature. I mean, there aren’t many people on Earth capable of stuff like this:

 

 

 

 

Beckham Jr. is also one of the best at finding the end zone. With 44 TD’s in 59 career games, his TD rate is a staggering .75 per game (3rd in the NFL). Despite a mediocre-at-best Eli Manning throwing him the ball, Beckham Jr. has averaged 6.6 catches and 92.8 yards per game. That translates to 105.6 catches, 1484 yards, and 11.8 touchdowns in a full 16-game season.

Unfortunately, we need to extrapolate that data because Beckham Jr. has played in only 16 of his team’s last 32 games. Despite finishing outside the top 10 fantasy wide receivers the past two years, people are still confidently taking Odell as the fourth or fifth wide receiver off the board in fantasy drafts. Concerns over Beckham Jr.’s health are justified, though there’s no denying OBJ is an elite option if and when he plays a full season.

Let’s be real though, I didn’t really need to say anything for this section. I could have just posted gifs.

 

Bottle up and inject intravenously.

 

A few more Odell Beckham Jr. stats before moving on:

  • Since entering the NFL in 2014, Beckham Jr. has been top 5 in pretty much every major receiving category, including targets per game, receptions per game, receiving yards per game, and receiving touchdowns.
  • OBJ consistently impresses even when his seasons are cut short. He is the only player in the Super Bowl era with two seasons of 1,000+ receiving yards in 12 games or less.
  • Career per-game averages extrapolated over 16 games would make Beckham Jr. the 5th overall wide receiver in 2018.

 

Opportunity

 

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months I’ve got good news for you: Eli Manning is no longer throwing the ball to OBJ!

 

Admit it, that face is exactly what you pictured when I mentioned Eli.

 

Going from Eli to Baker Mayfield is like upgrading from a cheeseburger to a porterhouse steak with A-1 sauce. Mayfield posted 7.7 yards per attempt as a rookie, something Eli has accomplished only twice in his 15-year career. Eli ranked 17th in deep-ball accuracy last year while Baker Mayfield ranked 2nd.

One year ago, if I told you that Beckham Jr. was going to the Browns, upgrading his QB, and increasing his ADP, you would have probably laughed me out the building. This year, things are a little different.

Pull up a seat my fellow fantasy hermits, and I’ll tell you a story about how the Browns became a competent football team seemingly overnight. Last year, after losing to the Steelers in week 8, the Browns head office (in their infinite wisdom) determined that 36 losses out of 40 games was enough and decided to finally end the misery that was the Hue Jackson era.

The Browns hired Freddie Kitchens and the team quickly turned around. Kitchens’ technique was simple yet brilliant. He asked Baker Mayfield and his offensive linemen to each write down their five favorite plays so Kitchens could better play to their strengths. Freddie also relieved the pressure on his rookie quarterback by drastically reducing hits and sacks. Baker Mayfield was sacked 20 times in his first six games. Once Kitchens took over, Mayfield was sacked just five times in his next six games. From week 9 on, the Browns allowed a league-lowest seven hits on their quarterback.

Less pressure on the quarterback gave Baker Mayfield the opportunity to showcase his talents. After last year’s performance, people are beginning to think Mayfield could be the real deal. Much of that success is due to Kitchens’ offensive scheme. After week 8, the Browns kept defenses guessing with multiple groupings and formations. They focused on getting the ball out quickly so the offense could spread the field and create big plays with Mayfield’s impressive arm. Everything just seemed to click.

Enter Odell Beckham Jr.

 

 

With such an elite talent heading to an offense that should keep going up, it’s clear why people are so high on Beckham Jr. this year. The only real drawback to OBJ’s current opportunity and ADP is the question of how much work he will get with so much supporting talent in Cleveland. Let’s talk target share.

Firstly, I don’t think the backfield will take away too many targets from Beckham Jr. He still put up great numbers with Saquon Barkley averaging 16.3 attempts per game last year. Even though Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both incredibly talented, I don’t see their involvement hindering OBJ’s targets. I think Cleveland’s receivers will likely pose a bigger threat.

In his best season, 2015, Beckham Jr. was targeted on 26% of the Giants passes. That’s right about where you want your WR1 to be. For comparison, Jarvis Landry had the exact same target share last year for the Browns. Make no mistake, Beckham Jr. will be the new undisputed WR1 for the Browns, though it should be interesting to see just how much of that target share he earns in his first year. That 26% share in Cleveland is good for about 145 targets. Thing is, it’s not just Landry competing for looks in Cleveland.

David Njoku impressed last year and many are expecting the young tight end to take a big step up. The rising talent in the Cleveland offense could make it tough for Beckham Jr. to get a large slice of the pie, at least in his first year. I think even if OBJ gets fewer targets in 2019, we need to remember the quality of those targets should be much better than if he were still with the Giants. I’ll gladly take 20-35 fewer targets in a more efficient offense with a better QB.

That being said, some football analysts are concerned it may take a while for OBJ to acclimate himself to his new team and offensive scheme. Few wide receivers can memorize a playbook in one offseason with limited practice. Beckham Jr. doesn’t seem too worried though. “The good news is we play in September,” said the 26-year-old star. “We have a lot of time to build chemistry.”

It seems OBJ has been progressing well despite a few sensationalized stories. Back in June, the media tried to stir up drama when Beckham Jr. skipped voluntary workouts. Long story short, Kitchens mentioned that Odell was missing out by not being in Cleveland and it snowballed from there.

Kitchens quickly clarified when he said Beckham Jr. “missed a lot – he understands that – but he did not miss as much as you really think because he has been studying every night just like these other guys.” In other words, don’t worry about OBJ unless there are negative reports coming out of camp. Otherwise, it’s a non-story.

Despite several immature emotional blunders involving Beckham Jr. (fighting a kicking net, punching holes in walls) he’s never struggled to earn the respect of his fellow teammates. Most reports out of Cleveland suggest that Beckham Jr. is fitting right in. Best buddy and college roommate Jarvis Landry has been posting workout photos with OBJ this offseason. Meanwhile, David Njoku has said OBJ is “a great teammate and a great person.”

With training camp just around the corner, all eyes will be on the Cleveland Browns and their new star WR1. Odell Beckham Jr. should be in for a great year on a much more efficient offense, even if he faces target regression. His ability to get open in space already fits Kitchens’ offensive scheme focused on spreading the field. He is exactly what the Browns need right now: a deep threat speedster capable of making big plays while the talented supporting cast keeps defenses honest. If that isn’t enough to get excited about OBJ this year, then just listen to the man himself. “Words don’t even really do it justice for me,’’ said Beckham. “I’m almost giddy, I feel like a little kid with the excitement that I have.”

 

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

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