How High Is Odell Beckham’s Fantasy Football Ceiling?
There are very few moments in our lives where something special comes along and we all stop to watch it at the same time.
Halley’s Comet is a beautiful ball of ice and rock, hurtling through the solar system and past our planet only once every 75 years. It’s a legendary celestial phenomenon that most of us only get one shot in our lives to see, so in 2061, I will be making plans to drop everything and experience that moment in all of its glory.
But there’s a shooting star in the NFL who demands our attention right now, and you can see him almost every single week on TV.
That of course is Odell Beckham, the incredible wide receiver for the New York Giants, who is well on the path to cementing a career trajectory that may just pass right into Canton's Pro Football Hall of Fame -- and he's entering just his third year. Still, that is a destination lightyears in the future. We can live in the present and savor Beckham’s receiving prowess in real-time, especially on our fantasy teams.
Is Beckham’s fantasy ceiling at a celestial level, or is he merely an earthbound mortal when it comes to the virtual gridiron?
We Are Made of Star Stuff
It may seem odd for me, of all people, to be writing an article about how great Odell Beckham and his fantasy ceiling are. After all, last year I was not on the OBJ hype train. 365 days ago, it was not logical or statistically probable to say that this young wide receiver -- who was not even the highest-ranked or highest-drafted wide receiver in his own draft class -- would follow up arguably the best rookie receiving season in NFL history with a just-as-impressive sophomore showing.
Yes, at this point, that’s the stratosphere that we put ourselves in when we discuss the fantasy upside of Beckham, who has more receiving yards and targets than any other NFL wide receiver in the first two years of their career, including the likes of Rice and Moss.
The table below shows Beckham’s production among the top-five receivers in fantasy points per game (PPG) in their first two years, with his ranking among these receivers in other categories as well. Just how good has OBJ been?
|1||Odell Beckham||15.83 (1st)||187 (2nd)||288 (1st)||2,755 (1st)||25 (2nd)||14.73 (68th)|
The only measure that Beckham doesn’t rank in the top-two of is yards per reception, a very forgivable flaw for a player with an average of 25 more catches per year than the receivers around him in that rate stat. That Beckham maintained such high efficiency at such a ridiculous workload is impressive in and of itself.
There’s little doubt that OBJ has been the best wide receiver in the universe two years into his NFL journey, but where will his career take him from here?
O.B. Phone Home
I decided the best way to look at this outlier wide receiver was to examine the careers of other exceptional wideouts and see if we can find any patterns to their production that will help us understand Beckham’s career trajectory and potential.
There are a grand total of eight receivers with the same kind of early-career dominance that Beckham has displayed that also have delivered at least five elite-quality fantasy seasons in the NFL as well. Those players are Moss, Rice, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Marques Colston, Isaac Bruce, Larry Fitzgerald, and Calvin Johnson. Each of them had a fantasy points per game rate of 10.00 or higher in their first two years and a career fantasy points per game of 9.00 or higher.
The chart below shows the average of their combined careers by year in the league, cutting off at Year 9. Moss, Rice, and Bruce obviously played beyond that year marker, but some of the receivers haven’t yet gotten near that point (Green, Jones) and some barely got there (Colston, Johnson). It’s a good middle point, and the data isn’t nearly as strong with the even smaller dataset beyond that.
How did these truly elite receivers age?
Most wide receivers need the first year in the NFL to rev up, but more recently, they have begun to dominate from Year 1 onward. Green and Jones both had points per game rates over 10.00 in their first season, unlike Rice and Bruce.
Beckham, of course, had a 17.17 points per game rate in Year 1, following it up with a 14.89 in his sophomore season. This seems to run counter to the average, but in all likelihood, it’s more a function of more games played (he missed four due to injury at the start of 2014) and natural statistical regression.
The big thing to note about these elite receivers as a whole is that -- while the second year typically sees peak production for a player -- there is another peak around Years 5 and 6 before a gradual decline. In addition, the trendline shows us that the average of these years only declines by about one point per game over the course of nine years.
Peaks are nice, but that continued dominance is even better.
We know Beckham is a fantasy football alien, but perhaps his best statistical comparison over the early portion of his career, Randy Moss, was even more an outlier for his times. You can view Moss’ Year 1 through Year 9 production arc below.
From Years 1 through 5, Moss hung around in the 11.00 to 15.00 fantasy points per game range, averaging 13.11 fantasy points per game, right on with the elite average we discussed before. 13.11 is a 6.62-percent drop from his first two years’ average; if the same happens to Beckham, he should have a five-year average of about 14.78 points per game, or a rate nearly identical to his 2015 production.
It seems fair to think that OBJ could then stick within a similar range from his likely average of about 12.00 to 16.00 points per game over those five years.
Moss also saw a Year 6 spike, which lines up with the average elite spike as well. For reference, the average spike in Year 6 is around 1.24 standard deviations above the norm. For Beckham, that would essentially mean a repeat of his rookie year efficiency, at around 17.17 fantasy points per game. With even last year’s volume of around 10.5 targets per game, Beckham would put up the third-best wide receiver fantasy season ever, with 275 points.
What does this mean for Beckham’s fantasy ceiling? In all likelihood, he’s probably hit it already on a per-game basis. Still if anyone could do it again, it’s OBJ. He’s in rare company, not just as a young receiver: only seven other players have put up multiple 14.00 fantasy point per game seasons in their entire careers. Rice and Marvin Harrison are in the Hall of Fame. Moss, Johnson, and Terrell Owens could be.
Perhaps that’s the true upside of Odell Beckham in fantasy football: it’s not that he ever will or won’t beat Rice’s record of 20.74 fantasy points per game, it’s that -- like Rice and Moss -- he should remain a dominant force on the fantasy gridiron for years to come.