Fantasy Football: Expectations for Odell Beckham in Cleveland
Arguably the biggest transaction of the NFL offseason was the Cleveland Browns' acquisition of three-time Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham from the New York Giants. It signified a clear effort by the Browns to go all-in on chasing a Super Bowl in the near future by adding an elite weapon to an already dangerous offense led by Baker Mayfield.
From a fantasy football perspective, at first glance you might expect this trade to immediately boost Beckham's stock. Mayfield and the Browns' offense is trending up, while Eli Manning and the Giants' offense appear to be headed in the opposite direction. A closer examination of Beckham's situation, however, shows this might not be such an obvious upgrade for Beckham's fantasy stock, at least in the short term.
To get a better feel for a realistic expectation for Beckham's 2019 season, let's take a closer look at some pros and cons to his new situation.
New Offense, New Opportunities
This would have been a wild statement to make just one year ago, but of all the possible landing spots for Beckham, Cleveland may have been the ideal team for his fantasy outlook.
With head coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken joining forces, the Browns will likely have one of the most aggressive downfield passing attacks in 2019, and Beckham will be the focal point.
Last year while he was calling plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Monken's offense led the NFL in percentage of pass attempts travelling 15 or more yards downfield (27.0 percent), according to Sports Info Solutions. And guess who finished second? That right, the Browns at 26.8 percent. In fact, after Kitchens took over the playcalling duties in Week 9, the Browns eclipsed the Buccaneers rate, throwing at least 15 yards downfield on 27.7 percent of their attempts.
With two of the league's most aggressive playcallers now working in tandem, we should expect the Kitchens/Monken offense to rank near the top of the league in this statistic, perhaps even surpassing Monken's league-leading rate from a season ago.
In 2018 with the Giants, 29.2 percent of Beckham's targets were 15 or more yards downfield—a strong rate, but likely below the rate he'll see in Cleveland. Here's a comparison of Beckham's 2018 target breakdown to the Browns top receivers after Kitchens took over in Week 9:
|WR||Targets||15+ Yard Targets||15+ Yard Target Rate|
Change of Scenery Doesn't Always Help
It would be easy to look at some of these numbers and expect Beckham to put up a career year in Cleveland. History, however, is not on his side. When elite receivers change teams, it tends to put a dent in their fantasy performance, at least in the short term.
Over the past 10 seasons there have been nine wide receivers who changed teams following a year in which they averaged at least 15 fantasy points per game, based on PPR scoring. That list includes Beckham and Antonio Brown who changed uniforms this offseason:
|WR||Year||Tm||PPR/G||Next Yr Team||Next Yr PPR/G||Diff|
Among the seven receivers on this list who changed teams prior to Beckham and Brown, all seven saw a decrease in points per game the following year, by an average of 2.6 points.
If this trend holds true for Beckham, that would set his projection at 16.6 points per game. To put that number into perspective, Robert Woods averaged 16.6 points per game last season, which ranked 14th among receivers who played at least 10 games.
It's worth pointing out, however, that some decrease in production should be expected of every receiver who tops 15 points per game.
The receivers in this 10-year sample who did not change teams decreased their production the following season by an average of 1.98 points per game, compared to 2.6 among the receivers who did find a new home. So while there does appear to be a disadvantage to a change of scenery, the entire decrease in production can't be attributed to that alone.
The Baker Mayfield Effect
If you're expecting Beckham to buck this trend based on his upgrade from Manning to Mayfield at quarterback, once again history is not on Beckham's side. Historically this type of upgrade has not led to an increase in production. Here's a look at the players from the previous list with a breakdown of their quarterback changes:
|WR||Year||Tm||Primary QB(s)||Next Yr Team||Next Yr QB(s)|
|Odell Beckham||2018||NYG||Eli Manning||CLE||Baker Mayfield|
|Antonio Brown||2018||PIT||Ben Roethlisberger||OAK||Derek Carr|
|Jarvis Landry||2017||MIA||Jay Cutler||CLE||Baker Mayfield|
|Brandin Cooks||2016||NOR||Drew Brees||NWE||Tom Brady|
|Jeremy Maclin||2014||PHI||Foles/Sanchez||KAN||Alex Smith|
|DeSean Jackson||2013||PHI||Nick Foles||WAS||Griffin/Cousins/McCoy|
|Eric Decker||2013||DEN||Peyton Manning||NYJ||Geno Smith|
|Wes Welker||2012||NWE||Tom Brady||DEN||Peyton Manning|
|Brandon Marshall||2009||DEN||Kyle Orton||MIA||Chad Henne|
Just last season we saw Beckham's new teammate Jarvis Landry experience a similar upgrade from Jay Cutler to Mayfield, but he still suffered a decrease of 2.7 points per game. We've also seen players make lateral moves, such as Wes Welker swapping Tom Brady for Peyton Manning, while still suffering a dropoff in production.
So, as talented as Beckham is, there will likely be a learning curve as he adjusts to new teammates, coaches and a new playbook in Cleveland. His favorable role in the Browns offense may offset some of the expected decline, but it might be unrealistic to expect Beckham to build upon the numbers he generated in New York. Of course this doesn't mean you should avoid Beckham in your fantasy drafts -- he's still an elite receiver worthy of a high draft pick -- but don't draft him with the expectation of a career year.