Can Odell Beckham Jr. Regain His Status as a Top-Tier Fantasy Football Receiver?
The Cleveland Browns made one of the biggest splashes of last offseason when they acquired Odell Beckham from the New York Giants. Unfortunately, like everything else during the Browns 2019 season, it did not go as planned.
Beckham was a steady contributor, hauling in 74 passes for 1,034 yards and 4 touchdowns, but expectations for the three-time Pro Bowler were significantly higher.
Entering 2020, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Beckham. He's still only 27 years old and likely has a better connection with Baker Mayfield after spending the past year together. But how much can you trust his fantasy production to return to form?
Let's examine a few questions lingering over Beckham's fantasy status and determine how he should be valued in drafts.
Kevin Stefanski's Offense
When Cleveland hired Kevin Stefanski, there was an immediate wave of concern based on Minnesota's run-heavy offense in 2019, his only full season in that role with the Vikings. However, it's unclear to what extent that was Stefanski's doing.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer had previously bemoaned the team's heavily pass-oriented offense under John DeFilippo in 2018, and made it clear he wanted a more balanced attack. So did he hire Stefanski because of a shared vision, or because Stefanski -- who had never coached in the NFL outside the Vikings organization -- was someone Zimmer could control?
We can't answer that question, but it's worth bringing up to emphasize how much we still don't know about Stefanski's preferred tendencies. This will be his first true opportunity to run his own offense, and it's possible we'll be surprised by its look.
If it does resemble the Vikings 2019 offense, however, that doesn't render Beckham and the Browns' receivers useless in fantasy.
At the start of the 2019 season, the Vikings played six full games with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the field prior to Thielen's injury. During this stretch, Thielen averaged 6.3 targets and 16.5 fantasy points per game, while Diggs averaged 5.7 targets and 14.4 fantasy points.
Because the Browns also have an obvious one-two punch atop the receiver depth chart in Beckham and Jarvis Landry, it seems reasonable to assume a strong workload is possible for each in Stefanski's offense.
Beckham has been a downfield weapon throughout his career, and that didn't change after joining the Browns. During his first year in Cleveland, Beckham saw 46 targets (2.8 per game) at 15 or more yards downfield, tied with Mike Evans for the fourth-most in the league according to Sports Info Solutions. Unfortunately, Beckham caught just 18 of those balls (39.1 percent).
The issue here wasn't entirely Beckham, however. Among the 45 receivers with the most targets at 15 yards downfield, Beckham saw the ninth-lowest catchable target rate (52.1 percent).
That number could indicate Mayfield is holding Beckham back, but that might not be the case either. On his throws 15 yards downfield to all other receivers, Mayfield has posted an on-target rate of 62.0 percent in his two years in the league.
It's hard to come up with a realistic theory as to why Mayfield would be substantially less accurate throwing to Beckham, so maybe this was just a case of bad luck. If so, we should probably expect Beckham's downfield production to improve, even if Mayfield doesn't take any substantial steps forward in his third year in the league.
Beckham played all 16 games for the Browns last year, but his production was likely affected by hip and groin injuries which required offseason surgery.
It's always hard to know the extent to which a performance was hindered by injuries, but Beckham's issues were noticeable enough that Mayfield lashed out at the team's training staff during a press conference in December.
Beckham is already back on the field practicing after those offseason surgeries, so hopefully the Browns will finally get to see the real Beckham in 2020.
How to Value Beckham
Over the last two weeks, Beckham has been the 11th wide receiver off the board in drafts, according to BestBall10s.com. That's far above his production from last season, where he ranked 33rd among receivers in fantasy points per game.
However, the last time we saw Beckham fully healthy, he put up 19.2 points per game with the New York Giants, ranking eighth among receivers. And that production was despite playing with the fading Eli Manning, who was in his final full year as New York's starter.
Assuming Beckham is back to full strength and Mayfield continues to develop, it's not hard to see another top-10 fantasy season on the horizon. numberFire projects Beckham as the WR9 in half-PPR scoring but also lists him as a high-risk player.
The question, however, is: how much are you willing to trust Beckham coming off an injury-plagued, inconsistent year? Taking him as the 11th receiver off the board means you're drafting him near his ceiling -- and his floor, even if he stays healthy of 16 games, has been proven to be much lower.
The decision on whether to take Beckham at his current average draft position boils down to personal preference. Are you the type of fantasy player who gambles near the top of the draft, or do you prefer more of a sure thing? If you're enticed by Beckham's upside in a potentially-improved Browns offense, you can definitely justify him at his current price.
If you're more conservative in your fantasy drafts, however, someone such as Amari Cooper -- currently 12th off the board among receivers -- looks like a much safer bet.