Call Me Crazy, But I'm Not Drafting Odell Beckham in Fantasy Football This Season

Beckham flashed nearly unprecedented numbers as a rookie, but his draft cost doesn't make sense in fantasy football.

I don't need to tell you much about Odell Beckham.

You know that he was amazing as a rookie. You know that the 5'11" player laughed in the face of the idea that only guys 6'2" or taller could rack up a dozen touchdowns.

You know how nasty his one-handed touchdown grab was and that he put up historically good rookie numbers in only 12 games.

That's why he's going as a pretty unanimous first-round pick in fantasy football drafts. He's going seventh overall in best-ball formats as the second wide receiver. Even in standard-scoring formats, he's a tail-end first-rounder.

We just assume that he's going to be a no-brainer WR1 for fantasy football purposes. I agree with that if we're talking the top-12.

But to consider taking him as the first receiver? That dog won't hung, monsignor.

Recapping the Rookie Year

If you were to scour Pro-Football-Reference's Season Finder (don't worry, I did it for you), you would find out that the list of rookie receivers who posted at least 90 receptions, 1,300 yards, and 12 touchdowns in the NFL is short. How short? Its name is Odell Beckham. Really, that's it. It's only been done 31 times ever by players of any experience in the league.

And you may have known that already, but I can't really overstate how good he was.

Even when looking at his season through our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies how far above or below expectation level a player performed in terms of adding points to his team's actual, on-field total, Beckham's campaign was nearly unrivaled.

On his 91 catches, Beckham added 118.01 points above expectation level to the Giants' offense, which ranked eighth in the NFL last season. Of the 48 players who saw at least 100 targets last year (Beckham had 130), Beckham's Reception NEP per target score of 0.91 ranked fourth. He was both voluminous and efficient.

Last year, only three players caught at least 90 passes, owned a Reception NEP greater than 115, and maintained a Reception NEP per target of at least 0.90: Beckham, Randall Cobb, and Jordy Nelson. First thing's first, good job by the Packers. Second, though, that's good company.

But don't think that a select few players maintain such high marks each year. If we open up the filter to span back to the year 2000, only 12 players have hit such a baseline, fewer than one player per season. Here they are, sorted by Reception NEP per target.

Full NameYearRecRec NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec NEP/TargetCatch RateRec Success Rate
Rob Gronkowski201190131.91124102.901.0672.58%93.33%
Randy Moss200798156.95159101.160.9961.64%95.92%
Steve Smith2005103143.33150102.690.9668.67%85.44%
Muhsin Muhammad200493150.8416099.660.9458.13%97.85%
Randall Cobb201491119.1312784.930.9471.65%89.01%
Jordy Nelson201498140.0515190.210.9364.90%91.84%
Terrell Owens200193143.3515564.330.9260.00%90.32%
Torry Holt2003117168.5518395.200.9263.93%98.29%
Demaryius Thomas201392130.0314283.020.9264.79%93.48%
Odell Beckham201491118.0113078.450.9170.00%85.71%
Randy Moss2003111155.2117294.640.9064.53%82.88%
Torry Holt200494122.6413668.990.9069.12%89.36%

I mean, we all knew about Muhsin Muhammad's 2004 season, but a lot of these guys should be no-doubt Hall-of-Famers. Again, I can't hyperbolize Beckham's rookie greatness.

Then again, only one of those guys (Torry Holt) repeated those -- admittedly rather arbitrary but purposive -- cutoffs the next year. The raw production stats (90 catches, 1,300 yards, and 12 touchdowns) have been repeated by only three players, but all three did it three straight years: Marvin Harrison (from 1999 to 2001), Terrell Owens (2000 to 2002), and Jerry Rice (1993 to 1995).

He doesn't exactly have to hit such a high ceiling in each category to be a sensible first-round pick, but does too much risk revolve around him to entrust such draft capital?

Picking Nits

I'm a risk-averse guy. And not that you should care about that, but I just figure you should know my mindset when it comes to discussing such a potentially transcendent talent. Now, I still think that taking running backs in the first round -- even so far as going four straight running backs if the players are right -- makes sense based on running back bust rates.

Based on historical precedent, finding elite running backs is hard -- but they are found early in drafts. Finding elite receivers isn't quite as hard, and they can be found later in drafts. So it takes an obvious combination of talent, opportunity, and health for me to feel confident with a receiver over a running back, even a running back with question marks.

I don't see that with Odell.

Beckham missed four games last year with a hamstring injury, one that he said never fully healed even during the incredible rookie season.

He has already tweaked his other hamstring this offseason and is missing OTAs. Of course, Beckham says he could play a game with his hamstring like it is now, but I can't gloss over this injury like Beckham is doing.

Not with my first-round pick.

Elite But Not Alone

So here's the thing. I'm fully willing to admit that I think Beckham is the real deal. I think that, if healthy, he could easily be the top fantasy football receiver. It's not that I don't think he can repeat, but I don't know if banking on it is the right decision.

Here's why.

I did a study on fantasy football consistency earlier in the offseason, and Beckham absolutely shined. Based on standard deviations and coefficient of variation numbers, Beckham posted the highest realistic ceiling among fantasy receivers from Weeks 1 through 16 last year. Basically, he had the highest upside of any receiver whether in standard leagues, half-PPR leagues, or PPR leagues.

But his floor was second to Antonio Brown's. That shouldn't rule him out as the top wide receiver pick or a first-rounder, and that's not why it was mentioned, but he wasn't lightyears ahead of the rest of his position despite his ostensibly logic-defying output each and every week.

In standard leagues, Beckham owners could have expected him to score between 7.01 and 24.45 points 68% of the time, or 11 games a year. That ceiling was just one point higher than Demaryius Thomas', who did have a lower floor (4.80 points).

Three more players in addition to Thomas owned realistic ceilings better than 21 points, and the gap didn't really change in PPR leagues. Beckham's PPR realistic ceiling was 34.82 points, 2.39 points better than Thomas' ceiling. Again, three more players had ceilings of at least 30.79 points.

In a fury of nearly unmatched production in NFL history, Beckham's upside was just a few points above other elite receivers.

Again, I'm fully aware that Beckham has the chance to be the best receiver in fantasy football -- he was last year by many measures -- but unless he's the next Terrell Owens, Jerry Rice, or Marvin Harrison, he's likely going to take a step back, and lose the (relatively narrow) edge he owned over other receivers last year.

Worth the Risk?

Our projections anticipate a 99-catch, 1,374-yard, 9-touchdown season for Beckham, placing him seventh at the wide receiver position in standard scoring leagues. Can he best that? Yes, he nearly did that last year in 12 games.

But to think that I have to pass up Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson to draft Beckham, to hope that his hamstrings really aren't an issue, and to hope that he can continue playing at a basically unrepeatable pace doesn't add up to me.

Even if Beckham repeats his fantasy output, he's two PPR points per game better than receivers not named Antonio Brown. And for him to do that, he has to play at a clip that the NFL doesn't see very often.

If he slips to the tail end of the second round (he won't) and the other top-tier wide receivers are gone, then count me in for the upside. But I can't get on board with passing up safer, more proven, healthier wide receivers with practically the same amount of tangible fantasy football upside and less hype.