Fantasy Court: The Case for Odell Beckham Jr. in 2020

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In the Fantasy Court Series, two of the writers for The Fantasy Footballers choose sides on a player and present their argument to help you decide whether or not you should be drafting these players at their average draft position (ADP).  It’s important to acknowledge that draft cost is the most important factor when it comes to loving or hating a fantasy player come draft day. Today’s case is all about Odell Beckham Jr. (OBJ), who is entering his second season as a Cleveland Brown.  After underperforming in 2019, I believe Odell is going to bounce back and reward fantasy owners who draft him at his lowest average draft position (ADP) since his 2014 rookie season.  Conversely, you can read Ryan Weisse’s Case Against Odell Beckham Jr. for the counterargument.

Opening Statement

Odell Beckham’s career has been filled with highlight reels, injuries, and most recently disappointment among the fantasy football community after a mediocre 2019 season.  Does he still have elite-level talent?  Will he be given an opportunity to succeed?

Let’s look at his career so far.  Since his 2014 debut, here is his “per-game” average: 10.1 tgts/g for 87 yards, 0.6 TD, and 15.8 fantasy points/g.  In 2019, he saw a dip in targets, touchdowns, and yards.  The table below shows his production (per game basis) for every year of his career.

As you can see, OBJ saw 2 fewer targets per game last year than he did any other year of his career.  I think we’ll see an uptick in targets this season.  That being said, there has been a lot of discussion about new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s preference for the running game, and many are speculating it will take away from OBJ’s opportunity.  I don’t buy it!  You’ve seen the catch (below).  New head coach Kevin Stefanski has seen the catch.  His kids have seen the catch.  And OBJ has an impressive highlight reel for every year of his career.

Even if you think OBJ is past his prime, he’s shown enough in the past for the coaching staff to design plays around him.  And what if 2019 was just simply a down year?  Is it possible that he returns to his days as a top-5 fantasy wide receiver?  Is he worth a shot at his current ADP in the third round?  ABSOLUTELY!  The Browns offense should take a step forward in 2020.  OBJ should be healthy to start the season, and he has just as much upside as any wide receiver in fantasy.  I think OBJ will see more targets and be able to do more with the targets he receives in 2020.  Draft OBJ at his discounted price this season and thank me later.

2019 Performance

OBJ finished the 2019 season with 74 receptions for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns.  He cost you a first-round pick in fantasy drafts, but he certainly didn’t deliver first-round production.  What went wrong?

For starters, the Brown’s offense ranked 22nd in total points scored despite high profile players like Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, OBJ, Nick Chubb, & Kareem Hunt.  Hand up, I’ll admit that I thought the Browns were going to be a strong playoff contender in 2019.  While there were some productive fantasy football players on the Browns last season, the Browns struggled on offense.  Let’s start with quarterback Baker Mayfield’s production since entering the league.

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  • 2018: 486 pass attempts for 310 completions, 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and a 93.7 QB rating.  He was the starter 13 games that year in a record-breaking rookie season.
  • 2019: 534 pass attempts for 317 completions, 3,827 yards, 22 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, and a 78.8 QBR.  He started in all 16 games last season.

In addition to the Browns’ offensive struggles, we have to remember that OBJ was new to the team last season.  He had to learn a whole new playbook, catch passes from a new quarterback (who was only entering his sophomore season), and adapt to Freddie Kitchens (who had just recently been appointed head coach).  It’s important that we acknowledge that regression is common when players change teams, not mind when there are an inexperienced QB and head coach.  If you don’t believe me, just search the internet for fantasy predictions about DeAndre Hopkins in 2020.

Furthermore, OBJ was injured all season with groin and hip pain.  It was recently publicized that OBJ suffered a sports hernia and a torn adductor (groin) muscle in training camp.  According to our injury expert Matthew Betz, these injuries are notorious for being extremely painful with any type of explosive movement.  Even our Ultimate Draft Kit (UDK) Reception Perception results point to injuries clearly playing a factor in OBJ’s ability to gain separation from defenders.

He is now half a year removed from surgery and should be back at full health entering 2020.  Keep in mind OBJ is only 27!  He has plenty more years left in the league.

Expectations for 2020

I think the Browns’ offense will take a step forward this year and OBJ will be a major contributor.  Let’s say Baker has a similar amount of pass attempts in 2020 as he did in 2019 (534).  OBJ could easily see 150+ targets while other offensive pieces get fed plenty of volume: Jarvis Landry (~140), Kareem Hunt (~85), Nick Chubb (~40), Austin Hooper (~85), etc. 

OBJ’s upside in 2020 is 150 targets for 92 receptions, 1,290 yards, and 10 touchdowns.  That would only be an 11% increase in targets.  The reception, yards, and touchdown projections are based on his average career rates in each of those metrics based on 150 targets and 16 games played.  This would put OBJ at 15 fantasy pts/g, which would put him in the top-5 category.

OBJ’s downside is pretty much a repeat of the 2019 – where he was a mediocre flex play.  While it is certainly in the range of possibilities, I believe it is unlikely.  At a minimum, his touchdowns should increase (along with Baker Mayfield).  Before 2019, he has never had a full season pace of fewer than 8 touchdowns.  If OBJ scored 8 touchdowns in 2019, he would have scored within four total points of AJ Brown last season (season total).

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I expect OBJ to play in 12+ games this season.  He has done that in five of the six seasons that he’s been in the NFL, so I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet…especially after he played a full season with injuries in 2019.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I think OBJ will be a WR2 with a legitimate shot at top-5 upside in 2020.  Now he has a more experienced coach.  He also has a more experienced QB who I project will take a step forward.  The Brown’s offensive line was improved thanks to acquiring OT Jack Conklin, 1st round draft pick Jedrick Wills (OT) and 5th rounder Nick Harris (C).  OBJ is finally healthy.  He’s produced at an elite level in multiple seasons in the past.

OBJ is the kind of player that could win you a fantasy championship.  He’s available in the 3rd round just around players like Leonard Fournette, Allen Robinson, and Amari Cooper.  I’ll take OBJ and his upside all day! Finally, I’ll leave you with this… The graph below shows the fantasy production of the best receivers from the past five years.  On a per-game basis, OBJ has been incredibly valuable every year but in 2019.  This guy is special!

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