The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Odell Beckham Jr.
The wide receivers who will be featured in this article series each possess a range of outcomes, with the high end being a top-12 WR come season’s end; but how will they get there? How will it happen? This article series aims to answer those questions when examining the range of outcomes. Thus far, the Fantasy Footballers writing staff has published ‘Path to a WR1 campaign’ articles on the following players: A.J. Brown, D.J. Chark, and Robert Woods. Look for even more of these fantastic articles in the coming weeks.
Next up in the Path to a WR1 Season is a guy who was once the 1st overall selection in some drafts and the 1.01 in dynasty leagues. He’s known for “The Catch.” He’s known for fighting with kicking nets. And more recently, he’s known for letting down your fantasy roster. Is 2020 the year that Odell Beckham Jr. bounces back and finds himself as a WR1 in fantasy football?
Let’s start by recapping Beckham’s 2019 season and project what a WR1 season looks like this year, and finally, give the percentage likelihood of a WR1 campaign.
2019 Season Recap
When looking back at the final stat line for OBJ in 2019, it doesn’t look too bad on the surface. He had 74 receptions for over 1,000 yards…but he had just 4 TD, the lowest of his career not including 2017 when he fractured his fibula, ending his season early. The reality, however, is that his WR31 finish in half PPR formats was really tough for fantasy owners to stomach given his WR6 and early 2nd round ADP in 2019 drafts.
Odell Beckham’s 2019 can be characterized by one word: dysfunctional. For starters, the entire Cleveland Browns’ offense seemed to be stuck in the mud. Former head coach, Freddie Kitchens, lost the locker room, Baker Mayfield seemed to take a step backwards in year two, and Beckham played through a sports hernia injury (more specifically, a torn abdominal muscle and a torn groin muscle) the entire season. Beckham picked up the injury in early August and was never the same throughout the season. In fact, in a recent YouTube post from Beckham, he admitted to playing through pain in every game in 2019. Now 6 months removed from sports hernia surgery, what can we expect from Beckham in 2020? Will the Browns offense bounce back with new head coach Kevin Stefanski at the helm, and can Baker take a step forward to support OBJ as a WR1?
*For a more detailed analysis of Odell Beckham’s hip injury, be sure to purchase the Ultimate Draft Kit, which includes my updated injury profiles all offseason to get you ready to dominate your draft.
The Path for 2020
In order for Beckham to ascend to WR1 territory, there are a number of statistical benchmarks he must meet to become truly an elite fantasy option.
Target Share: During his time as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski’s approach has been simple. Establish the run, throw out of play action, and pepper the wide receivers with targets. As we saw with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in the past few seasons, there is plenty of volume for the top two receivers in Stefanski’s offense to succeed and produce. In Cleveland, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry figure to dominate the target share from Baker Mayfield. However, one limitation for OBJ is the fact that historically speaking, Stefanski’s offense is a run-heavy scheme (5th most rush attempts in 2019), which could limit the raw number of targets Beckham sees in 2020. Even still, Beckham and Landry should each push for at least 120 targets each, with the chance for more if Baker and Beckham can develop chemistry in year two together in Cleveland. He saw 25% of the targets in 2019, an elite mark for a WR in fantasy football.
Catch Rate: OBJ’s 55.6% catch rate in 2019 was by far the lowest of his career. Assuming Baker can deliver the ball with more accuracy in 2020, this catch rate should improve quite a bit for two reasons. First, Odell Beckham’s talent is unquestioned, and because he was playing injured all of 2019, we can safely assume that his separation, route running, explosiveness, etc. were all negatively affected. If healthy in 2020, Beckham should be able to create easier throwing lanes for Baker, helping to elevate his catch rate closer to the 62-64% average throughout his career. Second, according to Pro Football Focus, Baker’s completion percentage improved by 10.1%, which ranked 1st of all QBs. Kevin Stefanski’s system should feature lots of play action, and therefore, Baker’s accuracy should improve.
Receptions: After averaging just 4.6 receptions per game in 2019, look for Beckham’s reception totals to improve, but not by an extreme margin. Given the run-heavy scheme and the talent on the opposite side of the field in Jarvis Landry, it seems likely that the days of OBJ catching 95-100 footballs (as we saw in New York) are over. However, projecting Beckham for somewhere around 85-90 receptions seems fair, and this should certainly elevate his production in PPR formats. Assuming 2019’s 25% target market share carries over to 2020 and Beckham’s catch rate improves, Beckham should push for 80+ receptions with ease in 2020.
Yards: Outside of 2017 when OBJ played just four games, 2019 was Beckham’s worst statistical season from a yardage perspective. His 1,035 receiving yards ranked 26th in the NFL. With his catch rate and reception totals like to improve, there’s little doubt that OBJ’s yardage total improves in 2020. Look for OBJ to push for the 1,100 to 1,200 range given his track record and 14.0 career yards per reception average.
TDs: Touchdowns are one of the least sticky stats in fantasy football, and year to year production in this category is probably the most difficult thing to project. With that being said, there is no way Beckham is going to catch just four TDs in 2020, as he did in 2019. In 2017, Baker Mayfield set the rookie QB record for passing TD in a season, so the upside is there with Baker if he can return to form. Speaking of upside, fantasy owners saw OBJ post double-digit TDs in three straight seasons from 2014-2016. Can he get back to that dominance we once saw? The upside is there, but it’s probably not likely to occur given that Stefanski is likely to use a heavy dose of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt when they get in close. In 2019, Dalvin Cook ranked 3rd in the NFL in rush attempts inside the 10-yard line. Nick Chubb ranked 2nd. If OBJ is going to push for double-digit TDs, some of them are going to have to come from deeper completions outside of the red zone. Even so, it’s very likely we see some positive regression here for OBJ in 2020. 7-9 TDs seems like a fair projection. To get back into WR1 territory, Beckham will need to find the end zone more consistently in 2020. Every WR1 from 2019 had at least six receiving TDs, suggesting this is the minimum threshold for Beckham to reach in 2020.
WR1 Possibility: Moderate Chance (40-50%)
This percentage is based upon the combined average of the Fantasy Footballers writing staff. I polled the staff asking for their answers in regards to the percentage chance that Beckham is a WR1 in 2020, and answers ranged from 20% to 67%. To put this percentage in perspective, Michael Thomas is probably more like a 90% chance given his consistency, volume, and lack of injury history. A guy like Cole Beasley is probably at about 3%.
To put it simply, 2019 was a disaster for Odell Beckham and the entire Cleveland Browns’ offense. It was his first season in Cleveland playing with a QB who seemed to regress, he battled injury all season, and the team lacked leadership in the form of the head coach. But, there is optimism for OBJ in 2020. He’s arguably a top-3 talent at the WR position in the NFL, should be healthy to start the season, and the entire team gets a fresh start with a new coaching staff. Of all the wide receivers that are likely to be drafted in the back of the second round or early third, Odell Beckham seems to be the most likely to make the leap into WR1 status for 2020.