In his first five seasons, Odell Beckham Jr. rose to stardom with the New York Giants. Aside from an injury-shortened season in 2017, a season in which Beckham saw the field for only four games, the 12th overall pick out of LSU topped 1,000 receiving yards and six or more touchdown catches in each of his four full seasons.
Beckham was instant offense for the Giants, at a historic rate no one could have predicted. The wide receiver holds 16 New York Giants franchise records, as well as 20 NFL records (list per Wikipedia), and could still be on pace to be one of the most decorated players of all-time at his position.
This resulted in the Giants out-of-the-blue decision to trade Beckham to the Cleveland Browns in March of 2019.
A year later, there is tremendous pressure on Beckham to elevate his game and help propel the Browns towards the playoffs. However, is that pressure warranted?
Beckham tallied 74 catches for 1,035 yards and four receiving touchdowns in his first season in Cleveland. He played in all 16 games, and finished 26th in the NFL in receiving yards and 28th in catches. Beckham wasn’t even Baker Mayfield’s favorite target though, as former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry finished with 83 catches (18th in the NFL) and 1,174 receiving yards (10th). Obviously, having two elite targets to throw to will lower their individual ceilings, but having two 1,000+ yard, 70+ reception receivers is hardly anything to complain about.
So why was Beckham’s first season with the Browns widely considered a failure? Lack of team success, inability to find the endzone, and a tendency to disappear at times. These concerns echoed louder due to a similar story in Beckham’s final season with the Giants.
The Browns went 6-10 in 2019, despite going 7-8-1 in 2018 and adding a ton of firepower in the offseason. There were expectations for Cleveland to at least compete for a wild card spot, so the step backwards was disappointing for fans and football pundits alike.
Beckham had some great games with Mayfield throwing him the ball. In Week 2, the wide receiver grabbed six passes for 161 yards and a touchdown in a win over the New York Jets. In Week 6, he hauled in another six passes for 101 yards in a narrow loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
However, these would be the only two times Beckham topped 100 receiving yards all season. With 13 games of 125 receiving yards or more in his first three seasons (an NFL record) and a nine-game consecutive streak of 90 or more receiving yards (another NFL record, tied with Michael Irvin), the wide receiver had set sky-high expectations for himself.
Beckham had five games with three catches or less in 2019. He only had one such game in 2016; his last full season before his injury, and another lone game in 2018 (his final game of the season.) Seeing Beckham catch less than four passes in a game had always been a rarity, but it happened five times last season. The Browns record was 2-3 in those games, so it wasn’t a death sentence to have low output from Beckham. However, it certainly helps when Beckham is using his game-breaking talent to influence the outcome of the game.
The biggest way Beckham can do that is by finding the endzone more often. Again, this problem dates back to Beckham’s final season with the Giants, where he scored six receiving touchdowns in 12 games. With a full 16 games at his disposal in 2019, Beckham caught just four touchdown passes. Compared to the 35 touchdowns he scored over his first three seasons in New York (11.67 per season), his recent production has been abysmal from a scoring standpoint.
So what’s next for Beckham? Would another 70 catch, 1,000 yard season be considered a disappointment, especially if the Browns don’t make progress in the wins department?
For a normal player, especially with the talented Landry on the other side of the field, those numbers wouldn’t just be good, they’d be pretty great. Beckham isn’t a normal player though. From his record-breaking early years to his fiery and often controversial persona, he’s earned a role as one of the most watched players in the NFL today.
At least two of the following things would have to happen for Beckham to return to superstar form:
- The Browns have a winning season and/or make the playoffs, with Beckham playing an important role in the passing game.
- Beckham surpasses Landry in catches and receiving yards, becoming Mayfield’s clear go-to option.
- Beckham sees a spike in touchdown catches, with at least eight scores, re-establishing himself as pure scoring threat.
- Beckham finds consistency, limiting his number of games with three catches or less and breaking 100 yards in a single game more often.
Some things, like the Browns final record, depend on more than just Beckham. However, an elite season from an individual standpoint could also propel Beckham back into the conversation as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
Will Beckham come anywhere close to the 149 reception, 1,725 yard season that Michael Thomas produced for the New Orleans Saints in 2019? Or even Julio Jones’ 99 catch, 1,394 yard 2019 campaign? Again, with Landry on the same team, probably not.
However, Beckham can still live up to the expectations he set for himself by taking a jump in his second year with the Browns. No other wide receiver would face such pressure after a 1,000 yard season, but once again, Beckham isn’t your average receiver.
Statistics per ProFootballReference.com