When Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey pulled the plug and traded with the New York Giants for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the internet blew up and suddenly Cleveland was a trendy pick as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl.
OBJ was looked on as the savior, a missing link, or the final piece of the puzzle to get the Browns finally out of the “Wasteland Years.”
The problem is, OBJ is having a below-average season and, so far, he ain’t saving anyone.
On March 12, the Browns traded a first- and a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, along with safety Jabril Peppers, a former first-round selection, to the Giants for Beckham. OBJ was not seen as simply a rental because he is signed through the 2023 season.
The addition of OBJ sparked great interest because the Browns already had quarterback Baker Mayfield, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, tight end David Njoku and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. And each player is young, meaning the franchise had a nucleus that could grow, be successful and make the Cleveland Browns relevant again.
But matters with the talented receiver have become stale.
Currently, Beckham is the 33rd-rated receiver in the league. He has a single touchdown after seven games. There are seven tight ends ranked higher than him, plus five running backs. Ahead of Beckham are names such as Chris Godwin, Darren Waller, John Brown, Mark Andrews and Austin Hooper. No doubt you had to look up those names.
What happened to all that talent?
There are also two trains of thoughts when it comes to answering that question: is head coach Freddie Kitchens using Beckham correctly, and how does a mediocre offensive line come into play for Beckham’s numbers?
In Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the New England Patriots, Beckham was targeted seven times and made five catches for 52 yards and zero scores. The game’s only touchdown was a 21-yard strike from quarterback Baker Mayfield to tight end Demetrius Harris to close the game to 17-7.
After Sunday’s turnover and penalty-laden loss to the Patriots, Beckham spoke about his production, the Browns lack of offense, and if Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore had basically shut him down (quotes via Pro Football Talk):
“I just felt like we didn’t challenge as much as we could have. I think we kind of shied away from it. I was expecting and looking forward to it, but that wasn’t the case today. We had a couple plays, but for whatever reason we didn’t do as much challenging as we talked about. Other than that whatever came my way, pretty much I caught. Whatever opportunities I had I made the most of them. You can only control what you can control.”
What Beckham is basically saying is that the play callers are not calling my number as much as they should; or perhaps, the quarterback is ignoring me a little too much.
What should be, and should always be, the priority is to throw the football to whomever is open, regardless of his jersey number. Jarvis Landry was targeted 10 times against the Patriots and also had five receptions, but for 65 yards. Currently, Landry is ranked number 46 among receivers in the league.
As far as the offensive line issues have gone, other than guard Joel Bitonio and center JC Tretter, this unit has been a roller coaster all season. Both tackle positions have not been very good, and right guard Eric Kush has struggled as the starter. All of this means that Mayfield has been flushed from the pocket quite a bit, which means that every receiver’s pattern is suddenly now jail break and “get open.” Which in itself has affected every receiver’s stats and targets.
Asked about Beckham’s comments on Tuesday, Kitchens responded with this, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
“Odell had seven balls thrown to him. He caught five of them. I am not responding to that. We need to win a football game. That is what I am worried about.”
The bottom line is that Beckham is not having another Pro Bowl year and, in fact, is not having a great season at all. Part of that may be that he is not getting the ball enough, and in such a scenario that could be justification of the Browns losing record.
A look into this year’s receiver statistics may provide some answers. Beckham is ranked fifth in targets not caught. He is 23rd in total receiving yards (488), which is second on the team behind Landry. He doesn’t even lead the Browns much less the NFL.
Beckham’s average yards per catch is third on the Browns behind Landry and wide receiver Rashard Higgins, and ranked 78th in the league with 14.4. His yards per game is also behind Landry and listed at No. 27 with a 69.7 average. Tight end Ricky Seals-Jones even has more touchdowns than Beckham.
Beckham gets a ton of attention on and off the field. On game day, defenses key on him and often lean a safety in his direction. Rarely does he not get double-teamed, which should open up the offense for another receiver to be open or covered with man. However, against the Patriots, Gilmore was mostly man-to-man on Beckham.
In pre-game warmups at home as well as one the road, Beckham will dazzle the early birds with one-handed catches and backhand grabs. Yet in the game, he will drop several passes that hit both of his gloves.
If you could have only one wide receiver between DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and OBJ, Beckham is just the better athlete and an enhanced route runner. But so far this year, he is not producing to defend that assumption.
Defensive coordinators do not want Beckham to destroy their game plans. There is always help in covering him. So why isn’t the Browns offense abusing that attention? If Beckham is always covered, doesn’t that mean somebody else is open? Or maybe more plays should be called his way and basically say our man is better than your man and see if you can stop him.
Where is the Beckham that has had this great receiving career so far? In his first three seasons with the Giants he gained more than 1,300 receiving yards each season, with 1,450 yards his second season, and averaged 96 catches each year. He scored 45 touchdowns in five years in New York and passed for another. He has been named to three Pro Bowls and was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014.
One thing is for certain, there is a direct connection between Beckham not getting enough catches and Kitchens not getting enough wins.