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The Great Debate: Odell Beckham Jr. (2021 Fantasy Football)

Jul 27, 2021
Odell Beckham, Jr.

Fantasy football draft season is officially here, and the time has come to refine your stance on players. What better way to do that than a good, old-fashioned debate! We’re rolling out our debate series where one writer higher on a given player will take on another that’s lower than our expert consensus rankings.

Up next, we have TJ Horgan and Mike Maher debating Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

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The Debate

Odell Beckham Jr. is still a great receiver when healthy. He’s had two miserably unhealthy seasons in the last four years, but in Cleveland right now, teammates and reporters alike are raving about his health and training camp performance. Worst case scenario (barring injury) is that OBJ finishes second on his team in targets. That’s a pretty high floor. The best-case scenario is the soon-to-be 29-year-old harnesses the spark he unleashed as recently as three years ago, is the best receiver in the AFC North, and makes fantasy owners who took a chance on him as their WR3 very happy.

Thanks for kicking things off, TJ. I’m looking forward to this debate. As we start this conversation, Odell Beckham Jr.’s ECR is WR25, and his ADP is WR29 in standard leagues and WR 25 in Half PPR leagues. That puts him just outside of WR2 territory, and I am all the way out at that price.

The biggest elephant in the room with Beckham, as you mentioned, is his injury history. He started seven games last season, 12 games in 2018, and just two games in 2017. Beckham turns 29 in November, is coming back from surgery to repair a torn ACL, and the NFL added an extra game to the schedule. If you’re drafting Beckham as your WR2, you better use your very next pick on your WR3 because he will be your WR2 for at least a handful of games in 2021.

Injury concerns aside, are we sure OBJ is still a great wide receiver, especially in this offense? Yes, the Browns have a clear hierarchy at wide receiver with Jarvis Landry and Beckham as their top two options. But they also have two running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and a head coach who wants to run the ball. Beckham didn’t top 100 yards receiving in any of his seven games last season, and he topped 60 yards receiving in just two of those games. If we go back to 2019, he topped 100 yards receiving in a game just twice while scoring four touchdowns when he played the entire season. If OBJ falls to mid-range WR3 territory behind Ja’Marr Chase, Cortland Sutton, and Chase Claypool, I’ll start getting interested.

The injury concerns undoubtedly drive OBJ’s draft position down to where it currently is (WR27 in PPR), but let’s look at the big picture here. In 7 NFL seasons, he’s put up 1,000 receiving yards 5 times, and the 2 seasons he fell short, he only played 4 and 7 games, respectively. At just 28 years old (soon to be 29), there’s no doubt he has gas left in the tank. We all know touchdowns are relatively random and often regress to the mean. He was on pace to score at least 6 last year, and that’s my projected floor for a healthy OBJ in 2021.

Courtland Sutton I’ll concede as a tempting selection around pick 65 but Chase Claypool? Claypool’s one of four extremely capable wide receivers playing in a run-first offense with a 39-year-old quarterback. Claypool vs. Beckham Jr in 2021? I’m feeling a little FantasyPros featured writer-friendly wager brewing! Loser has to do a Tik Tok dance?

If Beckham actually plays in 17 (or close to it) games in 2021, then his numbers might be better than Claypool, and he might be a solid WR2 in fantasy. But there’s a reason that if and those two mights are in italics: it’s unlikely that Beckham actually does stay healthy.

Now, am I rooting for him to get injured? No, of course not. I’m not a monster. I’m just unwilling to make any substantial investment in an aging wideout with a history of significant lower-body injuries for as long as there are safer options with higher ceilings available.

This isn’t a Claypool vs. Beckham article, but you mentioned something that I’d like to address. You called the Steelers a “run-first” offense. And while I will concede that they are likely to run the ball more in 2021 with the addition of Najee Harris, they led the league in pass attempts in 2020, with 656. The Browns, on the other hand, had the fifth-fewest pass attempts in the league, at just 501. With the Cleveland offense largely unchanged and Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt still anchoring that backfield, it’s the Browns who have the run-first offense.

This is all a long way to say basically two things: Odell Beckham Jr. is 1. An obvious injury risk, and 2. Even if, by some miracle, he stays healthy, he might have a clearer and lower ceiling than many think. Don’t be fooled by the numbers OBJ put up while playing for a bad Giants team that had to throw the ball a lot. The 2021 Cleveland Browns aren’t the 2014-2016 New York Giants, and this isn’t the same Odell Beckham Jr.

The Analysts

Let’s do an exercise… How many targets per game do you anticipate Beckham getting this year? I’m going with an extremely low number and say he averages 6.5 targets per game. That sounds more than reasonable, right? Beckham had 7.0 targets per game during the 2020 season before getting hurt, and that includes a three-target game against the Steelers. The Browns were also throwing the ball a lot less early in the year as Baker Mayfield was still grasping Kevin Stefanski’s playbook. If Beckham gets 6.5 targets per game, that will put him on pace for 104 targets, which, again, is what I’d consider low. There were just 32 receivers in the NFL who hit that number last year, with 24 of them (75 percent) finishing as top-24 receivers and just two finishing worse than WR38. You mean to tell me with Beckham’s talent, he can’t produce top-24 numbers? There are health risks for sure, but there’s also top-five wide receiver upside.
– Mike Tagliere

It’s true. The injury history adds up for OBJ and makes it more difficult to select him in fantasy drafts each season. With that being said, he’s now coming at enough of a discount that it’s not going to significantly damage your team if Beckham misses time yet again. The upside is still there for someone of Beckham’s talent, and he has the potential to be a very reliable asset for your lineup in 2021. Due to the offensive philosophy, we’re probably never going to see OBJ max out with 12+ targets in a single game, but he’s too talented not to return value on where he’s being drafted if he stays healthy. Adding OBJ as your WR2 or WR3 if you load up on RBs early in your draft is a great strategy this year.
– Kyle Yates

Here were my points against Beckham last year as a top 15-WR: he had finished as the WR83, WR16, and WR26 in the previous three seasons, the Vikings ran the ball 48% of the time under Kevin Stefanski (fourth-most in the NFL). So he’d never approach his customary 10 targets per game, and he’s an injury risk. Well, the Browns ran the ball 48% of the time last year (fourth-most in the NFL), Beckham received seven targets per game, and he lost much of the season due to injury. All the concerns over Beckham hold this year except for his price, which is now the 25th WR in half-PPR ADP. Beckham will certainly have some boom games, and the Browns’ offense should improve this year in Stefanski’s second year, but the lack of target volume will put a ceiling on Beckham’s value. Fantasy managers are drafting him as a borderline WR2 – that’s exactly what he is.
– Dan Harris

The Public

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