It’s time we talked about what’s going on with Odell Beckham Jr., or perhaps more fittingly, what isn’t happening.
After five years as the New York Giants’ superstar wide receiver, the Giants signed Beckham to a contract extension before trading him to Cleveland in early 2019. Right away, Browns fans began to fantasize about the incredible potential of a Cleveland offense that had finally found its quarterback in Baker Mayfield and now had receiving weapons like Jarvis Landry and Beckham around him.
The former Giant’s first season in his new colors didn’t quite live up to the hype. While he put up another 1,000-yard season receiving, his total of 1,035 yards were the fewest he had in a season. He also had by far the fewest yards per game and catch percentage out of his six years in the NFL. In 16 games, he scored just four touchdowns, the lowest mark since he scored three in four games in 2017 before an ankle injury kept him out for the remainder of the season.
Last year, Beckham missed more than half of the season recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in a Week 7 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. But even before that injury, he still hadn’t been looking like the star receiver the Giants had—the one that Browns fans had fantasized about since he came over to Cleveland. Taking out his seventh game of the season—Beckham went down on the first pass attempt of the game—he was averaging 53.2 yards per game, an even worse mark than what had been his career-worst year in 2019.
Since his arrival in Cleveland, the eighth-year receiver has had a noticeable drop in targets from what he was getting in New York. Throughout his time with the Giants, Beckham was seeing an average of 10.5 targets per game. Since then, it’s dropped to just 7.5 per game. He hasn’t been a prime scoring threat, either. After becoming the player with the fourth-most receiving touchdowns in Giants history with 44 in just five years, Beckham has only seven in three years with the Browns. To put it another way, Beckham averaged 13 touchdowns per 16 games with the Giants. With the Browns, just four.
Perhaps no game has best illustrated Beckham’s lack of success in Cleveland than his most recent one against the Los Angeles Chargers, in which he had just two catches on three targets for 20 yards. That third target that he didn’t catch? A pass that fell through his hands on an easy 4eth-and-2 short pass in the second quarter.
Now I know what you might be saying: “Two catches for 20 yards isn’t all that bad for someone working their way back from an ACL tear, especially against a team that might even be Super Bowl contenders this year. Maybe (head coach) Kevin Stefanski is just slowly working him back into action.” And to that I say, that isn’t a terrible point. The only problem: Beckham had a higher percentage of offensive snaps than any other Cleveland receiver. With him on the field that much in a game that ended up looking like Oklahoma-Texas Tech in 2016, you’d think he’d account for more than 20 of his team’s 531 total yards. Beckham didn’t even see a single target in what the Browns hoped would be their game-winning drive with a minute and a half to go in the fourth quarter.
We can absolutely attribute some of Beckham’s diminished production to issues he’s had with injuries in his time with the Browns. For all of his 2019 season, he was playing through a sports hernia that required surgery to repair at season’s end. He could have seen a leap in production in the second half of the 2020 season if not for his ACL tear, and he may still not be where he wants to be in his recovery to be able to produce this year the way he has in the past. But we can’t ignore the possibility that he and his quarterback might not have much chemistry on the field, no matter how much Stefanski denies it.
Mayfield has a passer rating of 68.7 this year when targeting Beckham, just under his rating of 69.0 in those situations in their first full season together. The quarterback’s overall performance with Beckham on the field is worse, too. In nine full games with his star receiver, he has fewer yards per game, fewer touchdowns, more interceptions, and a lower passer rating than in the 12 games without Beckham. He even blamed a terribly underthrown would-be touchdown pass on a difference in reads between him and his receiver.
Beckham is still under contract through 2023, but the Browns wouldn’t be on the hook for any dead cap hits if they were to release him after this season. He’s not yet on the trade block, but don’t be surprised to see him on his way out of Cleveland—either in a surprise trade or an end-of-season release—if his production doesn’t drastically increase over the rest of this season.