After exiting team facilities this week due to an illness, Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was listed as questionable on the Browns’ final injury report for their Week 6 showdown with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. However, on Saturday, several media reports noted that Beckham is likely to play after his second negative test. However, if Beckham somehow experiences a setback prior to Sunday’s kickoff, which players on the Cleveland Browns WR, RB, and TE depth chart are likely to step up against their AFC North foes?
Update: This article was originally published on October 16. On October 18, Tom Pelissero reported Odell Beckham, Baker Mayfield, and Jarvis Landry are all expected to play in Week 6.
Kareem Hunt, Austin Hooper, and even rookie Harrison Bryant could see a heavy increase in targets if Beckham Jr. cannot be on the field for all of the snaps. Does that make them viable options in fantasy football?
Browns WR depth chart may need to step up with both Odell Beckham Jr. and Baker Mayfield questionable for Week 6
Beckham isn’t the only high-profile starter on the Cleveland Browns depth chart currently with uncertainty surrounding them this week. Baker Mayfield was also listed as questionable for Week 6 after suffering a rib injury last weekend. Mayfield was limited at practice all week, but the quarterback is expected to be active after being a full participant in Friday’s practice.
While Mayfield’s availability is dependent on his ability to play through pain, Beckham being sent home with flu-like symptoms is another beast. In the current environment, players must pass two tests before being allowed to re-join their teammates.
After passing his first test on Friday, Browns reporter Mary Kay Cabot reported that Beckham “must return a second negative test within 24 hours to be cleared to rejoin the team. If he comes back negative on Saturday, he’ll participate in the Browns walkthrough and try to get up to speed as the Browns prepare to leave for Pittsburgh in the afternoon.”
Even with Beckham Jr. cleared to play on Sunday, you have to wonder if the wide receiver can bounce-back in Week 6 with zero practice time.
Cleveland Browns’ WR depth chart behind Beckham Jr.
If Beckham is unable to play at full capacity in Week 6, Cleveland will have a tough time finding replacements on their depth chart. Current number two wide receiver Jarvis Landry has dealt with a number of injuries this season, including every-week complications from his offseason hip surgery.
Landry actually led the Browns with 112 air yards in Week 5, but the wide receiver has been an inconsistent fantasy start all season long. Landry has topped 15 PPR fantasy points just once this season, and that doesn’t seem likely to change if Beckham isn’t there to distract Pittsburgh’s defensive backs.
If Beckham is restricted to limited snaps, the next players up on the Cleveland Browns WR depth chart are Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. After missing a few games himself, Higgins returned in Week 5 as Cleveland’s WR3. He played 40 snaps (55%) in Week 6 compared to just 10 snaps for Peoples-Jones, the rookie out of Michigan.
If Beckham is unable to play his full complement of snaps this weekend, both Higgins and Peoples-Jones should see a significant increase in playing time. That being said, it would be difficult to trust either player as anything more than a DFS tournament dart throw. Rather than force-feed average wide receivers, it’s more likely that Cleveland spreads those targets out to other pieces on their offense.
Does OBJ’s absence lead to more passing game work for Kareem Hunt and tight ends?
With lackluster wide receiver options behind Odell Beckham Jr. on the Browns WR depth chart, running back Kareem Hunt and the tight ends are likely to profit from the wide receiver’s potential absence.
Already in line for bell-cow duties with starting running back Nick Chubb on Injured Reserve, Hunt seems likely to benefit the most if OBJ is missing at times. If the Browns best wide receiver is not on the field his usual amount, Hunt instantly becomes Cleveland’s best weapon and best shot at competing with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.
After playing 70% of Cleveland’s Week 5 snaps and getting four targets in the passing game, Hunt could see those passing-game numbers skyrocket against Pittsburgh in Week 6. With Pittsburgh favored against a banged-up Cleveland offense, Week 6 sets up as a pass-happy Browns offense due to the circumstances. With Cleveland likely to trail the majority of the game, Hunt’s continued involvement in the passing game is great for his fantasy success in Week 6.
Another player set to benefit from Beckham’s potential limitations is starting Browns tight end Austin Hooper. After being ignored early in the season, the Browns finally featured Hooper in Week 5. The big-money free-agent acquisition actually led Cleveland with 10 targets in Week 5, while his 88 air yards were by far his best output of the 2020 NFL season.
If Beckham does spend an extended period of time off the field, Cleveland is likely to feature even more 2+ TE sets in Week 6. Cleveland has run 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends) at a 13% clip this season, second-most in the NFL behind only the Baltimore Ravens. Those numbers likely rise in Week 6 if there is no Beckham.
With tight end Harrison Bryant seemingly passing David Njoku on the Browns TE depth chart, the rookie from FAU could also see an increase in playing time and targets. Even after Njoku returned from injury last week, Bryant still saw 40% of the Browns’ offensive snaps.
In the unlikely scenario that Mayfield misses Week 6 by re-aggravating his injury, take almost everything I just said with a giant grain of salt. If Case Keenum is under center instead of Mayfield, start any Cleveland Browns player not named Kareem Hunt at your own risk.
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