Last season, the Cleveland Browns were once again the laughingstock of the NFL. They were far from the worst team in the league, but they might have been the most disappointing. Despite adding a staggering amount of talent during the offseason, they were unable to convert it into on-field success. One of the primary components in that failure (though far from the only one) was Odell Beckham Jr. I wrote about him several weeks ago, and his performance last season was one of the worst of his career. Unfortunately, that trend appears to have carried over into 2020.
To be clear, Beckham isn’t playing terribly. On the whole, his performance thus far this season has been mediocre. However, as one of the highest-payed wide receivers in the NFL, I believe we should expect more from him. More to the point, Cleveland needs more from him if they want to compete in a competitive AFC North.
Using the OVM to evaluate Beckham’s inconsistent season
PFN’s Offensive Value Metric (OVM) uses the NFL’s advanced statistics to measure a player’s value to their offense. The metric has not looked favorably on Beckham in recent seasons, generally giving him mediocre season-long grades. The year 2020 has, for the most part, not been an exception to that trend. Beckham’s overall grade this season of 31.13, while slightly better than his 2019 performance, is still merely average by wide receiver standards.
Examining Beckham’s weekly OVM grades
Beckham’s relatively low overall grade this season has resulted from concerningly inconsistent performances across his three games. The chart below shows his OVM grade from each week of the season so far, alongside the four metrics that contributed the most to those grades: the average amount of separation he created when targeted, his catch percentage, his average yards after the catch (YAC), and his average expected yards after the catch (xYAC) according to the NFL’s calculations.
As you can see, Beckham’s grades have seen seismic shifts from week to week, ranging from well below par in Week 1, to elite in Week 2, then regressing to mediocrity in Week 3. Why he struggled in Week 1 should be fairly obvious: He only caught three of his ten targets and averaged fewer YAC than he should have. It is rather difficult to be valuable to your team when you don’t catch the ball and can’t even gain the easy yards after the catch.
Meanwhile, in Week 2, both of those statistics flipped. His catch percentage more than doubled, as did his YAC, and he topped that off with his highest average separation of the season. None of those numbers are exceptional, but when combined, they represent an elite performance.
Unfortunately, Beckham’s performance on Sunday was a step in the wrong direction. His catch percentage stayed the same, but his separation and YAC dipped back to around where they were two weeks prior. The Browns managed to win the game anyway, but Beckham did relatively little to aid in their efforts.
Finding trends in Beckham’s advanced metrics
Through three games, Beckham’s statistics have displayed a few consistent factors. First, that his one area of strength was in the separation he was able to create. Even his worst performance was still above average, and his Week 2 average ranked just outside the top ten during that week.
Second, Beckham has struggled to catch the ball consistently in 2020. His season-long catch percentage is just 50%. And while that is dragged down by an awful Week 1, his 66.67% in the other two games still isn’t all that impressive. You would think that Beckham’s ability to get open would result in catching the ball more often, but that simply hasn’t happened.
It’s possible that these difficulties are caused by Beckham and quarterback Baker Mayfield struggling to stay on the same page. However, it is worth noting that Beckham’s teammate, Jarvis Landry, hasn’t had similar problems, catching 92.3% of his targets so far this season.
And finally, Beckham rarely creates extra yards after catching the ball. While his YAC has varied from week to week, he consistently failed to gain more yards than expected. In other words, with the ball in his hands, Beckham played like an average NFL wide receiver. The problem, of course, is that Beckham is not supposed to be an average wide receiver. He certainly isn’t being paid like one.
Cleveland doesn’t need an elite wide receiver to succeed, but it sure would help
In theory, Cleveland doesn’t need Beckham to be a superstar for them to win games since their offense is heavily focused on their ground attack. However, against elite teams that know how to stop the run, the team will need to rely more on the passing game. They encountered this exact problem in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens, and Beckham, instead of rising to the challenge, played his worst game of the season.
The Browns can, of course, still win games with Beckham playing at an average level. Their running game is one of the best in the NFL, and that can carry a team far. However, they aren’t going to make a deep playoff run without elite performances through the air in key moments, something Beckham hasn’t been able to provide consistently.
There are other players that they could turn to for help: Landry, Austin Hooper, and even Kareem Hunt are all capable of making big plays in the passing game. That said, Beckham is making more money than any of them this season, so it seems only fair that a great deal of the pressure be placed on his shoulders.
Lucas Ellinas is a writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Ellinas.