Odell Beckham Jr.’s 2019 season, his first with the Cleveland Browns, was far below his typical level. Throughout the season, he totaled 1,035 receiving yards and four touchdowns. For most wide receivers, that would be a decent effort, but by Beckham Jr.’s standards, it can only be regarded as a failure.
If you take out 2017, when he only appeared in four games, it was statistically the worst season of his career, which looks even worse when you consider the fact that it was just the second time in six seasons that he appeared in all 16 games. To be fair, Cleveland had too many problems to count last year, but Beckham Jr.’s struggles certainly didn’t help. So, let’s take a look at his performance from last season to see what went wrong.
PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) was designed to measure how valuable a player was to their team by examining how much impact they had on the statistics they produced. In Beckham Jr.’s case, the metric agrees with what the traditional statistics tell us, giving him the lowest overall grade of his career in 2019, at 30.05. That grade ranked 73rd out of 93 qualifying wide receivers last season, much lower than you’d hope for from a big-name player like Beckham Jr.
So, why was Beckham Jr.’s offensive impact so low in 2019? To find out, let’s look at the factors involved in calculating a wide receiver’s OSM grade. First of all, he averaged a mediocre 4.6 yards after the catch (YAC), although, according to the NFL’s calculations, it was 0.8 yards higher than expected.
Beckham Jr. also averaged 2.6 yards of separation, ranking in the bottom half when compared to other wide receivers last season. A wide receiver that produces at merely an average level after the catch and struggles to get open puts more pressure on the rest of their team to pick up the slack.
However, while Beckham Jr.’s performances on the aforementioned metrics weren’t particularly impressive, they were roughly in line with his numbers in previous seasons. In the case of his expected YAC, it was actually a decent amount higher than it was in 2018 when his differential was 0.7 yards lower than it should have been.
Therefore, while they can help explain Beckham Jr.’s low 2019 OSM grade, they don’t explain why it decreased so much from seasons prior. In order to find the answer to that question, we need to look at his catch percentage.
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Last season, he caught just 55.64% of his targets, which ranked 76th among the 93 qualifying wide receivers. That was the lowest percentage of his career by 4.2% and was 6.46% lower than the season prior. And for a wide receiver, catching the ball is more important than anything else (it’s literally in the name). Beckham Jr.’s newfound struggles in this area heavily decreased his ability to be a star for a team that desperately needed him to perform at a high level in 2019.
Examining Beckham Jr.’s weekly grades
Beckham Jr.’s weekly OSM grades tell us the same story that his overall grade does. The chart below shows his grade from every week of the 2019 season, represented by the black dots, compared to the league average OSM grade for wide receivers represented by the yellow line.
For the most part, Beckham Jr.’s grades hovered slightly below the NFL average, which makes sense given where his overall grade ended up. There is more we can learn from those numbers, though. Beckham Jr. had a strong start to 2019 before steadily declining until Cleveland’s bye week. After that break, he rebounded, posting his highest grade of the season two weeks later, but once again fell until the end of the season.
It is difficult to say why precisely this pattern emerged. I wasn’t in the Browns locker room last season, nor can I read minds, so any answers I could come up with would be pure speculation. However, it certainly isn’t a good sign for Beckham Jr.’s future in Cleveland that he generally trended downward across 2019.
Cleveland’s 2019 struggles weren’t all Beckham’s fault, but he needs to be better
I don’t want to be overly critical of Beckham Jr., because he already gets more criticism from the media and general public than he deserves, and he was far from the Brown’s only problem last season. However, as one of the highest-paid and highest-profile wide receivers in the NFL, he is supposed to be one of their star players.
If Cleveland wants to break the pattern of failure that has dogged the franchise since their resurrection in 1999, he needs to start playing at a level that warrants his many accolades. Hopefully, new head coach Kevin Stefanski can help put Beckham Jr.’s career back on track. If he can’t, the team could be in for another year of suffering.