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Linsey: The Cleveland Browns' offense is not better off without Odell Beckham Jr.

The Cleveland Browns are not a better football team without Odell Beckham Jr

It seems ridiculous to have to write that a 28-year old wide receiver who was widely considered one of the NFL’s elite at the position just two seasons ago doesn’t make his team worse, but here we are. That narrative began to bubble to the surface after the Browns’ offense flipped a switch following Beckham’s season-ending injury in their Week 7 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. To be fair, there was compelling evidence that Cleveland did turn a corner offensively after his injury. 

Browns passing offense
Category Weeks 1-6 Week 7-17 
EPA per pass play 0.03 (24th) 0.29 (4th)
Yards per pass play 5.6 (25th) 6.8 (7th)
Mayfield PFF grade 58.6 (31st) 90.3 (5th)
Mayfield passer rating 84.3 (26th) 102.1 (9th)

That transformation, in conjunction with the massive disappointment that was the Browns’ 2019 season, gave legs to the idea that Beckham’s presence may have a negative effect on the offense. 

Let's push back on that idea first by reminding everyone that Beckham is one of the premier talents at the wide receiver position in the NFL. 

His positional PFF grade ranks in four healthy seasons with the New York Giants prior to arriving in Cleveland are as follows: second, 10th, 12th and fourth. PFF grades are a measure of production more than raw talent, but Beckham grading out as a top-12 receiver in the league in each of his first four full seasons in the NFL signals that his talent shouldn’t be in doubt — particularly given that his quarterback situation was far from ideal in New York for much of his time there. 

Other metrics, such as Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception, also highlight that Beckham consistently won his man and press coverage matchups at an elite rate. 

There is a reason why many were optimistic about the kind of impact he could have in Cleveland. Entering the 2019 season, OBJ was slated to move from Eli Manning (PFF’s 27th-highest-graded quarterback in 2018) to Baker Mayfield (the 10th-highest-graded player at the position as a rookie). Theoretically, the production ceiling was raised for a wide receiver who had already racked up over 5,000 receiving yards in his first five seasons despite playing in just four games in 2017. 

Two years later, it’s easy to forget all of that because Beckham is now multiple years removed from profiling as an elite wide receiver statistically. Yes, his overall 2019 receiving stats may resemble his 2018 stat line, but his PFF grade dropped from 90.0 to 68.7. Along with that, his passer rating when targeted fell from 95.6 to 70.5, and he averaged nearly a half-yard less per route run (2.26 vs. 1.81). 

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