In the biggest news of the day, the Giants finally have finally moved on from Odell Beckham after numerous offseason rumors, shipping him to the Cleveland Browns. The Giants received Cleveland’s first round draft pick (17 overall), the Browns’ second third-round selection (95 overall) and safety Jabrill Peppers as compensation for the All-Pro wideout. While there are a number of angles this trade can be dissected, I am solely going to focus on the fantasy ramifications of the deal.
Beckham has played just one full season over his first five years in the league, but his per game contributions are nearly unparalleled in league history. Beckham – who doesn’t turn 27 years old until November of this season – ranks third all-time in league history in receiving yardage per game (92.8 yards) prior to turning age 27 while his 20.6 PPR points per game are the most any wide receiver has averaged per game prior to turning 27 years of age.
Beckham trades 38-year old Eli Manning for a major upgrade in soon-to-be 24-year old Baker Mayfield. Last season, 67.2 percent of Beckham’s targets from Manning were deemed as “catchable” targets, the second-lowest rate of his career. The only bit of shade you can potentially cast on Beckham is that perhaps he cannot be expected to carry over the 27.6 percent team target share he has averaged per game playing in New York. But although the supporting cast for Cleveland – particularly playing alongside college teammate Jarvis Landry- is better than that of New York, Beckham is still going to command plenty of opportunity to more than warrant his draft cost of a top-15 overall fantasy selection this offseason.
Of course, the rules applied to wide receivers changing teams that were cautioned yesterday also apply here. We mentioned that only 10 wide receivers to change teams drafted with top-36 ADP in fantasy drafts over the past decade outpaced their ADP in terms of overall scoring that season, but for what it’s worth, four of those 10 wideouts were ones that were traded and not signed through free agency. Also, the only one comparable to Beckham (and Antonio Brown for that matter) in terms of career production was Brandon Marshall, who provided two of those four seasons. Even with a slight target decline per game and potential drop, it’s very hard to envision Beckham dropping any lower than WR6 - if you’re even moving him at all.
While Beckham is a winner in the transition, Baker Mayfield comes along for the ride and is coming off throwing an NFL rookie record 27 passing touchdowns despite only starting 13 games. Mayfield’s on-field play and fantasy stock surged once the Browns moved on from Hue Jackson and Todd Haley and handed the offensive keys to now Head Coach Freddie Kitchens. Over the final eight games of the regular season, Mayfield then completed 68.4 percent of his passes while ranking ninth in the NFL in passing yards (2,254) and fourth in touchdown passes (20). For fantasy purposes, Mayfield was QB10 in overall scoring over that span and the QB11 overall if you want to remove Week 17 (although he did face the league’s best defense in a must-win game that week). It’s clear that Mayfield gets the biggest spike here, but he was already being selected as the QB5 in early drafts in Draft leagues. That’s a bit closer to his ceiling range of outcomes and too rich to select a quarterback, but the acquisition of Beckham cements Mayfield as a top-10 option at this position and places him solely behind Patrick Mahomes in terms of Dynasty rankings.
Reuniting with Landry is surely going to be a positive for Beckham’s morale, but what it should do is severely dampen the fantasy outlook for Landry. Landry has led his respective team in overall targets in each of his past four seasons, receiving 61, 56, 44 and 96 more targets than the next closest player on those rosters. Not only should he not out-target Beckham if both play the same number of games, but Landry’s performance already sagged to close the 2018 season. While the Browns broke the cycle of using Landry solely as a “slot-only” option and used him as a true receiver, the results led to Landry catching a career-low 81 passes while his 976 yards were his lowest since his rookie campaign in 2014. That transition also took away a major strength of Landry’s game, which was his ability to create after the catch. Landry managed just 277 yards after the catch in 2018 after career marks of 523, 630, 571 and 400 yards to begin his career. On top of all that was that as the Browns' offense improved, Landry became a less viable fantasy option. In eight games under Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, Landry received 11.6 targets and 14.5 PPR points per game and then averaged just 6.9 targets and 12.6 PPR points per game in the final eight weeks. Adding a true alpha-talent at wide receiver compromises Landry’s potential target share even further in 2019, even though I believe we will see him rebound as a more efficient player. Due to his 2019 decline and potential volume loss, Landry finds himself as WR3 in PPR formats and a fringe-starter at best in league’s that don’t award reception bonuses.
Not only is Beckham going to command a target share that impacts a strong asset such as Landry, it also dings the prospects of David Njoku a touch, although Njoku plays a position that has much more fantasy leeway. Njoku was second on the team in targets (88) a year ago, improving on his rookie season line of 32-386-4 to catch 56 of those targets for 639 yards with another four touchdowns. Like Landry, Njoku was hurt by the target volume being less concentrated under the tutelage of Kitchens. Njoku has seen his team target share drop from 16.9 percent under Jackson/Haley to 13.8 percent over the final eight games with three or fewer receptions in six of those games. That said, Njoku is still just a 23-year old player on an overall upward trajectory playing at a suppressed fantasy position. While this lessens the appeal of making a play on Njoku’s ceiling range of outcome, I’m more willing to keep the doors open on him making a significant fantasy impact at his position alongside Beckham than I am with Landry and where he may fall given the added target completion.
Beckham also leaves a fantasy impact in his wake on the Giants side of the coin as well. As mentioned, the one bugaboo with Beckham so far is that he has unfortunately missed a good amount of time. With that, we do have some bodies of work for players to compare with him on and off the field. While we already weren’t really touching Eli Manning as a viable starting commodity to begin with outside of deeper streaming opportunities, players such as Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard do get a boost in terms of overall fantasy stock.
Superlatives for Odell Beckham Jr. blockbuster
The 25-year old Engram gets the biggest boost as his splits with and without Beckham active have the largest discrepancy. In 15 games with Beckham inactive, Engram averages 4.4 more fantasy points (13.3 per game), 1.3 more receptions (4.7) on 2.2 more targets (7.8) for 21.5 more receiving yards (59.1) per game than in the 11 games that he has played with Beckham active. The most recent example was to close the 2018 season when Engram returned from injury and played the final four games without Beckham on the field. Over that span, Engram was the TE12 (3-77), TE1 (8-75), TE4 (6-87) and the TE3 (5-81-1) to close the season last year healthy without Odell on the field. Over that span, only George Kittle outscored Engram for fantasy purposes. The loss of Beckham assures Engram being a focal point in the Giants passing game and bolsters his fantasy stock being warranted this season as opposed to when he had higher bust potential a year ago due to his same rookie season splits when he excelled with Beckham off the field.
Sterling Shepard isn’t the archetype of a lead wide receiver, but he’s likely going to play that part on the field this season given the current state of their roster. His opportunity couldn’t come at a better time as he enters the final season of his rookie contract. Like Engram, Shepard has better counting splits with Beckham off the field, but his aren’t as pronounced nor as consistent from 2017 to 2018 as they are with Engram. In 2017, Shepard was lights out without Beckham, averaging 14.4 PPR points per game (as opposed to 10.9 per game with him on the field). In those seven games, Shepard averaged nine targets per game, catching 6.3 per game for 73.1 yards. Last season, Shepard’s splits were neutral regardless of Beckham’s availability as he averaged 11.0 PPR points per game with Beckham inactive as opposed to 11.4 per game with Beckham actually on the field. But despite that lateral production, Shepard’s target volume still seen a significant increase. Over that four-game sample to close the season with Beckham out, Shepard received 26.3 percent of the New York passing targets as opposed to 17.4 percent prior. Although Shepard may not profile as a true lead wideout that can carry an offense, that type of volume can’t be ignored. Especially since Shepard is unlikely to make a leap into the top-25 of the position come fantasy drafts. The Giants should be expected to add either a free agent or a rookie wideout over the remainder of this offseason -which odds are only heightened by Shepard’s expiring contract- but Shepard has the inside track to lead the team in passing volume entering the season.