- Now in Cleveland after a blockbuster trade, Odell Beckham Jr. will be the No. 1 target that Baker Mayfield desperately needed last season.
Baker and Beckham! Baker and Beckham! Baker and Beckham! Hooray!
With that out of the way, let’s evaluate the Giants sending WR Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns—and specifically, the outlook for Cleveland’s offense.
Who won the deal? All things equal, Cleveland—in a landslide. If a team dealt what’s turned out to be a rotational safety (Jabrill Peppers) and the 95th draft pick to move up and draft someone at Pick 17, and that someone turned out to be as dominant as Beckham, we’d call it a draft steal. But you can’t censure the Giants for making this trade because all things were not equal; their relationship with Beckham was growing messy.
In Cleveland, Beckham steps into a desirable situation—not because his swagger fits with Baker Mayfield’s, and not because the No. 2/slot receiver Jarvis Landry is a former LSU teammate and dear friend … but because Beckham’s style perfectly fits the system that Cleveland is building around its star QB.
Like many superstar receivers, Beckham is most dangerous on slant patterns and downfield routes, which require a quarterback who will pull the trigger on schedule into tight windows. For those underneath routes, Beckham actually had that kind of QB in New York, as Eli Manning was super comfortable throwing slants, which formed the backbone of the Giants’ scheme under Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur.
Manning was not always comfortable targeting the vertical routes—and that’s where Beckham’s life is about to brighten. Mayfield has a true gunslinger’s mentality, and he’ll target the deep outer hole against Cover 2. He’ll zip the ball past the earhole of a man-to-man defender who is trailing Beckham with safety help over the top. He’ll keep his eyes downfield in scramble drills when he’s outside the pocket.
With Mayfield, Beckham now becomes the rare receiver who can still be counted on for 80-plus yards when he’s facing a barrage of dedicated double-teams. In fact, the biggest challenge facing Browns new head coach Freddie Kitchens will be to keep Mayfield from playing with his new toy too enthusiastically. Interceptions can be the cost of doing business with an aggressive QB; a good over/under for the number Mayfield will have on throws targeting Beckham is five.
But let’s remember: Mayfield is still in the early stages of his development. His field vision, sense of timing and general football IQ suggest he’ll progress into an excellent (and responsible) field general. Trying to help manage Mayfield’s risk-taking with Beckham might be Kitchens’s biggest challenge, but it’s not an imposing one. Mayfield is more refined than he is reckless.
And it helps that there are weapons around Beckham. Landry, with his ability to work the short-to-intermediate levels, is an excellent No. 2. He’s not a fundamentally precise player (which is why the Dolphins sent him to Cleveland), but with a true No. 1 receiver like Beckham aboard, Landry will be facing more zone coverage and, when it’s man-to-man, more one-on-one matchups. The trick for Kitchens will be figuring out where to align Landry given that, when you have a top-shelf superstar receiver, some double-teams within the zone coverages are built so uniquely around that receiver that the defense becomes unpredictable. This, of course, qualifies as a good problem to have.
And maybe the Browns will face that problem less than, say, the Falcons with Julio Jones, given that mixed in with Landry and Beckham is speedster Antonio Calloway, who can take the top off a defense. Loose Cover 2 zones could be the coverage de jour against this offense. Which means Cleveland’s ground game, spearheaded by burgeoning star Nick Chubb (another skill player with home run ability) opens up, as does the controlled two-back passing game that Kitchens shrewdly leaned on down the stretch last year.
Cleveland’s ancillary supporting cast is scintillating, with flex tight end David Njoku and 2017 NFL rushing champ Kareem Hunt. Factor in an offensive line that, on its worst day, is good enough—assuming left tackle Greg Robinson can stay above water, which he has since putting on orange and brown—and that makes the scariest offense in the AFC North.
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