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Making a case for Odell Beckham Jr. in the first round

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It's hard to think of a player recently who has had a more meteoric rise to superstardom than Odell Beckham Jr. He was starting to get attention around the league, when a three-fingered catch on national television propelled his legend and fame into the stratosphere. As a rookie, he was ranked the 32nd best player in the NFL by his peers, won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and became one of the biggest stars in the country's biggest city.

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Despite all of this, everyone is wondering (especially in fantasy circles), "What will he do for an encore?"

Smart football writers that I trust seem to be split on the topic. Any conversation with Around the NFL's inimitable football intellect, Chris Wesseling, has me believing the hype and putting OBJ at the top of the WR heap in 2015. Whereas Rotoworld's Adam Levitan (another great football mind) wrote convincingly about the likelihood that OBJ regresses (but not a ton) in Year 2.

Needing a more informed opinion of my own, I dove into the stats and tape to see what OBJ might have in store for an encore. His current ADP on NFL.com is in the second round, so let's push this a step further. Below are my findings on whether or not Odell Beckham Jr. is worth a first-round pick in fantasy in 2015.

Statistical Superiority

 

Everyone knows Beckham had a historic rookie season. But just how good was it? In the history of professional football, only three players have ever had more than 1,300 receiving yards and 10-plus receiving touchdowns in their rookie season.

(Courtesy Pro-Football-Reference.com/)

Notice that Beckham did it in four fewer games than Randy Moss, and two fewer games than Billy Groman. Beckham was not only a revelation when it came to producing highlights (even his incompletions were something to watch), but he was one of the most efficient receivers in the league, even on a high volume of targets. This first chart shows Beckham's completion percentage on routes to various parts of the field (huge thanks to the crack research team over here at NFL Media). This isn't just a look at his catchable targets, either. It includes overthrows, underthrows, and throwaways, too. It's essentially a heat-map of all of Beckham's targets, where a green quadrant means he converted more than 70 percent of his targets in that area (or 50 percent for over 22 air yards). As you can see, there's A LOT of green on that chart. The only area he didn't excel at was in the deep left corner of the field ... because he wasn't targeted there. I compared Beckham's chart to those of Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant and other top WRs from 2014, and Beckham's was far and away the best.

Beckham caught a ton of his targets all over the field, so what? How is that going to help in fantasy for 2015? Well, not only was Beckham highly efficient at converting his targets into catches, but he was equally as efficient at turning those catches into fantasy points. As you can see in the second chart, among wide receivers with 130-plus targets, Beckham ranked second in fantasy points per catch and fantasy points per target (trailing only Dez Bryant, who got a boost from his 16 touchdowns). FPPT can fluctuate year-to-year, but Beckham's all-world athleticism and knowledge of route concepts should help him keep that number relatively high. However, there's one more concern for a possible regression in Beckham's stats: his targets.

Beckham saw his stock soar in the Giants' offense once Victor Cruz was lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon in Week 6. A common train of thought this offseason is that once Cruz returns, the combination of him, Rueben Randle and to a certain extent Shane Vereen will eat into Beckham's targets. After all, during the final nine weeks of the season Beckham averaged an absurd 12.7 targets per game. For the sake of comparison, Demaryius Thomas led the NFL with 184 targets last season, which averages out to 11.5 per game. But is it really that absurd to think Beckham can't get close to that target number again?

Over the last six years (including 2014), Eli Manning has targeted his No. 1 receiver an average of 135 times per year. Last season, Beckham's 130 targets accounted for 28 percent of Mannings' total targets once they were on the field together, and that mark was the third-most of Eli's career to one receiver (30 percent in '05 to Plaxico Burress, 31 percent in '09 to Steve Smith). The only thing that's different, is that Manning has never had a receiver of Beckham's athletic caliber. As Matt Harmon pointed out in his excellent ADP article earlier this week, Beckham's presence on the field improved Manning's touchdowns, yards and fantasy points per game, while also reducing his interceptions. Beckham can get open as good, if not better than any receiver in the league, as evidenced by the chart above. Many quarterbacks often say their favorite receiver is the open one, and if Beckham is torching cornerbacks in 2015 as he did in 2014, why should we expect any sort of regression? The answer is we shouldn't. Expecting Beckham to take his 2014 per game averages, especially in fantasy, and turn those into a 16 game season is a bit of a reach. But expecting him to improve to 150-plus targets (which might be conservative) and still post great fantasy numbers? Now that's perfectly reasonable.

What does the film say?

 

Football eventually boils down to whether or not a player can win his matchups on the field. And boy, can OBJ win at any level of the field. We've covered this ad nauseam on NFL.com (for more read Wesseling's piece on redrafting the 2014 rookie class, or Harmon's case for OBJ in the first/second-round in fantasy). Suffice to say, Beckham is special. There's no denying that. Even for all the success the rest of the much heralded "Class of 2014" had, no player is as impressive on film as Beckham. I'm only been devotedly studying tape for a few years now, but Beckham jumps off the screen like no other athlete I've seen. The speed of the NFL is often what young players have to catch up to, but watching Beckham on film, it seems the rest of the NFL needs to catch up to his speed.

Unlike other flashy recent rookie seasons (Keenan Allen, Cordarrelle Patterson, etc), the tape not only affirms Beckham's statistical greatness, but pushes his fantasy ceiling even higher.

Stay for the encore

 

I was hesitant earlier in the offseason to crown OBJ without a deeper dive, but now I'm 100 percent a believer. I'd have a hard time taking OBJ in the first round of fantasy drafts simply because I want one of the top RBs this year (if I can get one), but I won't begrudge anyone who does take him there. And if I'm going zero RB or drafting towards the end of the first round, then I might grab OBJ. Should you get him in the second-round, you can consider that a steal.

For many of you, this likely isn't a revelation of a fantasy article. Odell Beckham is REALLY good at football; that we know. But if you needed any more convincing to take a shot on him early in fantasy, consider this article a reassuring nod in your favor. OBJ will be great again in 2015, and I for one will be trying to draft him as much as possible, so I can witness his encore on my fantasy teams later this fall.

Alex Gelhar is a fantasy football writer/editor for NFL.com, and, like Michael Bolton, a huge cinephile. Tweet him your fantasy football questions or movie suggestions @AlexGelhar.

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