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Why Odell Beckham has the WR1 fantasy upside in Cleveland

Even though he dealt with hard-luck ankle and quad injuries over the past two seasons, Odell Beckham remained a true difference-maker in fantasy. Beckham's 19.0 PPR points per game in 2017-18 ties him with Davante Adams as the WR3 in this span.

When the Giants did not have OBJ on the field over the past two years, their offense felt it. New York scored 4.8 fewer points per game when Beckham was inactive and Eli Manning's splits without his former teammate are a disaster.

While he remained productive on the field, Beckham's time in New York came to an unceremonious ending. Not all endings are bad, though.

Baker to Beckham is bound to be dangerous.

Just Hit the Open Receiver

The NFL is stocked with an abundance of talented pass catchers, but Odell Beckham still has a claim on the throne. Injuries aside, OBJ is arguably the most talented wideout in the league.

Per Next Gen Stats, Odell Beckham got "open" -- by earning three or more yards of separation at the catch point -- on 52 percent of his targets over the last three seasons. This ranks sixth-best among 68 qualifying receivers in this span.

In fact, alpha receivers like T.Y. Hilton (41 percent), A.J. Green (40 percent), Mike Evans (39 percent), Davante Adams (35 percent), Julio Jones (33 percent), DeAndre Hopkins (30 percent), and Antonio Brown (27 percent) have all gained three or more yards of separation on their targets far less often than Beckham in 2016-18.

Beckham's issue in New York wasn't his ability to beat cornerbacks. It was his quarterback. Even though OBJ constantly gained separation from would-be defenders, Eli Manning was one of the NFL's worst passers when throwing to an open receiver.

When Manning's receivers have gotten open over the last three seasons, he ranks 29th in success rate (53.8 percent), 29th in YPA (8.0), and his completion rate is 2.7 percent below expectation, ranking 25th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks.

Manning plain struggled to even accurately deliver the ball to Beckham in their final season together, as just 50 percent of OBJ's targets were deemed "accurate" in 2018 per PFF. That ranked dead last among receivers.

Baker Mayfield, on the other hand, ranked fourth-best in accurate throw rate behind Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Drew Brees once HC Freddie Kitchens took over as the play-caller in Week 9. Mayfield also more than held his own in Next Gen's advanced metrics, earning a 61.7 percent success rate, 8.8 YPA, and a 1.8 percent completion rate above expectation when throwing to an open receiver in his rookie year.

Will Baker unlock Beckham on deep throws?

Although Manning's arm talent declined, the Eli-OBJ duo connected often enough to put up prolific fantasy numbers -- Beckham never averaged fewer than 18.5 PPR PPG in any season with the Giants -- but Manning's right arm left production on the field.

Their connection deep down the field was especially poor.

Manning played with Beckham for five seasons and earned an adjusted completion percentage (for drops) of just 33 percent on his throws that traveled over 20 yards in the air -- ranking 40th-of-45 quarterbacks in this span.

Per PFF, Beckham has been targeted deep downfield by Manning 120 times in his career. Just 43 of those passes have been deemed "catchable" (35.8 percent). The NFL average is 41 percent.

Comparatively, Baker Mayfield's deep ball was elite as a rookie. Mayfield's adjusted completion rate on 20+ yard throws last year ranked fifth-best (48 percent) trailing only Brees, Mahomes, Derek Carr, and Philip Rivers.

For OBJ, the difference between Manning and Mayfield will be stark.

While Manning's accuracy has significantly slipped, Mayfield continued to show next-level ball placement at all levels of the field. Mayfield's superb accuracy isn't a new revelation, either. In his final season at Oklahoma, Mayfield led the 2018 draft class in adjusted completion percentage, he was first in passer rating when throwing deep downfield, and no quarterback in the class had a higher completion rate when under pressure.

Beckham's target volume on a talented Cleveland roster may not match some of his counterparts like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, and Michael Thomas -- but he finally has what those four receivers are already enjoying: a great quarterback.

Since entering the league in 2014, Beckham is fifth in receptions (6.6), third in yards (92.8), and second in TDs (0.75) per game among wide receivers. It's downright scary to consider what Beckham will do with an imaginative play-caller like Freddie Kitchens and a confident, talented passer like Mayfield. The fantasy WR1 is firmly in OBJ's range of outcomes in 2019.

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