When Dave Gettleman was the Panthers’ general manager, he famously released future Hall of Fame receiver Steve Smith because he didn’t like Smith’s attitude, or some such thing. And just as the Ravens benefited from Gettleman’s unintentional largesse at the time, another AFC North team has the now-Giants GM to thank for his intemperate attitude regarding temperamental receivers.
The blockbuster trade of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns for a first-round pick, a third-round pick and safety Jabrill Peppers puts the Giants fully in rebuild mode, whether Gettleman wants to admit it or not.
As for the Browns, and the team-building they’ve been doing over the last few years? Well, they now add Beckham to a list of skill players that already includes … deep breath … wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins and Breshad Perriman; tight ends David Njoku and Seth DeValve; and running backs Kareem Hunt, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson.
If quarterback Baker Mayfield isn’t doing cartwheels right now, it’s only because he’s kneeling in solemn prayer, thanking the deity of his choice that he’s surrounded with such abundant riches. Not only does Mayfield have as stacked an offensive roster as there is in the NFL, he’s also got a new head coach in Freddie Kitchens who completely restarted Cleveland’s offense when he was promoted from running backs coach to offensive coordinator halfway through the 2018 season.
Last season, I posited that Kitchens was the Browns’ MVP based on the ways in which he made things easier and more explosive for Mayfield based on favorable route concepts. Kitchens combined concepts Mayfield was familiar with from his time at Oklahoma with more NFL-centric concepts, which is the ideal way to prepare a young quarterback for success.
Remember that the Browns ranked first overall in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted passing metrics from Weeks 10-17, which is about when Kitchens had things rolling with his concepts. And then, there’s this, from Pro Football Focus’ George Chahrouri. We think Beckham will enjoy catching passes from Mayfield more than he did from Eli Manning.
Whether it’s rub concepts out of dig/wheel combos, or adaptations of the Sean McVay idea of getting multiple routes out of tight splits to prevent defensive reads, or double-slant concepts in the red zone (another favorite McVay idea), or multiple routes out of full-house backfields, Kitchens very quickly became one of the most creative play designers in the league.
How does Beckham fit into this? Like a veritable hand in glove.
This double-slant red zone route combination against the Buccaneers in Week 11 shows how quickly and definitively Beckham can get open in enclosed spaces, and this is something he’ll see a lot in Cleveland. Now, imagine Beckham on the same side of the field with Landry, his old LSU teammate, and defenses trying to deal with this.
Mayfield is a quarterback who likes to throw on the move, and he does it very well — certainly better than Eli Manning does these days. And this touchdown against the 49ers in Week 10 shows how well Beckham adjusts to broken plays either in or out of the pocket. Watch how he keeps his eye on Manning, sinks out of coverage to stay open and allows Manning to extend the play with his quickness and coverage awareness. If you have a safety in the middle of the field late to the party, and Beckham one-on-one with a slot cornerback, you might as well give up and go home.
Now, there are off-field factors we don’t yet know about. Beckham may not be happy with his new location for some reason. He may want a new contract as Antonio Brown did, and as Brown got when he was traded from Pittsburgh to Oakland — Beckham signed a five-year, $95 million with $65 million in guarantees last August. But as much as Beckham’s personality may play a part in this story over time, we can’t take that into account when we analyze the tape and project the fit between player and team.
What we can say assuredly is that, through five seasons with the Giants, Beckham became one of the NFL’s most remarkable receivers. And the offense put together by his new head coach, and piloted by his new quarterback, has the potential to make him more remarkable than he’s ever been.
And here, in Week 7 against the Falcons, we see Beckham starting to run a vertical route out of a tight formation — like the McVay-esque ideas discussed before. Now, what Beckham does here isn’t as much a route as it is a declaration that cornerback Robert Alford isn’t going to cover him. Beckham and Alford get handsy for a second, and the next thing you know, Beckham has five yards of separation, and Alford is in a different area code. Beckham has the talent to freelance like this, and while he may do it too often for some, we’re assuming that Kitchens and Mayfield will be perfectly fine with it.