What’s next for Odell Beckham Jr.?
Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made the best catch of 2014, and probably the best catch most of us can remember. However, most people acknowledge that Beckham’s impressive play went far beyond that one catch. He finished as our third highest graded receiver with a grade of +20.4, despite the fact that he played the second fewest snaps among receivers in the Top 10.
It is really hard to predict what Beckham will be able to achieve in the NFL. One thing that can help us better estimate his ceiling is having a more detailed look at his fantastic rookie season. To provide context, I went back and looked at the rookie seasons of the seven top graded receivers of 2014, including Beckham.
(The seven top receivers of 2014 were: Antonio Brown (rookie season: 2010), Jordy Nelson (2008), Odell Beckham Jr. (2014), Dez Bryant (2010), Demaryius Thomas (2010), Julio Jones (2011), Calvin Johnson (2007))
Even after missing the first four weeks of the season and being less involved in his first games with the Giants, Beckham was targeted 129 times over the season. This is over ten a game, by far the most among the rookie seasons of the seven players. Julio Jones was the closest to this number, but even he was short of 100 targets as he achieved 99, an average of just 7.6 per game.
Despite being targeted by far the most often among the examined players, Beckham achieved the second highest catch rate with 70.5%. However, Antonio Brown, the only player who had a better rate with 77.8%, was targeted a mere 27 times as a rookie. The other five players all had catch rates between 53% and 64% with the lowest belonging to Calvin Johnson (53.9%). Some of that will be affected by role within the offense, especially in some cases being eased in as rookies, but Beckham’s mark remains impressive.
Due to the varying number of catchable passes, rather than looking at the total number of drops, it is better to look at one of our own Signature Stats, the Drop Rate. Again, Brown was the best in this category as he did not drop any of the 21 catchable passes sent his way. Beckham comes in second in this ratio as well, he had two drops, which led to a drop rate of 2.2%. All the other of these now elite receivers had a drop rate of at least 8.0% with Jones and Johnson both finishing above 10.0%.
Missed tackles forced
Beckham showed off his elusiveness as well by forcing 15 missed tackles in his rookie season, the most by any of the selected wide receivers in their respective rookie campaigns. The only other player surpassing 10 was Jones with 13, while Johnson finished last in this category with just 2.
Wide Receiver Rating
Although you expect that these players stepped up and became a reliable option for their quarterbacks immediately, only three of the seven players had a Wide Receiver Rating above 100. Quarterbacks recorded a QB rating of 104.3 and 115.6 when throwing to Dez Bryant and Jones respectively in their rookie seasons, but Beckham is once again leading the group coming in at 127.6.
Yards Per Route Run
In this category Beckham is topped only by Demaryius Thomas and Brown, the only two wide receivers among the selected seven who played fewer than 400 snaps in their rookie seasons. Beckham’s 2.74 Yards Per Route Run is approximately 1 full yard better than Johnson’s and Bryant’s figure, despite the fact that the New York Giants’ wide receiver ran considerably more routes than the other two players.
Perhaps this is the category where Beckham’s isolation from the others is the most shocking and impressive. Jordy Nelson, Jones and Bryant each had negative grades in their rookie seasons. Thomas, Brown and Johnson were graded at +1.8, +3.6 and +3.8, respectively, which are all above the average grade for a rookie first round wide receiver. Then comes Beckham with a grade of +20.4, a figure that blows the rest out of the water. Before him, Keenan Allen had the best grade for rookie receivers during the PFF era with +13.3.
So what’s really next for Beckham? It might help to look at how these six – now elite – wide receivers progressed throughout their first five years.
The average number of times they were targeted jumped from 63 to 106 in their second season as most of them stepped up to become a true focal point of their offense. The next significant increase was seen in their fourth season when four of the six players topped 150 targets and overall they averaged 146 targets. Considering the fact that Beckham already had 129 targets in his rookie season and that there is a natural ceiling on the number of times a receiver can be targeted, we should not expect such a steep increase in Beckham’s numbers. However, staying healthy and not missing any games can certainly help him exceed 150 targets in his second season already.
The average Yards per Route Run of the six receivers gradually went up from 2.08 in their rookie season to 2.48 by their fifth season, which is still considerably less than Beckham’s 2.74. It may be surprising that throughout their careers Johnson, Bryant and Jones haven’t once exceeded the 2.74 YPRR figure. Again, it is hard to imagine that in this category Beckham could progress from his rookie year similarly as the other players have done. However, if he does so, he can easily reach the 3.0 YPRR milestone, a mark beaten just three times during the PFF era among heavily targeted players.
Finally, let’s look at the grades. The selected receivers’ average grade slowly increased from the +0.5 they achieved in their rookie season. Similar to the amount of targets, the big jump came in their fourth season when the average grade increased from +5.9 to +14.5, further increasing to +20.1 in their fifth season. Yet again, Beckham topped this number in his rookie year, from just twelve games. There is nothing to suggest that Beckham would need the three years most of the other receivers needed to get accustomed to the NFL.
Beckham’s focus needs to be not on development, but in avoiding regressing in his second season. Two of the receivers looked at (Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas) took steps back in PFF grade in their sophomore seasons and given the incredible heights Beckham hit as a rookie, it is a lot easier to step backward than to go forward. However, even if he only maintains his production in the next two years and then progresses with a similar pace to the others, he can reach a level that hasn’t been witnessed by PFF yet.