When you make a big move like the Cleveland Browns did in going out and trading for All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., you would expect the dividends to be paid out immediately. They surrendered not just first- and third-round draft picks but also a starting safety in the deal that saw the New York Giants send their best player away.
In Cleveland, he reunites not only with his former college teammate in fellow wide receiver Jarvis Landry, but also their college position coach, and they will be working with Baker Mayfield, who is coming off a strong rookie season in which he broke the record for the most touchdown passes thrown by a rookie during a season.
Neither Beckham nor Landry individually put up eye-popping numbers last year. Beckham, playing with Eli Manning on his last legs, still hit 1052 yards on 77 receptions with six touchdowns, and did that in just 12 games, but Landry, working with Tyrod Taylor and then the rookie Mayfield, caught just 81 passes for 976 yards with four touchdowns.
The bar is set high for the trio this year, however, as we have seen from the pundits, including former wide receiver James Jones, who last year predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster would be the league’s top wide receiver duo, along with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings.
After bragging about nailing his top picks last year, he went on to predict that Beckham and Landry would be the top wide receiver duo in the 2019 season, which is far from out of character with this offseason, as the Browns have become the near-consensus pick to win the AFC North. He writes in part:
Landry and Beckham are one of only three current WR duos to have each logged 100-catch seasons in their careers…This pair brings more to the table than great hands, as they thrive off the line of scrimmage and create separation. According to Next Gen Stats, OBJ has averaged 2.6 yards of separation from the nearest defender against press coverage since 2016, the most in the NFL (among those with a minimum of 50 press targets), while Landry’s 2.3 yards of separation per press target ranks third. With precise route running, speed and Baker Mayfield’s quick release, this pair won’t waste any time racking up yardage for one of the most exciting offenses in the league.
For the record, Jones added Brown and Tyrell Williams as the number five wide receiver tandem for the Oakland Raiders. The three runners-up who just made the list were from the Atlanta Falcons, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Kansas City Chiefs.
How far down the list might the Steelers have been, with Smith-Schuster and an as-yet-undetermined number two? Will they prove to be one of the top duos in the NFL by the end of the season, fueling discussion for the 2020 season about what they can be?