Odell Beckham Jr. tore his ACL on Sunday while chasing down a Baker Mayfield interception. Surprisingly, this was somehow a turning point in the Browns' favor as Mayfield played an essentially perfect final three quarters of football after OBJ went down. Cleveland pulled out a last-second victory on a Mayfield dime to Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds remaining.
That sequence of events has sparked a discussion in the football world about if Mayfield is a better player without his most talented receiver on the field. Stats such as the one below from two ESPN personalities were presented.
I am going to go out on a limb here. Ready? The Browns are not, in fact, a better team without Beckham suiting up. Mayfield is, in fact, worse off without his most talented wideout available to catch everything thrown in his general direction.
OBJ has not quite been the same game-changing force in these brown uniforms as he was in Giants blue. But he has still been pretty good. In his first season in Cleveland last year, he caught 74 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. Not exactly what a team is looking for from a player who made just shy of $17 million, but he's no scrub, either.
I cannot disprove the stats posted above, so let's look at this from a logical standpoint. Nobody is arguing that the other wideouts on Cleveland's roster are better than Beckham. The argument is simply that, without OBJ, Mayfield plays better. It would both be hard to believe and impossible to prove that Mayfield just transforms into a better player without his best receiver on the field, so what's the argument from a football mindset?
Is it that Mayfield is less inclined to force the ball to Beckham when he isn't on the field? That could make sense. Until you look at the 2019 stats. In games where OBJ was targeted six times or less, the Browns were 1-5. In games where Mayfield looked OBJ's way 10 times or more, the Browns were 3-3. Maybe they just weren't a good football team last year, regardless of Mayfield's tendency to perhaps force the ball to his best wideout.
What about this year? In four Cleveland wins (not including this past Sunday) Beckham was targeted at least six times. The Browns' best win of the season came against Dallas, and Beckham Jr. was targeted eight times that game. We have 22 games of evidence, and there is nothing to suggest a correlation between how often the Browns go his way and how often they win football games. If one guy was the problem, that correlation would probably exist, right?
OBJ is not putting up numbers that his talent or contract level suggests. It makes sense that Mayfield is more inclined to spread the ball around when his No. 1 option isn't in the game. But that does not mean he's a better QB for it, and it certainly does not mean that OBJ is the problem in Cleveland. The team will probably win more football games this season, but that will not and should not be pointed to as a reason that Beckham is the reason they were struggling to do so before he got hurt.