Browns: Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. duo should pop in 2021

BEREA, OH - JUNE 16: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns stretches during a mini camp at the Cleveland Browns training facility on June 16, 2021 in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)
BEREA, OH - JUNE 16: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns stretches during a mini camp at the Cleveland Browns training facility on June 16, 2021 in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images) /

Look for the Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. duo to hit their stride in 2021.

To this point, Odell Beckham Jr.‘s tenure with the Cleveland Browns post-trade from the New York Giants hasn’t been nearly what some expected it to be. Beckham’s start to his NFL career with the Giants started off in rarified air, and in four-plus seasons with them, he had 5,476 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns.

With Cleveland, it hasn’t been the best set of outcomes game-to-game for Beckham when he’s been in there, and in his first season with Baker Mayfield as his quarterback in 2019, the two couldn’t appear to consistently have it going. Beckham’s catch rate then was 55.6 percent, and the passer rating when targeting Beckham was 69.0, which was not fantastic.

Now, plenty to do with that was the disaster that was then-Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens, and Mayfield himself had a disappointing season. That included him tossing 21 interceptions, and some of it earlier on seemed as if Mayfield was forcing it to Beckham.

Nonetheless, in a general sense, the Browns’ spotty pass protection in 2019, combined with less than stellar play-calling didn’t aid Mayfield. Although admittedly, even in that season, Mayfield did miss his share of looks/was off target in instances throwing to Beckham a fair amount, and the criticism for Beckham then was overblown, frankly.

The Browns themselves passing game-wise had their share of headaches, anyhow, and that, a lack of cohesion, offensive line problems and a number of other factors played into the squad ending up 6-10.

Shifting gears from there, last season, although the targets weren’t necessarily a ton, and the likes of Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper and Kareem Hunt had some to do with that, and a different approach with then-newer head coach Kevin Stefanski, Beckham did start off well in 2020. There were still some growing pains it appeared with Mayfield, and I don’t put it close to all on Beckham that his catch rate was 53.6 percent, but the passer rating targeting Beckham then was 91.1.

Of course, then Cleveland’s talented wideout would ultimately only be active for seven games because of an ACL tear at the Cincinnati Bengals.

That said, Beckham has been progressing so well in his recovery and based on last season, Mayfield being in the second season of Stefanski’s system and with him set to take further strides, I expect the connection for the two to pop next season.

The Baker Mayfield-OBJ duo should pop in 2021 for the Browns.

Beckham’s season was again cut short, and Mayfield did not start off last season well, for the most part, but from that Bengals game onward, or at least for most of the season half of 2020, he was a different player.

Granted, Cleveland did lean heavily on the likes of Nick Chubb and Hunt in the running game on the season still, and one would expect Stefanski’s offense to still have its share of balance. That tandem, and the offensive line play coincided with it, can still assert their will in-game, which helps open up the play-action game for Mayfield, who is more than capable of making things happen on boots in those situations, for one.

But simply put, as DPD’s Sam Penix demonstrated, while Mayfield was not necessarily given the keys a ton of the time last season, he did show what he’s capable of in the back half, and this coming season, they need to turn him loose more.

And in Year 2 in Stefanski’s offense, and with how Mayfield is so gifted as a deep thrower when given the opportunities, his attempts should be way up next season, comparatively, and in his fourth year, he’s more than equipped to carry Cleveland more. The Browns being 28th in pass attempts last season simply cannot be the case again in 2021 with their talent level/Mayfield’s arm and protection for him to boot.

With that sort of thing in mind, while others will again get their looks, also including Rashard Higgins, and one would think Anthony Schwartz will get some deep/intermediate shots, one should anticipate the Mayfield-Beckham connection to truly hit their stride in Year 3 together.

Mayfield and Beckham seemingly showed promise as a duo leading up to Beckham’s injury, and with the QB finally having some continuity around him/a competent play-caller that should be much more trusting this go-round, there should be more downfield looks in-store for Beckham.

The 26-year-old signal caller probably won’t again have a 26-8 touchdown-interception ratio overall, no, but one should expect the catch rate to be more on-par with Beckham’s skill level.

One should foresee the timing to be far more crisp, and if Beckham can enter the season ready to roll/stay healthy, he should have his share of chunk plays in 2021, and 10-plus touchdowns wouldn’t seem all that unrealistic with his route running and Mayfield’s arm talent.

Now, this isn’t to say Mayfield will be forcing it, as was too often the case in 2019 to Beckham, but this go-round, the duo should be much more on-point and feasibly efficient with OBJ’s targets in their third season together.

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Both are far too talented not to, and with Mayfield’s growth he displayed over the course of 2020, him and the 28-year-old Beckham seem poised to pop next season.