OBJ regained star status with the Rams
Odell Beckham, Jr.’s storyline is simple – he and Baker Mayfield lacked “chemistry.” The actual story was much more complex.
In 2019, OBJ was playing despite being severely injured, to the point of requiring surgery. Somehow, he as well as former Louisiana State University teammate Jarvis Landry both gained over 1,000 receiving yards, though not all was well with the offense. The offense was probably designed too much around the two LSU receivers.
The next highest receiving yard total was a paltry 285 yards from Kareem Hunt, who of course was a running back rather than a wide receiver. The third-highest wide receiver total belonged to Damion Ratley with an even 200 receiving yards. That must be some kind of record for the lousiest performance by WR3 in NFL history. Perhaps it is not surprising with that sort of imbalance that Mayfield sent 21 pigskins to the wrong-colored jerseys that season.
David Njoku and Rashard Higgins spent pretty much the entire season banished to the Phantom Zone, the fictional limbo-land of DC Comics because head coach Freddie Kitchens didn’t seem to like them, although he claimed to not have any problem with either one. But the two of them combined for only 96 receiving yards. Um, Freddie, that’s not maximizing the potential of the players, sir. Freddie held grudges, and he may have taught that management style to his young quarterback.
Anyway, chemistry was a bit of an issue for just about everyone in 2019.
In 2020, with the installation of the Kevin Stefanski offense, Beckham was healthy but didn’t put up numbers commensurate with a premier receiver. The Dawg Pound was about evenly divided as to whether there was a chemistry issue with Mayfield, or whether OBJ was in a slight decline. He was still a good receiver, but nowhere near the top of his profession.
A ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury ended the debate prematurely, and the Browns went on to make the playoffs, with Donovan Peoples-Jones and a reincarnated Rashard Higgins filling OBJ’s role capably.
In 2021, OBJ worked hard to get back, though not always the way that the team wanted to see him work. He liked to work with other famous, popular players and not necessarily with his Cleveland Browns teammates and not necessarily with Baker Mayfield. If Tom Brady is correct that Super Bowls are won in the offseason (by the way, Tom Brady might know something about winning Super Bowls), the Browns might not have been doing enough good things to win one.
Once again, it sounded like a chemistry issue. When the season started, a major theme was keeping OBJ happy by targeting him enough. Initially, Mayfield was targeting OBJ too often. For example, his season-high was nine targets in his debut versus Chicago. But OBJ failed to come up with the catch on a critical fourth-down play versus the Chargers, and again versus Arizona, then got hit in the butt with a ball from Case Keenum versus Denver and failed to make that catch as well. Mayfield started to lose interest in throwing to him.
In OBJ’s last game versus Pittsburgh, he was targeted only once. At that point, OBJ’s dad posted a video showing his son being open and being ignored by Baker Mayfield, and that was a wrap on OBJ’s Cleveland career.
There was fault on both sides, sure, but there were not a lot of compensating positives, either. He was given a settlement package by the Browns and signed a deal with the Rams and had a good-but-not-great season down the stretch for them, and then came up huge in the playoffs and Super Bowl before re-injuring the knee again.
Overall, he was clearly a better player for the Rams than for Cleveland. Some of the improvement might have been due to opposing defenses having to devote so many resources to slow down Cooper Kupp. Playcalling and offensive scheme certainly helped him as well (does that explanation make Browns fans feel better or worse about the situation?).
At any rate, OBJ got very hot in the playoffs. It helped that the opposing defenses always had to contend with Cooper Kupp and by January the secondaries were usually playing a few backup players, but nevertheless, OBJ was lighting it up as the number two receiving threat for the Rams. In four playoff games, he had an 80.8 catch percentage with two touchdowns and 288 receiving yards (72 yards/game). With the Browns, in six regular-season games, he had a 50.0 catch percentage with zero touchdowns and 232 yards (38.7 yards/game).
There is no way to spin it such that Baker and the Browns look good concerning the OBJ affair. OBJ was flat-out better for the Rams and helped them win the Super Bowl, big time.
OBJ’s Louisiana State teammate Juice Landry also became disenchanted with his Cleveland experience and is currently a free agent.