A talented and inspiring second-year quarterback. One of the NFL’s true game-breaking wide receivers. A fresh running back coming off a rookie campaign littered with flashes of dynamism. A coaching staff stocked with innovative offensive minds at the helm.
We could be talking about the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs, who went on to lead the NFL in points and yards per play. We aren’t. We’re talking about the 2019 Cleveland Browns.
The news of Tuesday’s trade agreement that will send Odell Beckham from the New York Giants to the Browns launches the already promising Cleveland offense into a new stratosphere. A group that already had many of the spoils most organizations dream of now suddenly boasts a wide receiver who set himself on a Hall of Fame trajectory from nearly the moment he graced an NFL field.
Of course, none of us should be so much of a steam bag as to assert that the Browns will mimic last year’s Chiefs output. Kansas City offered us a top-five scoring unit in NFL history and saw Patrick Mahomes throw for 50 touchdowns, tying Tom Brady for second-most in a single season, in just his first full year as a starter. The 2018 Chiefs are forever etched in our hearts.
It would be wild to guarantee that the Browns will reach such heights. However, we should not be so quick to scrap it from the range of outcomes. At the very least, it’s easy to make the case an eruption could occur in Cleveland this year that vaults the team to sights they’ve never seen before. The on-paper talent for this squad is simply too immense. The Browns could be the NFL’s No. 1 offense in 2019.
Let’s start with the newest member of the Dawg Pound; the spectacularly elite Odell Beckham Jr. The impact of an addition like this cannot be overstated.
Since entering the NFL, Beckham ranks second in touchdowns per game and third in yards per game. He’s done that with a quarterback that nearly everyone, outside of those involved in the Giants organization-wide conspiracy to keep a future Eli Manning statue polished above all else, can agree is in deep decline. There may be even more untapped potential for Beckham to mine. The game film would suggest it exists.
When it comes to route-running and separation, the ranks begin with Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham in the top-two spots through the last five years. When it comes to Beckham, there might not be a better receiver at getting off the line of scrimmage. In charting wide receivers for Reception Perception over the last five seasons, I found it hard to locate a player with better release moves. Beckham has never finished below the 98th percentile in success rate vs. press coverage and owns the two best-recorded success rate vs. man coverage scores in the methodology’s history.
Odell Beckham in #ReceptionPerception:
– Owns the top two success rate vs. man coverage scores in series history with 80.1% in 2014 and 79.8% in 2018.
– Never finished below the 98th percentile in success rate vs. press coverage.
Elite separator. Here’s his 2018 route chart 👇 pic.twitter.com/D9YyO0i8Pi
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) March 13, 2019
Few get open like Beckham. And that’s just covering what he does before the ball arrives. Beckham is not only known for spectacular catches, it’s common to see him break tackles at a wild rate and dart through the open field on slant routes. There’s nothing he can’t do.
We’ve yet to see this ultra-rare talent paired with a young ascendant quarterback as both players fly off into their prime years. By all indications, he’ll finally have that partner in 2019…but we’ll get to him later.
The effect and frequency of double coverage can often be overstated in the football observing public discourse. Not in the case of Odell Beckham. The Pro Bowl wideout is one of the very few true coverage dictators in the game. In Cleveland, he’ll do the honors of drawing defensive attention away from his one-time college teammate Jarvis Landry.
Landry is coming off a season where his usage finally resembled that of a traditional receiver, and less of a downfield running back. His 11.9 average depth of target was easily the highest of his career. Landry enjoyed a solid first season in Cleveland but should see even fewer bodies in the middle of the field with defenses cheating outside in fear of Beckham. Two of the more productive players in the early stages of an NFL career, Beckham and Landry will form an enviable tandem.
Joining Landry over the middle is 2017 first-round tight end David Njoku. While he’s struggled with drops on and off in his first two seasons, Njoku doesn’t get enough credit for what a tantalizing athlete he is. He ran the fifth-most routes among tight ends in 2018 and has yet to hit his stride.
Rashard Higgins will also provide a solid ancillary option alongside Njoku. The wideout had the most stable season of his career and caught 78 percent of his targets with 14.3 yards per catch in the final five weeks of 2018.
As tasty as things look in the passing game, the ground attack is perhaps just as exciting. Nick Chubb will enter 2019 as the clear-cut starter after a pristine push to end his rookie season.
Chubb looked like a future star barreling through defenses on way to lead the NFL in yards after contact per attempt (drink, Brad Evans). The rookie back showed the elusiveness to glide in the open field and the power to be a sustaining back. The majority of Chubb’s carries (27 percent) came on runs behind the right guard. He also proved to be a competent pass-catcher, catching three or more passes in four of the Browns’ final seven games.
He won’t be alone in the backfield this year. Most likely joining Chubb at some point this season will be Kareem Hunt, the 2017 NFL leading rusher. Hunt was bounced from Kansas City after a video of him kicking a woman surfaced. The Browns added him knowing he will likely face deserved league discipline. Hunt is not much of a player to root for at this point but he will add another dimension to this team when he does play.
Tasked with bringing this cavalcade of talented weapons together is Freddie Kitchens. After a brilliant run to end 2018, Cleveland brought back Kitchens and promoted him to the head chair. The offense flourished with him calling the shot. The team went 5-3 on the back of their new dynamic scoring attack that posted a 106.2 passer rating in the second half of the season. He’s one of the most promising young offensive minds in the business.
Kitchens also won’t have to go it alone in 2019. The Browns plucked former Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken to hold the position for them this year. Monken’s offense was far from the issue in Tampa Bay last year. In fact, despite shaky play from a pair of volatile quarterbacks, Monken’s passing game finished behind only Kansas City with a 7.7 adjusted yards per attempt figure.
Of course, at the center of all this is second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield. Despite not starting the full season, Mayfield broke the rookie touchdown passes record. No simple game manager, Mayfield finished sixth in deep passing yards (1,008) as a rookie, according to Pro Football Focus. He instantly proved he is the type of franchise quarterback who elevates the talent around him, taking an offense stuck in the mud for most of the year on a wild ride to close 2018. The Browns finally found their man. Burn that stupid jersey.
Mayfield is the type of transformative figure who alters the course of an NFL franchise. At the very least, he’s the type of quarterback that always gives an offense a fighting chance at greatness. Thanks to the inspired and blistering moves of general manager John Dorsey, along with the foundation of resources laid before him by analytics cult hero Sashi Brown, Mayfield will set course in 2019 with an embarrassment of riches at his fingertips.
We could look back on Tuesday’s trade for Odell Beckham as just the beginning of something special. The next chapter in the story of the Cleveland Browns revival. The moment an offense that would single-handedly win fantasy football championships was given a dose of nitrous. The day the balance of powers in the AFC shifted.
The Cleveland Browns could be the NFL’s best offense in 2019. Those are real worlds you can say to form an incredibly believable argument. And it feels amazing. Believe the hype.