OBJ in LA might sound a lot like AB in Tampa Bay. But Odell Beckham Jr. making the Rams his third NFL team is a lot different than Antonio Brown landing with the Buccaneers as his fourth team.
There are natural comparisons to be made with the midseason signings of the talented but mercurial wide receivers. But it’s bending the truth to expect Beckham to have the same impact Brown did in 2020 in helping the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl.
The 2021 Rams look like they will be positioned similarly to where the Bucs were last season, as a No. 5-seeded wild card in the tough NFC needing to make an all-road run to a ring. Los Angeles is 4-0 in away games this year and second in its division behind the Cardinals; that’s somewhat of a parallel to Tampa Bay being runner-up to the Saints in the South while going 6-2 on the road ahead of the previous playoffs.
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Brown was amazing in reuniting with Tom Brady after his short-lived Patriots stint. In half of a regular season in 2020, which was then eight games, he had 45 catches for 483 yards and four TDs. When he was healthy for two playoff games, the wild-card matchup at Washington and Super Bowl 55 vs. the Chiefs, Brown scored in each and had a big impact. That’s what the Rams are hoping for with Beckham.
Brown was added to a receiving corps that already had Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Buccaneers were worried at the time about injuries to those two and Scotty Miller, as well as the inexperience of then-rookie Tyler Johnson.
The Rams brought in Beckham to join their two aces, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Second-year man Van Jefferson has emerged as a key playmaker while taking over Brandin Cooks’ role as a speed-and-quickness big-play threat. The team moved on from veteran speedster DeSean Jackson; its wide receiver depth chart is now rounded out by rookie Ben Skowronek and undrafted second-year man J.J. Koski. Rookie second-rounder Tutu Atwell, who had been ready to replace Jackson, is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
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Beckham gives the offense a third veteran behind the well-seasoned Kupp and Woods. They’re counting on him to mesh with QB Matthew Stafford and coach Sean McVay the way Brown did with Brady and Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
But here’s the rub: Brown remains a top-flight player at age 33. Although he has missed time recently with an ankle injury, he didn’t come to the Bucs with the same durability concerns as Beckham did to the Rams.
At times, Brown has played like the uncoverable receiver he was in his prime Steleers days. At times, it’s debatable who really is the Bucs’ No. 1 wideout between him, Evans and Godwin. Brown has a speciifc role as a home-run hitter and savvy route-runner to complement the other two; credit goes to him for not being diva-like about getting the ball thrown his way.
Beckham just turned 29 but he hasn’t been a big-time receiver in the NFL in five years, even though some might still think he is. He has been brought down by injuries since his peak with the Giants. First, it was a fractured ankle in 2017. Then it was a quad injury cutting short his 2018 season. During his first year with the Browns in 2019, he battled a core muscle injury that required postseason surgery. In 2020, he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. This year, lingering issues with the knee slowed him early and then he suffered a new injury to his shoulder.
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The bottom line is, Beckham is a shell of the player he once was. He doesn’t have the same speed and explosiveness. It’s admirable that he has done his best to play through the injuries, but the results aren’t there, and that isn’t tied to not connecting well with Baker Mayfield in the Browns’ passing game.
Brady and Brown had established chemistry from their brief time together in New England. Stafford will need to put in a lot of work to get on the same page as Beckham, given how locked into Kupp and Woods he already is. Stafford is not at his best when he’s trying to force-feed a wide receiver. Jefferson has flashed and deserves more time to become an ideal No. 3, anyway.
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Beckham should be perceived as a pure depth play by the Rams given that Jackson is gone and Atwell can’t show what he can do until 2022. Brown turned into a necessity in Tampa with his high-level play. There’s nothing to suggest Beckham will suddenly revert to being the elite receiver he briefly was with the Giants.
Like Cam Newton signing with the Panthers, the biggest asset Beckham carries this season is his big name and big-game past. The present for OBJ is the stark reality that he’s a shaky downfield receiver. It’s not a coincidence the Browns’ passing offense got better with second-year man Donovan Peoples-Jones taking over as the top outside target for Mayfield last week.
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If anyone can extract anything of notable value from Beckham again, it would be McVay. But as good of an offensive schemer as he is, he can’t turn back time and overcome Beckham’s physical limitations.