Fantasy Debate: D.J. Moore vs Odell Beckham
D.J. Moore and Odell Beckham are coming off draft boards as the WR10 and WR11 respectively, in a variety of draft formats as third-round picks. Chris Allen will argue for Moore while George Kritikos takes the side of Beckham.
The Case for D.J. Moore
Chris: I’ll be honest here. I’ve been a fan of Odell Beckham’s since his rookie season. Plus, I think he’s in line for an exceptional season in Cleveland. I forced myself to take D.J. Moore’s side to gain a different perspective on another favorite player of mine. It’s important we check our biases, especially when comparing ADP in the early rounds. After doing some digging, I’d choose Moore for two reasons: his competition for targets and the projected offensive volume for the Panthers.
Now, ‘competition for targets’ doesn’t mean total targets or target share. Beckham’s skills as a receiver have earned him a career-average 26.8% target share. I’m talking about competition at specific target depths on the field.
Moore matches up to Beckham in almost every category except for deep targets. Moore also has a significant advantage in the short and intermediate areas of the field. It’s where target competition, or lack thereof, becomes clearer. Look at the Panthers pass-catcher roster construction. Christian McCaffrey caught 127 of his 142 targets (89.4%) at depths of five air yards or fewer. Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson have aDOTs of 15.3 and 14.6, respectively. Ian Thomas is only in his third season. Now, compare the Panthers’ pass catchers to Cleveland’s. Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and Rashard Higgins all have aDOTs around 10.0. They’ve added Austin Hooper (6.5 aDOT in Atlanta). It’s a nuanced take on the ‘too many mouths to feed’ cliché that warrants our consideration. I’m not doubting Beckham's abilities. I’m doubting his ability to command significantly more targets than Moore in the areas of the field that match how his quarterback typically operates.
Baker Mayfield threw 49.4% of his passes fewer than five air yards. About 30.3% of his attempts went to the intermediate areas of the field. Let’s assume Kevin Stefanski brings some of Minnesota’s passing concepts to Cleveland. Kirk Cousins attempted 59.4% of his passes at five air yards or fewer. It doesn’t look good. Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater attempted 27.2% of his passes between five and 15 air yards while in New Orleans. The rest were primarily short (62.2% on average). Both areas that Moore excels. Plus, Joe Brady and Matt Rhule have emphasized RPO and inside zone concepts in their passing game throughout their respective careers. Again, more to suggest that Moore benefits from the change in coaching staff. Now, let’s dive into potential game scripts.
In 2019, average passing rate in neutral game scripts was 60.1% for teams with a single passer with over 200 attempts. That rate jumped to an average of 68.1% in negative game scripts. It makes intuitive sense. Teams behind in score are forced to pass. The added volume drives fantasy production for all pass catchers. The combination of Cam Newton and Kyle Allen was behind on 56.2% of their attempts. Baker Mayfield attempted a pass while one score or behind at a rate of 35.6%. Cleveland’s defense allowed 24.6 points per game, drafted defensive players in the second and third round, and have multiple starters returning on defense. Carolina, however, gave up 29.4 points per game, released Eric Reid, and drafted defensive players with every single pick in the 2020 draft. The Panthers have recognized their weakness, but it won’t get fixed in 2020. Carolina will have to face Atlanta, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay twice throughout the season. All three were above average in neutral passing rate. The Saints and Falcons were in the Top 10. With a young defense facing opposing offenses with high pass volume, it’s reasonable to assume that the Panthers will need to rely on the pass more than often.
But I get the hesitation when comparing the two great receivers. Beckham has cemented himself in NFL history. Moore’s been called the next Steve Smith. Their total target shares may be similar, but I’d give the edge to Moore on a weekly basis. His usage and lack of competition on the field should provide a higher floor in between the production peaks.
The Case for Odell Beckham
George: To be clear, I like both receivers. That said, Beckham has more going for him. Let’s start with the price. He is half of a round cheaper and can be had in the middle of the fourth while Moore has been a mid to late third-round pick in recent MFL drafts (PPR). That doesn’t seem like much but pairing Beckham with a third-round option like Kenyan Drake is much more appealing than Moore and a fourth-round running back like Leonard Fournette or Todd Gurley. Or, if you’re looking to avoid this debate altogether, you might be able to get them both!
Beckham has a tremendous pedigree in the league through just six seasons. He already has five 1,000 yard receiving seasons, something only 10 receivers have accomplished in NFL history. Beckham has over six receptions and 85 receiving yards per game for his career even with a down 2019 and playing his first five seasons with a past-his-prime Eli Manning.
Ok, let’s talk a little about that 2019 season. The excitement that built with Beckham going to Cleveland had him projected for a top-five finish and the idea of him finally paired with a true franchise quarterback lit the fantasy world on fire. That fell flat with a 25th placed finish in half-PPR scoring leagues despite playing all 16 games. The blame seemed to go to a bad Baker Mayfield season but it turns out there was another culprit: injury. A sports hernia in training camp turned into two torn abdominal muscles (one was called the rectus abdominis, which sounds painful) by the end of the season. The fact he played through it and managed over 1,000 receiving yards is simply incredible and should be a testament to his ability.
So what about that quarterback? Well, let’s not forget Baker Mayfield had an all-time rookie season for a quarterback. 2019 handed him an abysmal offensive line that caused increases in pressure and sack rate, two conditions that tend to hinder a thrower’s accuracy and timing. All the Browns did to rectify that was Jack Conklin to a huge free-agent deal, then turn around and draft Jedrick Wills, arguably the most polished pass protector in the draft to solidify their two offensive tackle spots. That additional time should open up more chances for Mayfield to find Beckham and return to that rookie season potential we all drooled over.
This is the part where I have to bash D.J. Moore. I don’t want to do it. I love Moore’s talent and consider him a premium asset in dynasty leagues. But friends, 2020 is going to disappoint. He gets a quarterback with a BB gun for an arm, not exactly the ideal complement to a player with Moore’s speed and vertical ability. That doesn’t mean Teddy Bridgewater can’t get him the ball, but if you were looking for deep targets and plays for bonus leagues, look elsewhere. The Panthers also weren’t satisfied with the current state of the position and added Robby Anderson. That may not threaten Moore’s placement in the pecking order, but Anderson is good enough to chip off some targets and could become the first choice on those deep routes. Add him to Curtis Samuel, Ian Thomas, and a receiving back named Christian McCaffrey and suddenly the offense looks a little crowded.
You can tell me about Matt Rhule as the new Panthers coach but I’m happy with the Kevin Stefanski addition in Cleveland. In one season as the Minnesota offensive coordinator, he led a team to a top-five finish in net yards per pass attempt and seventh in offensive points. He will bring creativity and stability to the Browns offense, providing an environment where 3-4 receiving targets can thrive and a quarterback can be efficient with his volume. All that adds up to a potentially great season for Odell Beckham. 4for4 has him as the 18th ranked wide receiver (D.J. Moore is 17th for comparison) but I’m more inclined to believe Beckham smashes his current ranking than Moore. Give me the guy with a similar floor but has the high ceiling...and has shown it.