Should Odell Beckham Be The First Wide Receiver Drafted in 2015?

The first overall pick in 2015 fantasy football drafts should be a wide receiver. But even if you disagree with me on that, someone has to be the first WR drafted. I think you can make a case for six different WRs to be the first WR off the board. Today, I make the case for Odell Beckham Jr.

The Knocks Against Beckham

I mostly want to focus on the affirmative case for Beckham, but first I want to briefly list some arguments against him:

  • His rookie year was so good in terms of both usage and efficiency that he’s bound to regress.
  • He’s only had one good season, so it’s hard to get a good idea of what his median or low-end outcomes are compared to other top WRs.
  • He’s had recurrent hamstring injuries.
  • Victor Cruz will be back at some point, and Beckham has only played concurrently with Cruz for two games before.
  • He faced seven bottom 12 defenses pass defenses last season.

The Argument For Beckham

First of all, Cruz does not concern me. Cruz will likely not return to his pre-injury form, and Beckham is undeniably the Giants WR1 at this point. I believe Cruz poses a bigger risk to the usage of Rueben Randle and Larry Donnell. According to the Game Splits AppEli Manning threw almost four more passes per game once Beckham entered the lineup. And prior to his injury Cruz was averaging less than seven targets and less than four receptions per game. I’m not concerned by a guy who was bad last year, is coming off of a significant injury, and may not even play at the beginning of the season.

It’s also true that Beckham is bound to regress, but his fantasy scoring could decrease by a third and he could still be a top 12 WR. Last season he still posted over 17 PPR points per game against top 20 pass defenses, so even if his strength of schedule regresses to be harder, he’ll likely be fine. For that matter, he could regress and still be the WR1 overall in fantasy points per game. I think it’s important to not get so hung up on the impending regression that you value it over the reason for it, that reason being he just had the highest fantasy point per game output of at least the last 15 years.

But what if Beckham actually doesn’t regress? It’s a possibility worth considering. Things that can’t reasonably be predicted happen all the time, it’s just the nature of statistics and variance.These events have actually been quite common in fantasy football when you think about it: Beckham’s own rookie season, Peyton Manning’s 2013 season, the rookie seasons of Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, Rob Gronkowski’s sophomore season, and Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season all fit the description. And that’s a non-exhaustive list from just the last four seasons. These unpredictable events have defined fantasy seasons.

That’s not to say we should project Beckham to repeat his rookie success. That would be unreasonable. But what we can do is try to account for that possibility and act accordingly. In this case, that means drafting Beckham. To be clear, I’m not saying we should shirk all probability and draft Beckham solely because of this unlikely upside. The key here is that a Beckham is a good pick aside from the possibility that he duplicates or improves on his 2014 performance. The possibility that he’s simply an unprecedented fantasy talent is just an added bonus.

So Should Beckham Be the First WR Drafted?

The case for Beckham is largely one based on upside. As such, I can’t really advocate for him in standard leagues because Dez Bryant scores touchdowns at will. His career TD scoring efficiency is simply better than Beckham’s, both in and out of the red zone, and that’s on a much larger sample.

In your typical PPR league, I wouldn’t select Beckham either. He may very well have a lower floor than other top WRs, which could cost you valuable wins. I’d rather have Antonio Brown, who has both a super-high floor and ceiling. Brown hasn’t had a single game with fewer than 10 PPR points over the last two seasons, and among WRs who have actually played in both seasons, he leads the NFL in per game scoring with 21.45 points per game. I trust Brown’s 32 game sample more than Beckham’s 12 game sample.

So what does that leave? Large PPR tournaments and contest style formats. This is where I recommend drafting Beckham. To win these leagues you need to take some strategic swings for the fences. If Beckham underperforms relative to his draft position he likely won’t cost you your league, but if he duplicates his 2014 performance he could be the key to winning the whole shebang.