In a previous article, Odell Beckham Jr.. and his Giants career had been explored. With hindsight making things clear, the trade in where he went to the Cleveland Browns arguably deserves as much attention. In March 2019 the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns administered two trades. The first, a flipping of DE Olivier Vernon and G Kevin Zeitler. The second, a blockbuster that sent Beckham Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for a 2019 3rd round pick, safety Jabrill Peppers and a 2019 1st round pick, which turned into interior defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence. It has had many lasting implications already, let’s discuss.
Constant Pressure In Cleveland
2019 for the Cleveland Browns was a whirlwind. It was one of the only seasons this century they had expectations for success, at least from fans. A 2018 season where rookie Baker Mayfield threw for 27 touchdowns in 14 games left many believing a Browns’ playoff berth was plausible
So what went wrong in the ‘Land? It had very little to do with Beckham Jr.
The two pillars that crumbled in 2019 for the Browns were arguably the two most important in the NFL for any team. Those were coaching and pass protection. A direct causation can be drawn to the departure of Kevin Zeitler in terms of the trenches, so what went wrong?
Well, the offensive line unit lacked consistency and had tons of moving parts. Most notably, with the vast space left on the interior left by the Zeitler trade looming, the Browns platooned their right guard spot. Veteran Eric Kush started the first 8 games in 2019 and was eventually supplanted by young depth piece Wyatt Teller. These changes kept a bad situation just as bad. Kush allowed 19 quarterback pressures in seven games and Teller giving up 16 pressures throughout his stint. The inside of the line shouldn’t take the entirety of the blame as the team dealt with poor offensive tackle play. Greg Robinson was in and out of the lineup on the right side, allowing a team-high 11 penalties and 26 quarterback pressures and at left tackle, Chris Hubbard allowed allowed a team-high 38 quarterback pressures and six sacks.
Read more on a potential 2020 breakout NFL star here
Beckham & The Browns
Odell Beckham Jr.s’ 2019 was as underwhelming as it seemed. He was targeted the third most in his career (133), only catching 74 balls. This was the lowest total since his 2017 campaign, which ended early due to injury. He seemingly never got on the same page with quarterback Baker Mayfield and posted just 4 touchdowns. Beckham struggled to create separation on outside routes even with Landry going under and through the middle.
If you go deeper, he marked for a 1.75 target separation rate, which ranked 22nd in terms of wide receivers. Beckham Jr. possessed a 55.5% catch rate and just 2.20 yards per pass route. On the other hand, his performances are not reasons to move on from him. With trade rumors a buzz as ever, here’s a friendly reminder that he’s still very explosive and athletic with an excellent catch radius. Additionally, improved protection and time to throw for Mayfield are on the agenda for Cleveland in the draft. Logically, time to finish routes for Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will follow.
The Giants Future
On the other side of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade came a surge of youth and talent for the Giants, at least retrospectively. Dexter Lawrence, heralded as a two-down run stopper coming out of the draft supposedly lacked the capabilities to be flexible in pass-rushing. Boy, was everybody wrong, including me. He graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’s highest in the class with a 77.5 run-defense grade and a presence in the passing game. He finished with 29 quarterback pressures, leading some of his kin of defensive lineman, at least from the last three draft classes. His 29 topped Christian Wilkins‘ 26, Ed Oliver’s 25, Vita Vea’s 26, Daron Payne’s 27, and Jonathan Allen’s 16. Along with 2.5 sacks he displayed great sequences of power into agility, especially for one his size, to shed blockers.
As for Jabrill Peppers, the safety fared well in 2019. In run defense he showed great burst and pursuit, finishing with 76 tackles. However, in pass defense, both rushing, and coverage he underwhelmed. On 51 blitzes he deposited 1 quarterback hurry and 1 sack. In coverage, he allowed a 63 % completion on 36 targets. However, he posed as a plus-side replacement to former safety Landon Collins, mostly in coverage. Peppers can improve as a Giant but this was a very good starting point.
Future of the Big Blue Offense
The trading of Beckham signified the start of a new era for the Giants. The building of the offense shows this off more than anything. Starting with the acquisition of Browns guard Kevin Zeitler shortly before the focus deal.
Whilst the Giants offensive line allowed 43 sacks as a full unit last season, Zeitler was a bright spot. The year prior, in 2018, Zeitler serves as an important cog in the machine, leading Baker Mayfield to a solid rookie campaign, . Meanwhile, Patrick Omameh and Jamon Brown combined to allow 39 pressures in only 14 games last year. Zeitler, on the other hand, allowed all of 11 pressures in 2018. 2019 served as an adjustment period for Zeitler in a new blocking scheme with new teammates but his skills as a pass blocker on the interior are undeniable. He will serve as an integral part of Daniel Jones’ development.
As for the weapons the Giants possess in the absence of OBJ, the receiver room and tight end group is arguable the most dynamic it’s been in recent years. With young talent led by Darius Slayton and Evan Engram on the outside, as well as Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate, Daniel Jones has plenty of options to throw to.
It is safe to say the Giants came out of this deal on top. Although it’s early, the team has set up a fast, athletic, and powerful defensive line, partly due to Lawrence. Furthermore, Peppers is a rangy play-maker at the second and third levels. In terms of value that outweighs the position of wide receiver, no matter who it is.