After exiting team facilities this week due to an illness, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. remains questionable for their Week 6 showdown with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. If Beckham is forced to sit this week, which players on the Cleveland Browns WR, RB, and TE depth chart are likely to step up against their AFC North foes? Kareem Hunt, Austin Hooper, and even rookie Harrison Bryant could see a heavy increase in targets if Beckham Jr. misses this week. Does that make them viable options in fantasy football?
Browns WR depth chart may need to step up with both Odell Beckham Jr. and Baker Mayfield questionable for Week 6
Beckham isn’t the only high-profile starter on the Cleveland Browns depth chart currently unsure for this weekend. Baker Mayfield is also listed as questionable for Week 6 after suffering a rib injury last weekend. Mayfield was limited at practice all week, but the quarterback is trending in the right direction after being a full participant in Friday’s practice.
While Mayfield’s availability is dependent on his ability to play through pain, Beckham being sent home with flu-like symptoms is another beast. In the current environment, players must pass two tests before being allowed to re-join their teammates.
After passing his first test on Friday, Browns reporter Mary Kay Cabot reported that Beckham “must return a second negative test within 24 hours to be cleared to rejoin the team. If he comes back negative on Saturday, he’ll participate in the Browns walkthrough and try to get up to speed as the Browns prepare to leave for Pittsburgh in the afternoon.”
Even if Beckham Jr. is cleared to play on Sunday, you have to wonder if the wide receiver can bounce-back in Week 6 with zero practice time.
Cleveland Browns’ WR depth chart behind Beckham Jr.
If Beckham is unable to play in Week 6, Cleveland will have a tough time finding replacements on their depth chart. Current number two wide receiver Jarvis Landry has dealt with a number of injuries this season, including every-week complications from his offseason hip surgery.
Landry actually led the Browns with 112 air yards in Week 5, but the wide receiver has been an inconsistent fantasy start all season long. Landry has topped 15 PPR fantasy points just once this season, and that doesn’t seem likely to change if Beckham isn’t there to distract Pittsburgh’s defensive backs.
If Beckham sits, the next players up on the Cleveland Browns WR depth chart are wide receivers Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. After missing a few games himself, Higgins returned in Week 5 as Cleveland’s WR3. He played 40 snaps (55%) in Week 6 compared to just 10 snaps for Peoples-Jones, the rookie out of Michigan.
If Beckham is out this weekend, both Higgins and Peoples-Jones should see a significant increase in playing time. That being said, it would be difficult to trust either player as anything more than a DFS tournament dart throw. Rather than force-feed average wide receivers, it’s more likely that Cleveland spreads those targets out to other pieces on their offense.
Does OBJ’s absence lead to more passing game work for Kareem Hunt and tight ends?
With lackluster wide receiver options behind Odell Beckham Jr. on the Browns WR depth chart, running back Kareem Hunt and the tight ends are likely to profit from the wide receiver’s potential absence.
Already in line for bell-cow duties with starting running back Nick Chubb on Injured Reserve, Hunt seems likely to benefit the most if OBJ sits. If the Browns best wide receiver sits, Hunt instantly becomes Cleveland’s best weapon and best shot at competing with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.
After playing 70% of Cleveland’s Week 5 snaps and getting four targets in the passing game, Hunt could see those passing-game numbers skyrocket against Pittsburgh in Week 6. With Pittsburgh favored against a banged-up Cleveland offense, Week 6 sets up as a pass-happy Browns offense due to the circumstances. With Cleveland likely to trail the majority of the game, Hunt’s continued involvement in the passing game is great for his fantasy success in Week 6.
Another player set to benefit from Beckham’s potential absence is starting Browns tight end Austin Hooper. After being ignored early in the season, the Browns finally featured Hooper in Week 5. The big-money free-agent acquisition actually led Cleveland with 10 targets in Week 5, while his 88 air yards were by far his best output of the 2020 NFL season.
If Beckham doesn’t suit up, Cleveland is likely to feature even more 2+ TE sets in Week 6. Cleveland has run 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends) at a 13% clip this season, second-most in the NFL behind only the Baltimore Ravens. Those numbers likely rise in Week 6 if there is no Beckham.
With tight end Harrison Bryant seemingly passing David Njoku on the Browns TE depth chart, the rookie from FAU could also see an increase in playing time and targets. Even after Njoku returned from injury last week, Bryant still saw 40% of the Browns’ offensive snaps.
In the unlikely scenario that Mayfield misses Week 6, take most everything I just said with a giant grain of salt. If Case Keenum is under center instead of Mayfield, start any Cleveland Browns player not named Kareem Hunt at your own risk.
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