Once upon a memorable time, the great Odell Beckham Jr. burst onto the NFL scene with the 2014 New York Giants and wowed NFL fans and fantasy football managers alike for three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, finishing as a top-five PPR wide receiver each time. Beckham was a marvelous talent and during those first three campaigns, in which he averaged 96 often-acrobatic receptions on a bountiful 152 targets, with at least 1,300 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns each season, he was one of the top players in the sport, a likely future Hall of Famer.
Those days, unfortunately, appear to be long gone, and fantasy managers should be realistic about expectations this season.
Beckham, 30, is now a highly paid -- for one season, at least -- member of the Baltimore Ravens, and while we always hope a once-prominent player can return to health and statistical dominance, well, this sure does not seem like one of those situations. Beckham has remained consistently in the news since his well-publicized days with the Giants ended prior to the 2019 season, though he has barely played since his quasi-productive debut with the Cleveland Browns. The wondrous Beckham so many fantasy managers expect to return to glory has played in 21 regular-season games over the past three seasons, catching 67 passes.
Still, in part because so many know his famous name, many a fantasy manager continues to dream of Beckham playing a key role on this season's Ravens and returning to active fantasy lineups, which seems a bit of a stretch for several key reasons. Beckham did not play last season, recovering from his second torn ACL, this one as his Los Angeles Rams were winning the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2021 season. While he and his new franchise proclaim the wide receiver is back to full health, the Ravens will handle Beckham carefully this summer, as they should.
Even if we could count on a full 17-game season, joining the Ravens hardly seems to be the best statistical fit for someone of Beckham's skill set. While talented running quarterback Lamar Jackson boasts an MVP award to his credit and remains a fantasy difference-maker, the Ravens have been one of the preeminent running teams during his tenure, in part because it is his strength. Even in his magical 2019 season, Jackson threw for only 3,127 yards. Marquise Brown, now on the Arizona Cardinals, is the lone Ravens wide receiver to reach 50 receptions or 550 receiving yards over the past four seasons.
Baltimore's low-volume passing offense, when utilized, still features TE Mark Andrews, who has averaged 75 catches, 940 receiving yards and seven touchdowns during the Jackson era, and that doesn't figure to change much moving forward. Oh sure, it's smart for the Ravens to add receiving playmakers on the outside to diversify the offense, but Beckham isn't alone there, either. The team drafted Boston College's Zay Flowers in the first round this spring and 2021 first-round choice Rashod Bateman, when on the field, can be electric.
Ultimately, when we use the term "bouncing back" to describe potentially valuable fantasy football options, it generally refers to players who produced big numbers two seasons ago, then slumped -- for whatever reason -- in the most recent one. That is not Beckham or some of the other wide receivers listed below. In 2019, his first season with the Browns, Beckham finished as the No. 31 PPR wide receiver, catching 74 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. It wasn't an ideal offense for his talents, but neither is the current Baltimore one. ESPN Fantasy projects 52 catches for 676 yards and four touchdowns this season. Be careful, fantasy managers.
Other players not likely to bounce back
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints: Thomas has led this column in recent seasons, so we decided to pick on someone else in the lead role. Still, Thomas belongs here, as he and the overrated Beckham are going in the 10th round of average ESPN live drafts, despite minimal production in recent seasons. Thomas set records in his magical 2019 season, with 149 catches for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns. Since then, over only 10 games in three seasons, he has 56 catches and three touchdowns, repeatedly succumbing to leg injuries (ankle, toe, hamstring). Thomas is also 30. Draft younger, healthier, higher-upside WRs in the latter rounds.
Allen Robinson II, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Unlike Beckham and Thomas, who are being drafted in virtually all ESPN standard leagues, Robinson is the forgotten one, rostered in barely 3% of leagues. This is wise. Most of you likely did not realize the former Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears star landed with the Steelers. His last decent season was 2020. Move on.
Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool, WRs, Chicago Bears: As with the Ravens, this team is quarterbacked by a talented runner who does his best statistical work when not throwing the pigskin often. Mooney had a strong 2021 season, then struggled last season. Claypool, a Steelers star with nine touchdowns as a rookie in 2020, has three scores since, and cost the Bears a high draft pick. DJ Moore came from the Carolina Panthers in the trade for the No. 1 overall pick. He's likely to statistically underwhelm based on expectations, too.
Adam Thielen and DJ Chark, WRs, Carolina Panthers: Thielen and Chark ostensibly replace Moore in Carolina's new passing attack, led by rookie QB Bryce Young, and it seems a bit dangerous to presume either receiver returns to past statistical goodness. Thielen caught 24 touchdown passes during the 2020 and '21 seasons with Kirk Cousins in Minnesota. Chark was solid with the Jaguars in 2019. Young might be awesome right away, but still, keep future expectations in check.
Cordarrelle Patterson, RB, Atlanta Falcons: A top-10 fantasy RB during the stunning 2021 season (11 touchdowns), Patterson was a passing-game afterthought last season. The Falcons drafted RB Bijan Robinson, WR Drake London and TE Kyle Pitts to make the plays in this offense. Patterson is 32.
Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Commanders: Gibson ran for more than 1,800 yards and scored 21 touchdowns his first two NFL seasons, but the offense shifted to Brian Robinson Jr. last season and bruising runner Chris Rodriguez Jr. should have a positive impact in his rookie campaign.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: A rookie darling during the 2020 season, Edwards-Helaire has battled injuries since and been bypassed on the depth chart by Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon. Fantasy managers gravitate toward top backups on the top offenses, but Edwards-Helaire seems far from statistically relevant now.
Dawson Knox, TE, Buffalo Bills: Knox was fantasy's No. 6 PPR TE in 2021, mainly because he hauled in nine touchdown catches, and despite closing the regular season with scores in his final four games, he fell short of that number. First-round pick Dalton Kincaid figures to further diminish Knox's productivity moving forward.