Around the AFC North: Browns Predicting Rebound Year From Odell Beckham Jr.

052421-AFC-North
Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Cleveland Browns: Lead Writer Predicts Rebound Year From Odell Beckham Jr.

For as good as the Browns' offense was last year, it could have been better. Cleveland played more than half the season without star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after he suffered a torn ACL.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield played his best football down the stretch, seemingly taking off once Beckham left. That reignited trade rumors about the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, who hasn't quite been the same since Cleveland traded for him. However, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot threw cold water on the possibility of a trade when asked by a fan last week.

"I'm of the mind that Beckham would have flourished in the second half once Baker Mayfield hit his stride. I think they'll be dynamite together, especially now that Mayfield has the confidence to run this offense at a high level," Cabot wrote.

"Therefore, I don't think the trade deadline, which will be in early November, will be an issue. The only way they'd trade him during the season is if a team makes the Browns a blockbuster offer that they can't refuse, and I don't see that happening. I think he'll come back strong from the torn ACL and have an excellent year."

After topping 1,300 yards and scoring 35 touchdowns in his first three seasons, Beckham has inched over 1,000 yards in two of his following four seasons and scored 16 touchdowns over that span. He missed much of the 2017 season with a fractured ankle.

Cabot believes Beckham is on track to be ready for Week 1 in 2021 and Beckham is among the top-10 candidates for the Comeback Player of the Year award.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris Is Most Popular Pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year

Speaking of postseason award predictions, Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris is the most popular pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year by a panel of ESPN experts.

Mike Clay and Field Yates chose Harris over Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars), Justin Fields (Bears), Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins) and Ja'Marr Chase (Bengals), who got one vote each.

Clay: "I have significant concerns about the Steelers' offensive line, but Harris is a strong bet for immediate workhorse duties. He has the size to handle a majority of the carries and goal-line work, as well as the receiving chops to catch 50-plus balls. Even if his line struggles to find him lanes, Harris could push for 300 touches, which would vault him to OROY consideration.

Yates: "No position has had a more consistent track record of instant acclimation than running back; it's also a spot conducive to impressive stats. Harris -- the first running back off the board -- has a clear path to instant touches for the Steelers as well. Combine all of that with the fact that he was the best running back in the draft and you've got a serious on-paper case for being the OROY front-runner."

Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line Approach Is a Gamble

The Bengals' decision to draft Chase over left tackle Penei Sewell continues to be the buzz in Cincinnati, where there are still media concerns about the offense's ability to block for quarterback Joe Burrow, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury and was battered last year.

This offseason, the Bengals signed veteran Riley Reiff, but "one of the most pivotal dynamics" to the season, according to ESPN's Ben Baby, is the job done by "new" Offensive Line Coach Frank Pollack and rookie guard Jackson Carman.

"The Bengals drafted Carman in the second round to immediately contend for a starting guard spot and signed veteran Riley Reiff to be the projected starting right tackle," Baby wrote. "But any source of optimism about the offensive line's improvement revolves around Pollack, who is in his second stint as a Bengals assistant."

The other hope is that the bounty of offensive weapons can mask the possible offensive line deficiencies, but that's certainly a gamble.

"If Burrow can get the ball out of his hands quickly and Chase and the rest of the receivers can create swift separation, the offensive line won't need to hold blocks for very long," Baby wrote.

"It's a calculated risk the Bengals hope can push them into contention for their first playoff spot since 2015. Cincinnati's front office has no choice but for this strategy to succeed. The Bengals can't have Burrow sustain unnecessary punishment. If he goes down again, second-guessing about this year's protection plan will be the least of the Bengals' long-term concerns."

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