BEREA, Ohio -- Goodbye, OBJ. Hello, DPJ.
In Cleveland’s first game without Odell Beckham Jr. last Sunday, Donovan Peoples-Jones sprinted deep, splitting the zone between Cincinnati’s safety and cornerback. Then, he faked outside before gliding back down the middle, slicing through the Bengals secondary. Quarterback Baker Mayfield put the ball on the money, and Peoples-Jones was in the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown, capping it with a “Smeeze” shuffle celebration.
With Beckham, who joined the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday, long gone, the Browns are going to need other wide receivers to step up in his place.
So far, Peoples-Jones has looked up to the task.
“He makes plays,” said coach Kevin Stefanski, who has given DPJ another nickname -- “Mr. Reliable.”
“He’s a player who we are going to be counting on, and he’s continued to make plays when called upon.”
Coming out of high school in 2017, Peoples-Jones was among the top recruits in the country. Rivals called him the nation’s top receiver prospect. ESPN ranked the Detroit native the top prep player in the state of Michigan. Blueblood programs like Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC all came calling. But ultimately, Peoples-Jones stayed in-state, signing with the Wolverines.
DPJ had his moments in Ann Arbor, especially on special teams as a returner. But he never became the college star befitting the hype surrounding his recruitment. And after skipping his senior season, he fell all the way to the sixth round of the draft, where the Browns scooped him up.
Now, Peoples-Jones is looking like a potential draft steal.
In the wake of Beckham’s season-ending knee injury in 2020, DPJ reeled in a 75-yard touchdown in a win at the Tennessee Titans. He finished with 304 yards receiving on 14 catches, three of which came in the playoffs, highlighting a promising rookie year.
But this season, Peoples-Jones has seemed to be on the verge of breaking out, dating back to training camp, when he dominated in practice on an almost daily basis.
“When he came to training camp, a bunch of us thought he was in great shape,” Stefanski said. “He looked one-year better, [had] one-year growth in his body.”
And though he’d since taken a back seat to Beckham and Jarvis Landry in the receiving rotation, DPJ has still had his moments. Notably, against Arizona on Oct. 17, when he hauled in a Hail Mary touchdown grab to end the first half, his second scoring catch of the game.
“Every time it comes to me, I want to make that play,” Peoples-Jones said. “Any time [Mayfield] gives me a chance, I want to give the team a chance and make a play.”
If the Cincinnati game were any indication, DPJ won’t be playing a bit role for the offense any longer. On Sunday, he finished with three catches for 86 yards, while seeing the field on 60% of the offensive snaps.
Peoples-Jones admitted that it was “tough” seeing Beckham go, calling OBJ “my guy.”
But he’s also ready to seize his opportunity. The Browns are banking he will, beginning Sunday against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET on CBS).
“I am just continuing to get better every day,” DPJ said, “and focus on me and what I have to do.”