Dynasty Focus: Tavon Austin
Here is the fourth part of 10 in a series of articles using advanced statistics and projections as well as individual circumstances to project how some of the top young receivers in the NFL will fare in fantasy football in 2014 and beyond.
The last article focused on New York Giants receiver Rueben Randle. Here we’ll focus on the St. Louis Rams’ second-year pass-catcher Tavon Austin.
Stat key: PPO (points per opportunity) Snaps (total snaps played, percentage of offensive snaps played)
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
Catch %: 61.5
Snaps: 434 (44.8%)
Percentage of Snaps Targeted: 15.0
Targets: 65 (5.0 per game)
Much like Cordarrelle Patterson, who we covered before, Austin’s impact on the field this past season was felt much more than on offense. He had nearly 700 kick and punt return yards on the season, including one touchdown. In total, Austin put up 1,247 all-purpose yards and six scores as a rookie. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, that didn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. As a top-10 pick, St. Louis had to hold out hope that Austin would have been a more important part of its offense. He played in less than half of the Rams’ offensive snaps and recorded just 12.9 percent of the team’s targeted passes. That’s not exactly making an immediate impact.
For comparison’s sake, Keenan Allen, who we will cover in the next installment in this series, received 18.6 percent of the San Diego Chargers’ targets last season. Interestingly enough, Allen went some 68 picks after his counterpart in St. Louis in the 2013 NFL Draft. If you’re going to take one thing out of this piece, it should be that the order rookies are drafted in May shouldn’t play a huge role when it comes to your fantasy draft strategy.
Allen saw a dramatic increase in playing time after Malcolm Floyd was sidelined for the season with an injury in Week 2.
Prior to Floyd’s injury: 45 snaps (22.5 average), three targets (1.5 average).
After Floyd’s injury: 926 (66.1 average), 98 targets (7.0 average).
That’s when individual circumstance and opportunity come into play. After all, Allen was destined to be lower on San Diego’s depth chart than Austin was on the Rams’ chart. Despite a less-than-stellar receiving group in St. Louis, Austin never received the consistent playing time to make a strong fantasy impact.
Week 2, Week 3 and Week 13: 158 total snaps (52.7 average), 25 targets (8.3 average).
Other 10 games: 276 total snaps (27.6 average), 40 targets (4.0 average).
Considering that Austin was the No. 1 rookie receiver and 30th overall player at his position on the board in terms of ADP in standard leagues prior to the start of the 2013 season, this is nowhere near the level of consistency that the fantasy football community expected from the former West Virginia standout.
It’s the idea that we, utilizing a group-think philosophy, tend to overvalue rookies. Austin was that dynamic playmaker that could take it to the house on every play. His ability to make defenders miss and make something out of nothing made him a sexy pick, even for the most veteran fantasy players.
Unfortunately, he didn’t see the field nearly enough to make the necessary impact, at least in a vast majority of his outings as a rookie. While hindsight is 20/20, let’s take a gander at how those who were drafted below him performed.
|ADP||Player||Team||Snaps||Targets||Rec||Yards||TD||PPO||Catch %||% of Snaps Targeted|
If you look at the table above, Austin is actually comparable to the other receivers in nearly every category outside of opportunities. He put up a higher catch percentage than the likes of Josh Gordon and Michael Floyd while putting up a higher percentage of snaps targeted than Alshon Jeffery in Chicago.
This is a good indicator that Austin’s sophomore campaign will be much more consistent than what we saw from him as a rookie.
Assuming that the Rams plan to bring Sam Bradford back as their starting quarterback next season, the onus is going to be on the former No. 1 overall pick to prove that he can make a positive impact in the passing game. Interestingly enough, Austin performed much better with Bradford under center than Kellen Clemens.
With Bradford (seven Games): 43 targets, 29 receptions, 67.4 catch percentage and two touchdowns
With Clemens (six Games): 22 targets, 11 receptions, 50.0 catch percentage and two touchdowns
Again, these are solid indicators that Austin’s performance will see an uptick as a sophomore in 2014. Outside of those basic statistics, it’s important to look at pass attempt dispersal in St. Louis from a season ago. Not a single Rams receiver was targeted more than 16 percent of the time, with Chris Givens coming in at 15.3 percent. Brian Quick came in at 6.7 percent, while Austin Pettis received 11.7 percent of the Rams targeted pass attempts. Austin himself was at 12.9 percent.
What does this indicate?
It’s rather simple. The Rams didn’t have a true No. 1 receiving target in 2013. That role is wide open for Austin to take over as he transitions from his rookie campaign to an all-important sophomore season.
Statistical-Based 2014 Projections
Rams rookie WR/PR/KR Tavon Austin wasn’t satisfied with his rookie season. How he can do more in 2014… http://t.co/4NjG6Iv0eM
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) January 1, 2014
Austin is a tad more difficult to project than the receivers we have covered in this series before. The simple reason behind that is we have to believe that his opportunities (snaps) will go up, but don’t really have a statistical basis or trend to look at when drawing that conclusion.
This is why Austin is a tremendous wildcard in 2014.
His average snaps decreased from 43.6 in his first five outings to just 31.6 in his final five games as a rookie. There is no logical reason to believe that this will be the case in 2014.
Based on production last season, it’s safe to assume that Chris Givens will not lead the Rams in snaps. Despite seeing 200 more than any other receiver on the roster, he was dead last with a 44.2 catch percentage and dropped 15.0 percent of his catchable balls. In fact, if we look at how Clemens and Bradford fared when targeting specific receivers, we can acquire a better understanding of how much to expect from Austin in 2014.
Based on what we see here, there is no reason to believe that Austin’s snaps won’t double in 2014. He’s going to be in on running plays simply because defenses have to worry about him on reverses and even direct handoffs in the backfield. If so, this doesn’t mean that his targets are going to double. Even then, it’s possible to conclude that Austin should see a minimum of 105 targets based simply on standard progression from year one to year two.
Based on these factors above, we can come to a ballpark conclusion here:
65 receptions, 813 yards and seven touchdowns
These aren’t exactly numbers that will set the world on fire, but couple them with 150-200 rushing yards and a couple scores on the ground and you have a decent FLEX option in standard 2WR leagues. Moving forward in dynasty, Austin is going to be a risky proposition. He’ll likely go higher than he should based on the sexy appeal that he brings to the game. Injuries due to size and a lack of opportunities really could plague Austin moving forward.
Serious question – why wouldn’t one of the teams enamored with Tavon Austin last year just take Dri Archer much later this year?
— Fantasy Douche (@FantasyDouche) February 23, 2014
Our recommendation here is that you don’t reach for him to be a second wide receiver on your roster unless you’re not valuing that position in 2014 and down the road. Buy low as a mid-tier FLEX and let someone else overpay for someone that has a tremendous amount of question marks. With that said, Austin’s ceiling is still relatively high. If you take the bet, be prepared for it to either backfire in your face or pay off. There really isn’t anything in between here, especially in dynasty leagues.
Vincent Frank is the head editor at eDraft and the managing editor at Sportsnaut. Oh and he writes for a ton of sites around the Internet world, including Pro Football Focus & Yahoo. Vincent once said that his man crush is Colin Kaepernick, his real crush is Carrie Underwood and his life crush is literature. He also once dreamed about a flying pink unicorn attacking his pet monkey, but that’s a story for another time. Vincent’s favorite quote comes from Rumi: “You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Check him on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL