(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin has become a bit of a punchline around the NFL, through no fault of his own. He didn’t ask the Rams to trade up to take him eighth overall in 2013 (a move that surprised … pretty much everyone), and he didn’t force the team to give him a four-year, $42 million extension, and he didn’t ask to start his career with Jeff Fisher as his coach.
If he were, I don’t know, Eli Rogers, or Chris Conley, or Marquise Goodwin, then he’d just be another receiver we don’t pay much attention to, who might be a late-round flier, or a bye-week fill-in, or an interesting DFS play.
The point is, with all the carping on Austin as overrated so far in his career (which, sure), Austin has become … underrated.
Our own Scott Barrett recently wrote about Austin’s historic inefficiency, and it’s true — by yards per target and most of our other traditional receiver-efficiency metrics, Austin fares poorly. But that’s somewhat akin to evaluating Cam Newton entirely on his passing. Yes, it’s the primary thing most guys at his position work on, but Newton runs the ball, and that’s a key part of his game. The same is true of Austin.
Darren Sproles gets all sorts of credit as a running back who catches passes. Well, Austin is a receiver who runs the ball. The chart below shows all wide receivers credited with 20-plus carries since Austin entered the league (guys like Ty Montgomery who have gone back and forth are only credited with carries they had when playing wide receiver):
|Most carries by a WR, 2013-2016|
Wide receivers get a PFF grade for their rushing ability. For the majority of players, that grade is a flat 60.0 because they have no carries. But Austin is obviously not one of those players, and he gets a genuine grade. And he’s fared well:
Yes, Tavon Austin is a mediocre-at-best wide receiver. But more than a third of his career fantasy points (38 percent) have come on carries, and that has to be taken into account.
Now, the next question is whether Austin will continue to be used that way in 2017. On the one hand, his usage hasn’t dipped since the team added Todd Gurley as a running back (Austin averaged 2.4 carries a game from the start of 2014 until Gurley’s debut and has averaged 2.6 since.) The arrival of Lance Dunbar in Los Angeles could complicate that, as his role could fill a lot of what Austin has done. On top of that, Austin’s biggest rushing season came in 2015, with four touchdowns; no receiver has multiple seasons of three-plus rushing touchdowns since 2006.
Austin is going to continue to get carries at a rate higher than just about any other receiver. He’s a low-floor option, but he has a high weekly ceiling. You might not want much to do with Austin in standard leagues, but in best-ball formats like MFL10s or as a cheap DFS play, he’s underrated.
Basically, here’s my point: In 2015, “Tavon Austin, pass-catcher” had 473 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 77 fantasy points. But “Tavon Austin, football player” had 907 yards, 9 touchdowns, 144 fantasy points, and tied with John Brown for 21st in wide receiver fantasy points, ahead of Amari Cooper, T.Y. Hilton, and Mike Evans. If you believe he can perform on the ground again, then ignore the draft pick, ignore the contract, ignore the Fisher connection, and just take a versatile fantasy option. Or, to say it another way, if you believe in Tyreek Hill’s versatility, maybe you should believe in Tavon Austin’s.