The St. Louis Rams made a bold move in this year’s draft when they traded up to select wide receiver Tavon Austin out of West Virginia. The 5-foot-9, 174-pound Austin was the first offensive skill-position player taken in this year’s draft, and he almost certainly will have an impact on fantasy football this year. He is capable of lining up as an outside receiver, in the slot or as a running back, and he has seen action at all these positions during the Rams’ OTAs.
Austin fits into the same mold as fantasy superstars like Wes Welker and Steve Smith, but should ultimately have even greater big play ability. He may not reach his full potential this year due to his rookie status, but there is no longer any reason to discount him just because of his inexperience. In recent years, rookies such as Cam Newton and Alfred Morris have been great fantasy players and made the owners who took them late look like geniuses. It’s unlikely that Austin will be nearly as slept-on as those two rookies were.
As far as Austin’s actual on-field ability, he can best be classified as an ultimate game breaker. He had 2,910 all-purpose yards and 17 total touchdowns last year for West Virginia. He had an incredible 8.9-yard average over his 72 rushing attempts, so he’s more than just a wide receiver who lines up in the backfield as a decoy. He is a legitimate threat no matter what position he plays.
It will be interesting to see how Austin’s game translates to the NFL. With the success that players of his size, such as Welker, Smith, Percy Harvin and Maurice Jones-Drew have had in recent years, the expectation is that he will be just as effective in the NFL as he was in college. He will be expected to contribute to the Rams immediately, as the team is counting on Austin, as well as new tight end Jared Cook, to replace the production they’ll miss from the departed Danny Amendola.
In regards to Austin’s fantasy draft value, expect him to be a mid-round selection this year. In a league where so many teams spread the ball around to many different receivers, Austin is a receiver who can be expected to get consistent targets and make plays week-in and week-out. You don’t want to reach for him, as there will be some concerns about his durability and his ability to get acclimated to the NFL this year, but it’s hard to go wrong selecting him at some point during your draft.