Tavon Austin was a bit of a frustrating play for fantasy owners in 2013. After being selected by the St. Louis Rams as the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Austin was touted as the most athletic player to enter the draft in several years and was expected to make an immediate impact in the Lou. Owners who scooped Austin in their league’s seventh or eighth round figured they were getting a steal in the do-it-all rookie from West Virginia. Then the season began.
Austin saw significantly fewer snaps than expected as Rams OC Brian Schottenheimer seemingly refused to find ways to get him involved in the offense. Over St. Louis’ first nine games of the season, Austin registered over four fantasy points only once — the once being a result of two gimme touchdowns in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons.
But suddenly, in Week 10 versus the Indianapolis Colts, Austin just went stupid. The kid had two receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns during the Rams’ 38-8 beatdown of Indy. He made his presence felt on special teams as well, scoring on a 98-yard punt return that tremendously showcased the rookie’s raw speed. This came just as owners had begun to drop Austin or relegate him permanently to the bench.
Yes, he was infuriating to own in 2013 at times, but don’t hop off the Austin bandwagon just yet. Even with only 69 targets this year — less than the likes of Jason Avant, Donnie Avery and Mohamed Sanu — Austin showed glimpses of future fantasy stardom. He followed up his Week 10 performance by scoring on a highlight-reel 65-yard run the following week, proving that his explosion in Indianapolis wasn’t simply an outlier.
Additionally, the Rams’ receiving core is nothing particularly special. Second-year man Chris Givens is Sam Bradford‘s most reliable option outside of Austin, but he showed signs of regression in 2013 after an impressive rookie season. Aside from Givens, unremarkable names like Austin Pettis and Brian Quick litter the St. Louis receiving depth chart. The Rams should look for Austin to be their main guy heading into 2014.
Speaking of Bradford, he should return fully healthy for St. Louis next season, which is crucial to Austin’s success. Over the years, Bradford has clearly shown a fondness for receivers with Austin’s tools: players who are quick off the line, gains separation and creates plays following the catch — and owners should expect that to continue. Look for Austin to plausibly be Bradford’s new Danny Amendola in the not-so-distant future.
Another encouraging sign for Austin heading into 2014 is that he was used frequently in goal-line situations. His quickness off the snap enabled him to find space from cornerbacks quickly and get open in the end zone. Few analysts projected him to possess goal-line prowess in the NFL, so the fact he was utilized so often in the red zone was mildly surprising.
Ultimately, Austin’s success or failure lies in the hands of Schottenheimer. If Austin is used correctly within the St. Louis offense, it’s a win for both parties. With nothing to do besides watching game film this the offseason, the odds of Schottenheimer coming to the glaringly obvious realization that Austin is the Rams’ best weapon are pretty good. Expect him to receive more targets than the paltry 69 he got in 2013.
Still, Austin remains a fairly large question mark heading into 2014. With so many variables possibly affecting his success, it’s hard to project what to expect from the kid during his second year in the league. But with a healthy Bradford returning and a year of experience under his belt, I believe Austin is in a great position to be one of the most productive sleepers in your 2014 draft.
Snagging Austin in the eighth or ninth round next year will be of the best value picks available. In the best case scenario, he ends up with 80-plus receptions, in the ballpark of 1,000 receiving yards and a handful of touchdowns. He won’t be drafted as a top-20 wideout, but he’ll finish the year as one.