Well it is certainly that time of year again, isn’t it? No, I’m not talking about spring time. I’m talking about this particular time of year — the post-NFL draft point of the year in which fantasy football analysts and owners will take a look at the incoming crop of rookie playmakers and determine which of those will have value heading into the season. The 2014 campaign will feature one of the most exciting and deep groups of playmakers that have come into the NFL for quite some time.
Since many of these skill players are being covered so extensively, it can cause fantasy owners to get a little overexcited with these rookies and reach too highly for them when the fantasy drafts start. Many people are guilty of overvaluing and over-drafting rookie playmakers because they look so good on paper. Generally, a rookie runs into what is known as the “rookie wall.” They may struggle to grasp the complexities of the NFL playbook or simply the speed of the game. Whatever the reason may be, it happens to most first-year players, and it is all a part of a learning experience for them. There are very few players in the league in the past and present who are immune from running into the “rookie wall”.
In 2013, one rookie who appeared to run into the wall harder than any other first year player was St. Louis Rams wideout Tavon Austin. After being selected 8th overall by St. Louis, speculation arose that Austin would fly out of the gate and use his blazing speed to become a super slot receiver and simply run past all defensive backs. Once the season actually started, the tiny receiver looked lost in an offense that looked pretty anemic with or without him. When he was given the ball it was generally at the line of scrimmage or five yards from it, and he was expected to create open space with his speed and agility.
The final stat line for Austin last season became 40 receptions for 418 yards and four touchdowns. Those are hardly the numbers expected from a receiver taken with a top-10 pick. A lot of the reason why Austin’s numbers ended up being so lackluster was not his fault but how the Rams chose to employ him.
Head coach Jeff Fisher realized that the team needs to do a better job getting Austin into open space where he thrives. As a fantasy owner, don’t expect Austin to get over-drafted like he did last year. Many fantasy owners will be wary to draft a specialist player from a mediocre offense. Sure, Austin can provide games where he can score electrifying 80-yard touchdowns, but is he able to provide consistent production for a fantasy football team?
My thinking is that the Rams still don’t really impress me as an offensive unit as a whole, which will only make Austin’s value drop even more. Sam Bradford seems to be trending upwards lately, and if he can stay healthy that will aid Austin. However, the receivers around Austin don’t appear to scare many opposing defenses. This affected Austin’s ability to get open last season and will impact him going forward as well. If the receivers down the field aren’t able to stretch the defense out and create separation, then it means teams have more bodies to cover the short and intermediate routes, leaving the slot receiver (in this case Austin) in a very tight spot. Do yourself a favor and avoid drafting Austin at all costs. In fact, avoid him altogether until the Rams decide to revamp their receiving corps with better options on the outside.