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St. Louis Rams draft Tavon Austin: A PPR Monster is Born?

2013 NFL Draft Tavon Austin
2013 NFL Draft Tavon Austin

Apr 25, 2013; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell introduces wide receiver Tavon Austin (West Virginia) as the eighth overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams at Radio City Music Hall. Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Rams wouldn’t burn a top-10 NFL Draft pick on wide receiver Tavon Austin if they weren’t going to use him in all variety of ways.

Forget his size. Austin is going to get the pigskin in his hands, and get it plenty.

The Rams’ offense is free of the glut of hungry fantasy mouths that demand that ball and leave little room for opportunity. Wide receiver Chris Givens flashed in rare chances last season, and newly acquired tight end Jared Cook has proven a receiver in a tight end’s body. Outside of those two options, there will be plenty of opportunity for Austin to thrive, if the Rams’ offenses coaches are willing to be inventive in the way they use Austin.

Austin, with speed, agility, and lateral quickness in spades, could — and should — be used across the Ram’s formation, not just as a replacement for Amendola in the slot (Cook could fill that role, actually).

Limiting Austin to the slot would make his usage predictable, and it would seem that any team willing to use a top-10 pick on a small, nontraditional receiver would be ready and willing to experiment with him, including bringing him out of the backfield. Austin, after all, rushed for 643 yards and on 74 attempts (8.9 YPC) for the Mountaineers in 2012.

Fantasy owners learned a valuable less last offseason, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved up in the draft to take running back Doug Martin, the recipient of effusive praise from Bucs head coach Greg Schiano. The team’s all-out push to draft Martin with the 31st pick of the 2012 draft didn’t set off alarms for many fantasy owners who considered Muscle Hamster little more than a timeshare back with the plodding LeGarrette Blount. It was all very silly, in hindsight.

The Bucs, as you now know, gave their rookie runner 369 touches last season, using him as a tried-and-true workhorse — a role that was inevitable after the team sacrificed to secure his services. The lesson: We should take note when teams make heavy investments in players, just as the Rams have done with Austin.

Finding a comparable for Austin is somewhere between difficult and impossible. Percy Harvin‘s versatility reminds many of Austin’s multifaceted skill set, though Harvin — who outweighs Austin by more than 30 pounds — is a veritable giant compared to the 5’8″ 174-pound Austin.

Austin is also no Wes Welker, though Austin’s fascination with Welker’s route running is well known.

“Wes Welker, that’s the No. 1 guy,” Austin said in a February interview. “I see how Wes does it, I watch a lot of tape of him, and I think I move a little quicker and faster than Wes, so if he can do it, I know I can do it too.”

RotoViz’s similarity score app, which finds comparables in measuring a player’s 2013 fantasy floor and ceiling, lists Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Harvin, and DeSean Jackson among Austin’s comps. All of those guys were at least 20 pounds heavier and several inches taller than Austin coming out of college, though Jackson was five pounds lighter when he entered the NFL in 2007.

Incorporating Austin’s rushing potential is where comparable models fall short. He’ll likely be used on more than end-arounds and screens at or behind the line of scrimmage. Austin will get carries — it’s part of his appeal as a swiss army knife offensive weapon.

Austin, like any small receiver, is not going to have the red zone relevance that a large — or even average sized — receiver would. Even Austin’s rushing potential doesn’t offer a ton of red zone value. Harvin, who has been used out of the backfield during his three years in the league, has a grand total of four rushing scores to his name. And as we’ve established, Harvin is a giant Austin.

Projecting more than 100 targets in 2013 is far from unreasonable. That’s why I think Austin has immediate appeal in point per reception (PPR) formats, where he should comfortably be expected to post top-20 wide receiver numbers in 2013.

One last note: For anyone afraid of investing a mid-round fantasy pick in a miniature wide receiver, know that Austin’s speed and quickness helped him avoid big hits throughout his time at West Virginia, where he never missed a game in four years. Austin’s incredible small-space quickness and willingness to duck the huge hits was apparent throughout his college career. No attribute can guarantee a healthy season, of course, but the ability to turn a decapitating kill shot into a glancing blow is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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