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Spotlight: Miles Austin

posted by Anthony Borbely on Aug 13th

Anthony Borbely's thoughts

Prior to the 2009 season, Miles Austin was largely an unknown commodity. But then Austin got a chance to play and the rest is history. His ascension from benchwarmer to stud WR is among the most impressive in NFL history. Today, Austin is one of the premier WRs in the league. Below are his stats over the last two seasons:

Season Tgts Tgt% Recs Yds TDs
2009 124 65% 81 1320 11
2010 119 58% 69 1041 7

When looking at the numbers Austin posted over the last two seasons, it looks like he regressed quite a bit year. He had almost 300 fewer yards, 12 fewer receptions, and his TDs fell off by 4. His target percentage dropped from 65% to 58%. It was pretty much an across-the-board decline. So what happened to cause Austin's numbers to fall off that much? Here are a couple of thoughts:

Thought #1: Maybe defenses figured out that Austin was a great receiver

This isn't hard to believe. Anytime a player comes out of nowhere like Austin did in 2009, it often takes time for opposing coaches to develop a game plan. There was not much film on Austin so defenses had little to go on in 2009. Fast forward to 2010 and defensive coordinators had the entire offseason, training camp, and preseason to figure out how they wanted to defend Austin.

Thought #2: Maybe Austin was not as good as his 2009 stats suggested

I have to admit, I was skeptical of Austin not only when he first burst on the scene in 2009, but after the season was over. I simply was not convinced that Austin was an elite talent and Basically, I had to see a repeat of 2009 to become a believer. His numbers last year were still solid, but they were nowhere near the sensational numbers that Austin posted in 2009.

Now both of the above thoughts are legitimate reasons for Austin's drop in production. But it is difficult to quantify either of those thoughts. That leads me to what I believe is the most significant reason for Austin's numbers declining:

Thought #3: Tony Romo got hurt

While the above two thoughts are debatable, this one is not. The numbers speak for themselves. Romo played five full games before suffering a broken collarbone in week six. Backup QB Jon Kitna replaced Romo in week six and proceeded to start the last 10 games. Below is a breakdown of how Austin did with both Romo and Kitna:

Note: I excluded the game in which both QBs played.

QB Gms Tgts Tgt% Recs Yds TDs
Romo 5 46 72% 33 486 2
Kitna 10 65 51% 33 517 5

The numbers are pretty black and white. Austin's numbers fell of sharply after Romo got hurt. In fact, Austin's numbers in the five games with Romo are almost as good as the numbers in the 10 games he played with Kitna. To further illustrate this point, I have listed the prorated statistics that Austin would have had if he played all 16 games with either Romo or Kitna:

QB Tgts Recs Yds TDs FPTs
16 games with Romo 147 105 1,555 6 197.5
16 games with Kitna 104 53 827 7 124.7

These numbers show what a significant difference Romo made with respect to Austin's production. The number of targets and target percentage dropped off substantially when Kitna took over the starting job. Using his prorated numbers with Romo, Austin would have finished 5th in fantasy scoring. He would have fallen all the way to 25th using his numbers with Kitna.

In the 10 games Austin played with Kitna, there are a couple other items of note:

  • Austin had seven games with three or fewer receptions
  • Austin had six games with less than 50 receiving yards

It is clear to see how much Romo's injury affected Austin's production. He was a non-factor in more than half of the games he played with Kitna.

Austin's numbers from last year with Romo and Kitna tell us a lot and that is all well and good, but the important question is what can we expect from Austin this year? There are several reasons to be optimistic about Austin:

Reason #1: The added year of experience for Dez Bryant

I know some people are concerned that Bryant will steal targets from Austin. While it is possible, there are several other potent offenses that have multiple receivers posting strong numbers. Bryant will see an increase in targets, but one other important thing he will do is open up the field for the rest of the skill players. Bryant has serious talent and defenses will have to account for him. I still think Austin will wind up leading the team in targets because Romo is clearly comfortable throwing to him.

Reason #2: Roy Williams is no longer with the Cowboys

It's obvious how disappointing Roy Williams was with the Cowboys, but he did see a lot of targets while he was there. Furthermore, there are no experienced WRs on the roster that are ready to be a #3 receiver. The starters will pick up the slack.

Reason #3: This passing game puts up huge numbers

In his last 50 games (excluding the week he got hurt last year), Romo has averaged 274 passing yards per game. With numbers like that, it is obvious that multiple players can post huge receiving numbers. That bodes well for Austin more than the others because he is clearly Romo's favorite target.


  • Austin's combination of size and speed make him difficult to defend
  • The Cowboys have a potent offense and several other weapons for defenses to focus on
  • Austin is annually among the league leaders in yards after catch


  • Austin was among the league leaders in drops last season with 10
  • The Cowboys have several elite offensive weapons that Austin must share touches with
  • Austin's stats fell off drastically when Romo was hurt

Final thoughts

Miles Austin has proven that he belongs in any discussion of elite WRs. In his breakout 2009 season, Austin finished third in scoring and when you factor in that he got the bulk of those points in 12 games, it makes it even more impressive. Austin finished 12th last year, but who knows how high he would have finished had Romo been healthy. Remember, his prorated numbers with Romo would have placed him 5th in WR scoring last year. As long as Romo is healthy, Austin should once again be in the mix to be a top-five WR and I for one would not be surprised if Austin finished first this year. I think his numbers with Romo show that he is capable of it.

Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

MrTwo94 said:

I've never considered myself a Miles Austin fan, but given the responses so far it looks like I'll be an Austin owner this year.

Austin broke onto the scene in game 5 for the Cowboys in '09. During the last 12 games of the season he put up 76/1239/10 which extrapolates to 101/1652/13. The next season they picked up right where they left off. In 5 games Austin put up 33/486/2 which extrapolates to 106/1555/6. If you want to add the two seasons together you get 17 games 109/1725/12 which interpolates to 103/1623/11. Adding in the 2 playoff games drops that 16 game interpolation to 101/1592/11.

I realize Dez Bryant is pretty hyped on this board and Austin didn't do very well with Kitna as the QB, but Romo seems to have good chemistry with Austin. The staff has him ranked as WR12 and that's right where his ADP is. For a guy that I see as a lock for 90 receptions, that's good value. Especially considering those 19 games with Romo have yielded 15.8 ypr. Even if he sees a 10% decrease in production he should still outperform his ADP handily.

I feel like this is conservative (more than 10% drop in all 3 categories), but it's substantially higher than the numbers in the above posts: 90 rec x 15.5 ypr = 1395 yds 9 TD

No one should be surprised if his end of the year total is closer to 100 rec x 16 ypr = 1600 yds 11 TD as Bryant probably won't have nearly the impact that everyone seems to expect.

Flying Elvis said:

Romo does have a great rapport w/Austin but I think that can easily change with Dez ready to work this off-season. Overall I don't think I'd take Austin in round 3(ish) when Dez can be had later. With Roy likely to be released.

Dallas & Philly are similar situations for WRs this year in that I'm targeting whichever guy is second off the board. I think DJax/Maclin & Austin/Bryant are tandems that will be solid producers in fantasy with little separation between the two (respectively) this year. Because of that, I like Bryant & Maclin better as the better value at ~20 picks later.

FF Ninja said:

I don't mean to downplay Dez's talent, but a lot of people are acting like he is a proven commodity already. Sure, he's shown enough to get excited about but Miles Austin was a top 5 WR as of last year and some people are already writing him off as WR2 to Bryant. In 19 games with Romo, Austin is averaging 6.3 rec/gm. Just how far do you expect that to drop? I'm sorry but I just can't crown Dez a better talent than a proven WR1 AND expect him to win over Romo's trust.

People are too easily lured by the shiny new toy here. If Miles puts up less than 80/1250/8 and Dez puts up more than 70/1100/7 I will be very surprised.

Ministry of Pain said:

Low low side would be 72/1000/5-6TDs and honestly I would assume he missed time along the way.

His high upside would seem to be about 100+ rec, 1500 yds, and 12 I come up with a happy medium of roughly...

Miles Austin projections

Anthony Borbely871345600
Message board consensus791154800