Spotlight: Miles Austin

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 18th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Every year fantasy owners seem so assured about their projections and rankings, only to look back at the end of the season and realize that quite a few players end up far afield of consensus views. Miles Austin, a small school kid who managed to hang around the Dallas active roster since 2006, certainly fit that bill a year ago. Austin had his supporters, such as our own Dynasty Gurus like Sigmund Bloom and Cecil Lammey, but very few if anyone thought Austin would be a material help in 2009 leagues. After all, he had a whopping 18 catches in three seasons.

Yet in retrospect, why shouldn't he have gotten more love? He had the size (6'3", 215 pounds), the speed, and was always receiving praise from the coaching staff. Meanwhile the Cowboys have an accurate, productive QB in Tony Romo who needed weapons. And aside from All Pro TE Jason Witten, the best "weapon" in the vertical game was Roy "I can't live up to my contract at this point even if give half the money back" Williams.

A month into the season, Austin appeared to be a non factor as expected. But then Week Five happened. Against what we would eventually come to know as a horrible Kansas City defense, Austin was targeted three times in the first quarter and caught two passes. In the second he had another three targets and two catches. In the third quarter he conveted both targets, giving him 6 catches entering the 4th quarter. In the fourth quarter, already with eight catches (two more in the 4th), Austin broke a 13-13 tie with a 59-yard TD reception on 3rd and 5. The Chiefs ended up tying the game, forcing overtime. With 8:32 remaining in overtime, Austin got under a 60-yard bomb for his 2nd TD of the game, and the game winner. What a coming out party: 10 receptions, 250 yards and 2 TDs. Talk about opening eyes, and that's not to mention the fact Austin had two other great chances in the end zone that never connected.

Needless to say, Austin was the top waiver wire pickup that week, and those who didn't view the big game as a fluke were handsomely rewarded. The next game, against Atlanta, Austin delivered 6 receptions for 171 yards and 2 TDs. Over the final 12 games of the season, Austin delivered in an ENORMOUS way to the tune of 76 catches, 1,239 yards and 10 TDs. He finished as the 3rd best fantasy WR on the season, but that understates his dominance because he barely played in those first few weeks. Over the course of a full game season, Austin was on pace for 101 receptions, 1,652 yards and 13 TDs. A star was born.

Pedigree No Longer Matters

Austin no longer has to prove he deserves to be on the field or that his small school background understated his skills. We know that. Jerry Jones knows that. Tony Romo knows that. And OC Jason Garrett knows that. As I write this, team officials are working on a long-term contract extension and are prepared to make Austin a focal point of one of the best offenses in the NFC.

The Dez Bryant Effect

One of the silliest concerns I've seen this offseason is that Austin will suffer from the Cowboys decision to draft Dez Bryant in the first round. If anything, the addition of a massive talent like Bryant will only serve to enhance Austin's opportunities. If you look at Weeks 8-10 of last year, Austin struggled to adjust to the attention of top corners and double teams. He eventually broke through that wall (a pretty typical adjustment period for emerging star receivers), but imagine this season if Bryant becomes a credible threat on the opposite side of the field? With Witten controlling the middle and Bryant at least keeping defenses honest (Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd and Roy Williams didn't), Austin could explode this year.

Even if you worry that Bryant will be that rare rookie WR who becomes a star at the outset, consider again that Austin has added benefits this year that weren't present in 2009. This offeseason he's been the WR1, and has worked in that role in OTAs and mini-camps. Nothing can replace repetitions and building chemistry. He will also be a starter from Week One, which means considerably more targets even if his targets/game stay constant.

The Skills Are Unquestionable

Austin showcased an array of skills last year, further reason to believe his impressive fantasy showing wasn't merely a fluke.

  • 555 yards after the catch (#1 in NFC)
  • 15 receptions of 25+ yards (#1 in NFC, ahead of even DeSean Jackson)
  • 59 first down receptions (#3 in NFC)
  • 72.8% of his catches went for 1st downs (#4 in NFC)

Big, fast, good hands and able to make plays all over the field.

Positives

  • Austin is physically imposing and has dramatically improved his precision since coming into the league from small school Monmouth.
  • Tony Romo has ascended to elite status and has complete mastery of Jason Garrett's offense.
  • The addition of rookie Dez Bryant in combination with All Pro TE Jason Witten ensures that Austin won't be game planned out of games save for the rare occasion when he is matched up against an all world corner like Asomugha or Revis.

Negatives

  • Last year Austin was an amazing steal for every owner and one of the best values in fantasy. This year he's expected to put up elite numbers leaving little margin for error.
  • The Cowboys are on the verge of having one of the league's best offenses and Romo has weapons up and down the roster. Austin could have games where, in spite of his talent, the targets go elsewhere.
  • For fantasy owners that value an established track record it's important to remember that Austin hasn't yet put together even a full season of WR1 productivity.

Final thoughts

I'm all in on Miles Austin for 2010, and would comfortably target him as my WR1 in any league format. In PPR leagues, you shouldn't balk at grabbing him in the 2nd round if he's on the board and you didn't take a WR in the first round. I would absolutely take him in the 3rd round as my top receiver if I get the chance.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Bird said:

Austin appears to be a humble guy who appreciates what he has. I haven't heard any chirping from him about needing a new contract because of his breakout season. I haven't heard any chirping about who the #1 receiver in Dallas is with the drafting of Dez Bryant. He seems to be a guy who brings his lunchpail and goes to work. To expect an improvement on his out-of-this-world numbers from last season would seem a little outlandish but I see no reason why those numbers won't reflect his entire 2010 season.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Miles Austin runs like a running back once he catches the ball. Opposing DBs cringe at the thought of having to take this guy down as his leg strength is outstanding. Miles Austin is a big play wide receiver and last year was just his coming out party. The Cowboys offense is built to make big plays and in 2010, there won't be a guy who will make more big plays than Miles Austin for the Dallas Cowboys.

rzrback77 said:

Miles Austin played incredibly well last season and in one of Joe Bryant's favorites really "stepped up" when the Cowboys needed someone to do just that. The Cowboys offense in general played very well last season and has added more potential contributors for 2010.

Focusing in on the Cowboy's passing attack, they passed 550 times with 347 completions 63.0% for 4,483 yards 8.2 ypa and 26 TDs. That is an incredible yards per attempt number that could be difficult to match going forward.

In 09, the targets and stats compare as follows:

WRs - 297 targets 170 catches 57.3% 2755 yards 16.2 ypc and 24 TDs
RBs - 93 targets 61 catches 65.6% 477 yards 7.8 ypc and 0 TDs
TEs - 163 targets 116 catches 71.2% 1251 yards 10.8 ypc and 2 TDs

Romo was and has been leaning hevily on the WRs. They add Dez Bryant to the mix and I expect that Roy Williams will play better in 2010 than he did last year so I anticipate more distribution of the WR targets than last season when Austin had 124, Williams 86 and Crayton 67. I think it could be more like Austin 110, Bryant 90, and Williams 80. The TEs will definitely remain involved and all three of the RBs are decent pass catchers as well.

A solid season ahead for Austin, but not in relation to his ADP, currently at 20 overall and WR 7. I doubt that he will be on any of my teams this year.

kevinallen said:

After Austin's initial breakout games totaling 16 rec, 421 yds, and 4 TD's, teams started game-planning against him and held him to 14 rec, 177 yds, and 2 TD's over the next month of the season. He bounced back with 46 rec, 641 yds, and 4 TD's in the final 6 games of the regular season. That told me all I needed to know. Teams were going to gameplan against Austin and he still overcame it, and the Cowboys were determined to find ways to get him the ball. The addition of Dez only helps in 2010.

fightingillini said:

Austin is the real deal.

Runs great routes, good hands, tough to tackle. Add in a top notch QB in Romo and Dez Bryant to help take pressure off him, and you're looking at a real solid year. With a solid running game, Witten, Bryant and even Roy Williams, I can't see Austin challenging the upper echelon WRs like AJ or Randy Moss or Larry Fitzgerald.....Romo will have a lot of options. DAL likes to use the RBs and TEs a lot in the passing game.


Miles Austin projections

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Jason Wood8513001000
Message board consensus821231900