Tavon Austin Deserves More Fantasy Football Love in 2016
Los Angeles Rams receiver Tavon Austin has a new city, a new quarterback, and one of the most promising young running backs in the game. He’s coming off of his best season yet in 2015, when he put up historic rushing numbers for a wide receiver, scored double-digit touchdowns, and finished inside the top 30 for wide receivers in both standard and PPR fantasy football leagues.
He’s young and entering the prime of his career, but his average draft position for 2016 places him as the 50th receiver off the board, according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
Here’s why Austin will shatter expectations in 2016.
The 2015 Campaign
Since 2000, 431 wide receivers have been involved in the offense both through the air and on the ground, but when it comes to rushing success for these dual-threat players, nothing compares to Austin’s 2015 campaign.
In fact, each of Austin’s first three seasons stands out in terms of our points-above-expectation-level metric, Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP), with 2015 standing alone.
This is likely why Austin’s value as a wide receiver is being overlooked.
Zooming in on players similar to Austin, only 65 times since 2000 has a wide receiver been targeted at least 10 times and had at least 10 rushing attempts in a season.
Austin achieved this in 2014 and 2015. If he repeats, he will join an group of only six other players who have met this mark in three seasons: Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, Brad Smith, DeSean Jackson, Percy Harvin, and Randall Cobb.
Increased Volume in 2016
All evidence points to Austin joining these guys in 2016.
In fact, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has repeatedly stated that he wants to get the ball into Austin’s hands more often, mentioning that 100 receptions is a possibility for Austin, who has been the clear number-one receiver for the Rams since being drafted in 2013.
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It is unlikely that Austin will actually double his 2015 aerial production of 52 catches on 87 targets, both career highs. He could, however, see 100 targets. As shown in the time series plot below, rushing wide receivers, on average, see increasing targets that peak in Years 5 and 6.
Of course, Austin’s value is strengthened by his rushing game. Austin’s rushing attempts to date have been off the charts and will likely increase. Rushes tend to peak in Years 4 and 5 for dual-threat wide receivers like Austin.
A Team on the Rise
If time were the only difference between 2015 and 2016, we would expect Austin to improve upon his 2015 season. But Austin has a few additional things going for him in 2016.
For most of the 2015 season, Austin was hauling in passes from Nick Foles, who posted the lowest total Passing NEP in 2015, a whopping -59.52. Somehow, Foles managed to retain the starting position for the first three quarters of the season before finally being replaced by Case Keenum, who finished the season with a total Passing NEP of 12.58.
Despite the likely quarterback gains for the 2016 Rams, many believe their path to success is the man Vegas bets is the second-likeliest to win the rushing title in 2016, behind Adrian Peterson. Yes, Todd Gurley, who was one of just five rookies to be named to the Pro Bowl in 2015, is deservedly the focal point of the young Rams’ offense and should see his volume increase this year.
But, as the numbers suggest, that may be a good thing for Austin, who saw his volume and effectiveness increase when Gurley entered the season in Week 3 and trended closely with Gurley for the remainder of the season.
Historic receiving and rushing trends suggest that Austin’s volume is likely to increase this season. Plus, the Rams’ offense will receive a boost from Gurley and a quarterback not named Nick Foles. The cherry on top for fantasy players is that Austin also returns punts.
Because Austin’s dynamic play is hard to categorize, projections consistently undervalue him, but the history says you shouldn't doubt him.