Running backs are usually the best bets for Fantasy Football Rookie of the Year honors.
It’s a relatively easy transition from college ball to the pros and the job requirements don't change—get the ball, find the hole, run to daylight.
Lately, we've seen quarterbacks making an immediate fantasy impact. The thinning line between collegiate and NFL offenses is a big reason for that. The top-notch talent entering the league hasn't hurt either.
Wide receivers tend to take longer to get going because significant adjustments are needed. Receivers must run crisper routes and need to build chemistry with their new quarterback. Plus, NFL defenses are bigger, more physical and more complex.
It takes a special talent to step right in and produce.
Tavon Austin is a special talent. He's my (early) pick for 2013 Fantasy Football Rookie of the Year.
Austin is one of the most dynamic players to enter the league in recent memory.
He logged a time of 4.34 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Only one guy at the entire event was faster. Austin's 10-yard split and 20-yard shuttle times were both second among wide receivers. He goes from zero to 60 in a blink and his change-of-direction is elite.
Austin certainly has the production to back up that skill-set. He broke out in his 2011 junior season, racking up 100 catches for 1,180 yards and eight touchdowns. He added another 189 yards and a score on the ground.
Austin also hit paydirt on a pair of kick returns as he was named a First Team All-American.
The 2012 campaign brought Austin even better number as he set new career highs with 114 receptions, 1,289 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.
All three of those marks ranked among the top 11 in the nation. Austin also saw his role in the ground game grow as he carried the ball 72 times for 643 yards and three scores. Throw in another 978 yards (and two touchdowns) on returns, and Austin averaged 224 all-purpose yards per game. That ranked second in the country.
Austin is an absolute terror in the open field. His combination of acceleration, quickness and long speed makes him a threat to take any touch to the house. Austin also displays impressive vision, likely a result of his high school days as a running back.
Now, the biggest issue for Austin as he transitions to the NFL is his size. He checked in at 5'8" and 174 pounds at the combine. That's Dexter McCluster size.
Austin, however, is so quick that defenders are rarely able to square him up. He hardly ever takes a big hit and didn't miss a single game in four seasons at West Virginia.
Austin's fantasy football value in 2013, and beyond, will ultimately hinge on his landing spot. He's a chess piece that will need to be moved all over the field. He'll need creative schemes to get him the ball in space.
You can bet that the team that drafts him will have already started drawing up plays to get him the rock. They'll also continue working on making Austin a focal point of the offense throughout the rest of the offseason. Whoever spends a first-round pick on this guy will be looking for immediate returns on their investment.
Austin will be helped by the recent success of similar players such as Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb. The NFL is increasingly moving toward more college-type spread attacks. It's a good time for small-but-versatile weapons like Austin to be entering the league.
“The NFL has now become a passing space league in many ways,” NFL Films guru Greg Cosell said recently. “I think Tavon Austin fits where this league is going." Not only is that good news for Austin’s 2013 value, but it also has him shooting up fantasy football dynasty rankings.
Austin will never be a workhorse. He won't challenge for the league lead in targets or catches. He might only be on the field for 30 to 40 offensive snaps per game. He will, however, make the most out of those snaps. He could average four to five catches and two to three carries per game in 2013 and he'll contribute in the return game.
We've seen how valuable guys like that can be in fantasy football. This past year, Harvin and Cobb both finished among the top 18 wide receivers in fantasy points per game. Austin has the raw talent to approach those heights in his rookie campaign.
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