The Cleveland Browns offense has been under the microscope during the preseason due to quarterback competition between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, as well as the impending suspension of wide receiver Josh Gordon. Now that Hoyer has been named the team's starter, and Gordon is officially suspended for the season, it's time to shift our focus to a player who's been flying under the radar: Miles Austin.
Austin emerged as a fantasy football stud in 2009 with the Dallas Cowboys. During that season, he accumulated 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's battled injury—and the emergence of Dez Bryant—since and has fallen from grace in fantasy circles.
This could be the year he returns.
Despite a murky quarterback situation in Cleveland, the team will be without its primary target this season. With Gordon absent, we can all agree to expect additional targets for talented tight end Jordan Cameron. Rotoworld's Adam Levitan tweeted some supporting numbers for that notion:
But how productive will the fourth-year tight end be in 2014?
Last season, Cameron broke out, racking up 596 yards and six touchdowns over the team's first eight games. Although, over the final eight games, he tallied just 324 yards and one score. With a new coaching staff in place, it further clouds the tight end's expected production.
As for the team's wide receiver corps, Austin should be expected to be treated like the No. 1 option following Gordon's suspension. He was already listed opposite Gordon as a starter on the team's official depth chart due to some impressive showings during training camp.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine was asked about Austin's ability to be the team's top receiver if Gordon was suspended during a late-July interview with Fred Greetham of Fox Sports:
Said Pettine, "He could be based on his history. I think he's done a great job in this offseason with his health. While he had hamstring issues (in the past) and he's much more in tune with his body now and hopefully, we can get him through camp and to game days."
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman expects a healthy year for Austin and provided these words to doubters:
Another reason why Austin should be considered the team's top option is due to the rest of the wide receiver corps. Only Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins have any kind of legitimate NFL experience, and neither are worthy of a No. 1 role.
Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus tweeted his thoughts on wide receiver usage this season:
Burleson is fighting for a roster spot after battling hamstring injuries and missing the team's first three preseason games. Even if he does make the final roster, he's well behind the learning curve. Hawkins is a dynamic receiver, but he's primarily suited for limited action in the slot due to his smallish stature.
Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked last in the league with just 3,181 passing yards. The New York Jets ranked last with 13 passing touchdowns. Should the worst-case scenario come to fruition, and the Browns finish 2014 last in both categories, Austin still remains one of the team's top options to come away with the bulk of those stats.
Could that mean a possible 1,000-yard, six-touchdown season for Austin? That's not out of the question, and considering his current average draft position of 14.05—good enough to rank 61st overall among wide receivers—according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, that's quite a steal.
The late rounds of fantasy drafts are generally reserved for players with huge upsides. Sometimes fantasy owners think this category is only for young players poised for breakout performances in the coming season. That's not the case. Gambling on the 30-year-old wide receiver provides the exact same risk-reward scenario.
Take a flier on Austin—the wily veteran may surprise you.