Miles Austin #19 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball against Josh Victorian #35 of the Pittsburgh Steelers .
There’s a major problem in how we view Miles Austin. A 6-2, 216-pound wide receiver with sub-4.5 speed, Austin is what internet trolling Cowboys fans call a “bum.” I think the hate actually stems from Austin’s initial success. In 2009, Austin erupted for 81 catches, 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s crossed the 1,000-yard mark just once since then, barely, and fans were jaded because he was so productive to start.
Everyone seems to think that Austin is injury prone, but since 2009, he’s missed only six out of 48 games. And the six touchdowns he scored in 2012 as the Cowboys’ third receiving option were his fewest since 2008.
We seem to forget that Austin is a No. 2 receiver on a team with a go-to tight end. His 118 targets in 2012 ranked him 25th in the NFL. He also ranked 25th in yards, suggesting he hasn’t been below-average with the targets he’s been provided. So we have a big, fast receiver who, although he’s probably underperformed relative to his skill set, still produces as a low-end No. 1, despite being the third option on his team. What’s the problem?
If we can properly predict Austin’s targets, it’s fairly easy to project his bulk stats. He had 118 targets in 2012—a number I think will remain steady as defenses focus more and more on stopping Dez Bryant. Further, those targets should be of a higher quality than ever before—Austin figures to see a whole lot of man coverage—so a jump in catch rate from 57.4 percent to 61.9 percent isn’t out of the question. If that happens, Austin will have 73 catches in 2013—his highest total since 2009.
Austin has averaged 14.4 yards per reception over the past three seasons. Working more and more on underneath routes, Austin’s average might drop just a little because Bryant is the primary deep threat. Plus, Austin is 29 years old—three years past the typical peak season for receivers. If Austin’s YPR drops to 14.0, he’d be good for 1,022 yards.
One of Austin’s most underrated traits is finding the end zone; he’s converted 12.3 percent of his catches into touchdowns over his career. That number will decline in 2013 because the Cowboys acquired a bunch of red zone threats. Plus, they should be able to run the ball better in short-yardage situations. At an 11.0 percent touchdown rate, Austin would score eight times.
Final 2013 Projection: 73 receptions, 1,022 yards, eight touchdowns
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.