In this weekly column, I typically explore some young players who haven’t made much of a consistent impact to date on their fantasy football teams. Some players may be available on your waiver wire, some may be available via a cheap or moderate trade. Acquiring or not acquiring one of these players could decide how well your dynasty or keeper team does for the next few years. This week I take a look at jack of all trades the Rams Tavon Austin and newly second string Bengals runner Gio Bernard.
WR-Tavon Austin, STL- Last year’s eighth pick overall in the NFL draft has surely been a disappointment to the Rams and dynasty football owners alike. The problem with players like this is they flash superior athleticism every so often which makes you forget how inconsistent they are. Austin had scored a touchdown in three straight games before the Cardinals game on Thursday Night Football. This second year receiver, not his former college teammate Stedman Bailey, started the game with Kenny Britt. He is a very versatile player with more return yardage than either rushing or receiving. The unique thing is the athlete has close to the same amount of yards and touches regardless if he gets handed the ball or thrown it. This keeps the defenses and fantasy owners guessing.
The Rams coaching staff does a good job of moving him around the formation: sending him in motion, lining up in the slot, split out as an outside receiver, or lined up in the backfield. He does his best work in space as he tends to get manhandled when he lines up opposite a physical corner due to his small size of 5′ 8″ 176 lbs. Austin has amazing foot speed, accelerates quickly from a dead stop, and takes good angles in the open field. The playmaker sees the field well as a returner and takes good angles, reading blockers to get the most out of return. Unfortunately, Austin got stifled which did not help out the Rams against the Cardinals. He is great on reverses and cuts well, making defenders miss. The young receiver has soft hands, but has a good stiff-arm to use to get separation from defenders.
While I doubt Austin will ever be able to live up to his lofty NFL draft pick, he is a great WR4 in return yardage league formats and he may eventually become a more productive Swiss army knife in the vein of Percy Harvin. The problem is that Harvin is more muscular and low to the ground than the skinny, speedier version in Austin. Considering that, you might be able to get the Rams wide out as a throw in on a deal.
RB-Gio Bernard, CIN– This second year back’s value plummeted this past week with news that rookie Jeremy Hill would be assuming the Cincinnati starter’s role. Even though, Bernard got one series to every three series that Hill played, there is still a place for the second year back on your dynasty squad as his big day against the Browns suggests.
He is a dangerous back in open space, looking more like a receiver than a runner. It’s his stutter step, great downfield vision, sudden burst, and the ability to get small that separates him from other ball carriers. Bernard keeps his feet chopping, leans forward always falling for additional yardage. His quickness can take defenses by surprise with draws/short screens in long to go situations. The young runner always protects the ball, giving full effort regardless of how much or little he gets used.
Bernard catches the ball cleanly with his soft hands while keeping his quick, bouncy feet moving. The athletic back, in addition to lining up behind or beside the quarterback, gets flanked out in the slot usually drawing a linebacker in coverage who is no match for him. After AJ Green, the second year back is the best pure pass catcher on the Bengals. He runs a nasty wheel route that not many linebackers or safeties can stay with him on. I fully expect Bernard to get ten touches or more per game. Those touches might be more as a receiver or as a returner, but Gio is too talented to rot on the Bengals and your fantasy benches. Sure his value takes a tumble, but I still see him as a RB3 or flex play in dynasty leagues.
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