DeAndre Hopkins fits the mold of an elite NFL WR. He is big enough, strong enough, fast enough, and had enough college production to already be considered an elite dynasty fantasy football prospect. As a rookie, he is currently being selected as the 41st wide receiver off the board, right at the tail end of the 9th round (per FFCalc).
Tavon Austin does not have the body of the prototypical #1 wide receiver. Austin is a new part of the game, a chess piece that can utilized in the backfield, in the slot, and even at the X and Y positions. Rather than following in the footsteps of Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall, Austin is much more physically comparable to players like Dexter McCluster and Armanti Edwards (Percy Harvin is a full 20 pounds heavier than Austin). While I think Austin is going to have more Harvin-like career than a McCluster-esque one, history doesn’t support his 6th round ADP as a rookie.
This table represents all rookie WR’s seasons under 5’10 (Tavon is 5’9) and under 170 pounds (Tavon is 169).
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Not one fantasy relevant season among them. None of these players were selected as highly as Austin, but they are all pretty damning comps. Given that the higher ups in the organization believe that the Rams will be better served by having 4 or 5 players catch 40-50 balls, and that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch believes that Austin’s largest contributions will come as a punt returner, his 6th round ADP makes no sense. Smaller wide receivers need to rely more on deception, route-running and intelligent play calling. Coaches probably need to learn how to use these players more than a Hopkins-type player that has been a prototype in the game for 20 years. How many 4.34 wide receivers has Jeff Fischer coached in his career? I know that Austin looks electric on film and that he was great fun to watch in college, but that does not make a fantasy super star.
On the other hand, Hopkins’ comps test out a bit better, but still not amazing.
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While none of those numbers blow anyone out of the water, they at least represent more upside potential. At the very top of the graph are 3 players all selected in the first round, around where Hopkins was chosen. Crabtree and Gardner’s rookie year probably represent the top half of Hopkins’ range of outcomes as a rookie. The overall lesson here remains the same: rookie wide receivers are a risky proposition.
I’ve written this about 20 times the last 2 weeks but it bears repeating: there is basically no upside to chasing rookie wide receivers. Over the last decade, only 5 have finished in the top 24 of their position and while Hopkins certainly has the high pedigree and physical profile of a rookie WR who could succeed, I don’t see him getting the targets and the redzone looks needed to crack the top 24. Austin, however, is complete waste of a draft selection in the 6th round. Rather than being drafted as a very late round flier as his comparables would suggest, he is being taken ahead of much more valuable players, including Cecil Shorts, Kenny Britt, Golden Tate, and and Lance Moore.