In my continuing quest to contribute to your draft-day domination, I will compose a series of blogs over the next few weeks that focus on players that are sure to create some hardship for fantasy owners: players on the same team who play the same position that will likely have a significant fantasy impact. For those of you who regularly read and contribute to the FF Today Forums, consider this short series a distant relative to “Look-Alike Players”. My goal is to create a compelling case for and against each player before handing down a final decision. Let’s get started:
The setup: Full-point PPR; 10 rushing/receiving yards equal one fantasy point; all touchdowns are worth six fantasy points.
Current ADP (courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator): Austin – 5.02; Bryant – 4.06
What’s at stake: Grabbing the better fantasy WR2 of the two the Dallas Cowboys have to offer.
The case for Austin: Of all the Cowboys’ receivers, Austin is certainly the most dependable. By “dependable”, I mean Austin can be counted on to show up each game and be where he is supposed to be (on and off the field). Prior to last year’s injury-marred campaign – which the seventh-year pro admitted happened in part because he wasn’t in the kind of condition he needed to be in following the lockout – Austin had just completed consecutive 16-game seasons; Bryant has yet to play in all 16 games since he became a Cowboy in 2010. T0 his credit, Austin is reportedly in “outstanding shape” this off-season according to Cowboys website writer and former NFL scout Bryan Broaddus. As for his actual ability as a receiver, Austin has very few holes in his game. Austin does a fine job of using his 6-2, 215-pound frame to shield off defenders and is very good once he gets the ball in his hands. Austin is equal parts possession receiver and big-play threat all wrapped up in one package. Were it not for Jason Witten, Austin would easily be considered QB Tony Romo’s favorite target.
The case against Austin: Some may suggest that he lacks durability since he missed six games last year with hamstring injuries and parts of a few other contests, but we’ve already addressed why that probably isn’t a long-term concern for him. Compared to most NFL receivers, Austin is a special talent. Next to Bryant, however, his talent seems rather ordinary – which is really saying something. Despite being the same height (and separated by just three pounds), Bryant is a superior option once the ball is in his hands in part because he runs tougher than some NFL running backs after the catch. (Truth be told, there are very few pro receivers that can match Bryant in that area.) Consider for a second that Bryant has yet to show the league – or his team, for that matter – that he can consistently run more routes than a quick screen or a fly pattern and it seems rather amazing that he is still challenging Austin for the title of the Cowboys’ best fantasy receiver. In short, it seems like everyone knows Austin will eventually become the second option in this offense, but no one seems to have a good idea when that might happen as Bryant continues to struggle off the field.
The case for Bryant: Dependability…in one key area. Austin has been in the league three years and dropped a total of four “catchable” balls, according to Pro Football Focus. Question him all you want in other areas of his game, but those numbers suggest that he does what any fan or fantasy owner wants his/her receiver to do when he has an accurate throw come his way – catch it. Bryant’s physical talent is obvious, which is why many have labeled him a disappointment to this point in his career despite posting 108 catches for 1,489 yards and 15 touchdowns over the first two seasons of his NFL career. And up until a recent incident – which we’ll get to in a bit – Bryant was enjoying perhaps his quietest and most positive off-season as a pro, drawing high praise for the improvements he made in terms of his work habits and mental approach (specifically as it related to finally learning how to run consistent routes). Even as he struggles to leave his past in the past, it is clear that he is starting to “get it” in other areas, which means there is hope. Maturity is almost always a gradual process, so the new-found devotion to his craft is definitely a step in the right direction for him.
The case against Bryant: More than anything, his on- and off-the-field demons. On the field, his work ethic and grasp of the complexity of the passing game has been questioned on multiple occasions. Off the field, he just cannot seem to stay out of trouble long enough to build any kind of trust with his team and coaches, the latest of which came this past weekend when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his mother. (Since both parties have “earned” their reputations as questionable decision makers, we’ll just stop the conversation about this incident right here and let the story play out.) Whether this latest poor decision is his fault or not, he seems to be a magnet for trouble and, from a fantasy perspective, that is obviously a problem for any owner who values as many “safe calls” when setting a lineup as possible. Is this week the week Bryant puts it all together or is it the week he misses the first half of the game because HC Jason Garrett suspended him for being late to a team meeting? Will he be focused on running his dig route at 12 yards or will he be thinking about another pending lawsuit (like the ones he was still dealing with at the end of last season)?
The verdict: Austin. Up until a week ago, my answer to this question would have been Bryant as it appeared his life was starting to move in the right direction, but this most recent incident will almost certainly lead to a multi-game league suspension. If Austin was a clear second receiver in this offense, owners could still justify taking Bryant over him. However, Austin has more than proved he can handle being the main receiver in this passing game, meaning it doesn’t make a lot of sense to wait 2-4 games for Bryant when you could probably get the same production during his absence from Austin.