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What Is The 411 On Miles Austin?

Stories about
little-known, undrafted college football players who step out of the shadows of
obscurity and into the bright lights of National Football League fame always
have appealed to me. Such sagas are indicative of the American Dream and remind
the know-it-all NFL general managers and scouts that they occasionally overlook
talent at the smaller colleges. Although I am not ready to say Dallas Cowboys
wide receiver Miles Austin is cruising down the highway of success, the 25-year-old
has definitely found the on-ramp after toiling away for three years in the
Cowboys organization.

THE AUSTIN ACCOUNT

Miles J. Austin was born
June 30, 1984, in Summit, N.J. The athletically gifted Austin was readily known for his prowess in basketball and
track at Garfield
High School, but his
Boilermakers football career did not start until he was a junior. Here is the
story: Garfield High
School teacher and football coach Steve Mucha had tried
unsuccessfully for two years to get Austin
to join his team. Austin thought Mucha hated him
for some reason, which is probably why Austin
had avoided all things football (if a coach truly hated you, why would he want
you to play for him?) When Austin
showed up late one day for Mucha’s class, the teacher gave him a pass to go into
class, instead of a detention, which was the usual school punishment for
lateness. Austin
returned the favor by joining the varsity football team five games into the
season. Playing both wide receiver and defensive back, success on the prep
gridiron came easily for Austin thanks to his unique size, speed and big-play
skills. Austin
also earned county and state honors as a senior (2002) for his football
success. He was a two-year varsity letterman in football, basketball and track.

Since Austin’s prep gridiron career was short –
half a season as a junior and a full season as a senior – he was not recruited
by any of the traditional college football powerhouses. Austin
decided to play for the only school that had shown any interest in him – the
nearby Division I-AA Monmouth University Hawks (New Jersey). As a three-year starter, the
talented Austin
continued to thrive. During his sophomore and junior seasons, he led the Hawks
in receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns. In eight games played as a
senior, Austin
hauled in 51 balls for 1,101 yards and a team record 14 touchdowns. He finished
his Monmouth career (2002-2005) as the school’s all-time leader in catches
(150), receiving yards (2,867) and touchdowns (33), earning a handful of
Northeast Conference honors.

THE NFL YEARS

Most of the major NFL
Draft preview publications had pegged Austin
as a sixth- or seventh-round talent.

The Austin Pre-Draft Profile

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 215 pounds

40-Yard Dash: 4.47

Positives: Big, durable
athletic receiver with speed who was a matchup nightmare for most Northeast
Conference defensive backs, able to gain separation consistently, great hands,
racked up tons of yards after the catch, willing to catch over the middle, runs
great deep routes.

Negatives: A raw talent
that needs development, inconsistent at getting off the line and route running,
struggles with blocking, has not been significantly challenged by defensive
backs.

Austin, who was not
drafted, signed a three-year contract with the Cowboys in June 2006. He became
the first player from Monmouth to earn a spot on an NFL regular-season roster.

2006:

As a part-time kickoff
returner, Austin
finished with 29 returns for 753 yards with a 26-yard average, which was the
second-best showing by a rookie in Cowboys history.

Austin returned three kickoffs for 136 yards
against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs, which was the second-highest
yardage total in team playoff history. He also set Dallas playoff records for kickoff return
average (45.3 yards) and longest kickoff return (93 yards – the first kickoff
return for a touchdown in Cowboys playoff history).

He did not catch any
passes during the regular season.

2007:

Austin finished third in the NFC (No. 9 in
the NFL) in kickoff returns with a 25.5 average on 24 attempts for 612 yards
and one touchdown as a part-time returner. He returned a kickoff for a
career-best 60 yards against the Detroit Lions.

Austin returned six kickoffs for 166 yards
against the Green Bay Packers, which was a career-best.

Austin notched his first career pass
reception against the New York Jets. He caught five passes for 76 yards and
zero touchdowns during the regular season.

2008:

Austin assumed the Cowboys kickoff return
role full-time, becoming the 12th player in team history to top 1,500 career
kickoff return yards.

He received a little
more playing time on offense, finishing the season with 13 catches for 278
yards and three touchdowns. Austin
scored his first career receiving touchdown against the Green Bay Packers,
which was a career-long 63-yard catch. He racked up two catches for 115 yards
in that contest, which was the first time that Austin topped the 100-yard receiving mark in
a game.

Heading into the 2009
season, Austin
tested the waters in free agency. The Jets gave him a look but did not offer
the restricted free agent a contract, probably because they would had to have
given the Cowboys a second-round pick if they had signed Austin. He re-signed
with Dallas,
agreeing to a one-year, $1.545 million deal. Absent a new labor agreement, Austin is expected to be
a restricted free agent again after this season wraps up.

Despite the release of
Terrell Owens, Austin
started 2009 as a backup receiver, compiling just five catches for 81 yards and
one touchdown through the first four weeks of the season. Filling in for the
injured Roy Williams (ribs) against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5, Austin made his first
start, compiling a whopping 10 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns,
including a 60-yard game-winning touchdown reception in overtime. By the way, Austin’s showing in Kansas
City shattered former Cowboy Bob Hayes’ 246-yard
receiving effort against the Washington Redskins (1966). Austin
received another start following Dallas’
bye and he did not disappoint, racking up an impressive six catches for 171
yards and two touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7. Heading into
Week 8, Austin was the ninth-most productive receiver in the NFL.

AUSTIN

’S FANTASY FORECAST

Will Austin become the next stud fantasy wide
receiver? It is possible. Austin’s two starts –
the Kansas City game and the Atlanta game – were obviously impressive. The
Cowboys are desperate for a wide receiver to step up in the passing game – Roy
Williams is not a big-play receiver as team owner Jerry Jones wants everyone to
believe – and Austin
seems determined to cement himself as the team’s No. 1 wideout. The Cowboys are
not shy about putting the ball up as many times as it takes to win a game. Tony
Romo seems more than happy to feed the ball to Austin, even if it means ignoring his friend
Jason Witten.

However, Austin has come out of
nowhere as a receiver. Although he has demonstrated big-play ability as a
kickoff returner, Austin
had done next to nothing as a receiver to make anyone think that he was capable
of such game-breaking performances. Austin’s
two big games came against two subpar defenses. The Chiefs defense is ranked
No. 30 against the pass and the Falcons defense is ranked No. 21 versus the
pass. Following his two mind-blowing performances, opposing defenses are
inevitably going to start paying more attention to Austin (hint: lots of double-teams). A large
percentage of Austin’s
receiving yardage has come after the catch. Will he remain productive against
teams with better tacklers? I predict Austin
will enjoy his third straight strong outing in Week 8 against the Seattle
Seahawks, because Seattle’s
defense does not play well on the road. Austin has upcoming matchups against
the tougher defenses of the Philadelphia Eagles (Week 9), the New Orleans
Saints (Week 13) and the New York Giants (Week 15) – assuming the Giants
defense starts to play better – which will be tests for Austin. It also will be
interesting to see how he performs against Oakland Raiders’ shutdown corner
Nnamdi Asomugha (Week 12).

If you own Austin and have solid
receiver depth, sell high on him if you need to bolster another area of your
team. My first thought, however, is to keep Austin and ride his hot streak. Aside from
the Eagles, Saints and Giants, the rest of Dallas’ 2009 matchups range from average to
very favorable. Since the Cowboys are not deep at the receiver position, they
will do everything to help Austin
succeed. I honestly think Austin
is the real deal.

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