As this year’s draft class will soon learn, the NFL is a league for grown men. However, this year's most explosive talent entering the NFL Draft is arguably it’s smallest member. West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin stands at just 5’8 1/2” and weighs 175 lbs, but his athletic ability is off the charts.
It’s not just his sub-4.4 speed that’s amazing, though; it’s that he can also maintain that speed while cutting up the field. Austin has the ability to create separation from defensive backs in order to get open and then juke them out of their cleats once he has the ball, all without ever slowing down.
Austin shows the burst of a running back when running through gaps of defenders, which shouldn’t be surprising, since he was a running back until he arrived in Morgantown. That experience helps make him an extremely versatile player on offense, as well as a threat on special teams.
He’s a very smart player, a superb route runner who is especially adept at finding the soft spots in zone defenses. I guess that’s a result of combining an athletic coaching education degree with a relentless work ethic.
There is some concern about his short arms and small hands, but Austin produced two consecutive 100-plus catch, 1,000-plus yard seasons in spite of his physical limitations. And at his size, the risk of injury is certainly higher. Austin didn’t miss any time at West Virginia, but with his playing style, he certainly puts himself at risk on a lot of plays.
Want to see what I mean? Just check out this highlight video, particularly the 2:33 mark. The play, like the rest in the clip, shows a lot of what I mentioned above: Austin’s speed, agility, and explosiveness. He beats his defender to the inside on a slant route, makes the catch, and then uses his world-class speed to run past everyone else straight to the end zone.
Seems fine, right? But look at what happens right after that. Austin celebrates with teammate Ivan McCartney, jumping in the air and bumping with him. However, McCartney, who weighs just 182 lbs, knocks Austin off balance and sends him to the ground. Now, am I overreacting to a single event that didn’t even occur during actual game play? Yes. But if a 182 pound teammate can do that celebrating, what do you think a 250 pound opponent will do trying to win a game?
Still, Austin offers too much for teams to be scared off by his size or potential injury concerns. I see him as a mold of Wes Welker, who has a similar build. Of course, Austin will have a head start, being a first round selection rather than going undrafted like Welker.
Our Mock Draft 1.0 has Austin going 13th overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is not necessarily a team need pick, but he’s just too talented to slip any further outside the top ten. Should he break through, the Buffalo Bills at eight and the New York Jets at nine both look like good fits. Regardless, he should be gone by the first half of the first round. Anything else would be selling him short. What, you thought I wasn’t going to make a height joke?
By: Joe Diglio