2013 NFL Draft: Why West Virginia WR Tavon Austin Should Be a Top-10 Pick

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIIApril 7, 2013

Tavon Austin will silence questions about his size once he gets to the NFL.
Tavon Austin will silence questions about his size once he gets to the NFL.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Tavon Austin and the St. Louis Rams have become a trendy pairing in mock versions of the 2013 NFL draft. Too bad Austin shouldn’t actually be available when St. Louis is first scheduled to be on the clock at pick No. 16 overall.

The logic of the fit between West Virginia’s top offensive playmaker in 2012 and an offense that has just been gutted of its top two yardage-churners in Steven Jackson (85.2 scrimmage yards per game) and Danny Amendola (61.3) is obvious.

Austin averaged 149.1 yards per game from scrimmage as a senior.

An offense devoid of accomplished playmakers could certainly use the talents of a guy who caught 215 balls in his final two collegiate seasons and tallied 72 rushing attempts as a senior.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah agrees:

Unfortunately, the Rams aren’t the first squad in the draft order to fit that description. It’s also the draft’s worst kept secret that they need a playmaker—whether it’s one of their young guys taking the next step, or a new acquisition.

Daryl Richardson averaged a respectable 4.8 yards per carry, but Rams fans have yet to see the rising sophomore rusher celebrate his first career trip to the end zone. Isaiah Pead led the team with 5.4 rushing yards per attempt, but he only took 10 carries on the season.

St. Louis’ leading receiver (698 yards) was a fourth-round pick in Chris Givens. The next two receiving yardage leaders, Amendola and Brandon Gibson, have decided to meet up twice a year in the AFC East—Amendola as a member of the New England Patriots and Gibson as a Miami Dolphin.

Lance Kendricks is next up with 519 yards, but he’ll likely be leap-frogged on the depth chart by former Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook, who just signed for five years and $35 million.

The Rams will retain just 49.9 percent of their receiving yards from last season, while no player accounted for more than Givens’ 18.5 percent of the pie. By comparison, Chicago Bears wideout Brandon Marshall hauled in 45.7 percent of his team’s receiving yards in 2012.

Austin accounted for 30.0 percent of West Virginia’s receiving yardage last season on top of 28.8 percent of the team’s rushing real estate.

Those numbers—along with Austin’s shiftiness and speed (4.34 40)—might be enough to entice GMs into jumping over the Rams to secure his services, if a team in the top 10 doesn’t scoop him up for its own purposes. Yet, recent mock drafts have the dynamo dropping as low as No. 23 overall.

Why? Because he’s short? Haven’t we learned our lesson?

At 5’8”, 174 pounds, Austin is an inch shorter and 11 pounds lighter than the gold standard at the position, Denver Broncos slot receiver Wes Welker. Despite tearing his ACL in January of 2010—and going undrafted in 2004—Welker has never played fewer than 14 games in any season of his NFL tenure.

Meanwhile, Austin’s size is an injury concern—but he never missed a game in college.

If it’s not his size, production or potential that’s the problem, it must be the position he plays, right? Given that the three biggest free-agent slot guys (Amendola, Welker and New York Giants restricted free agent Victor Cruz) were all undrafted, that argument might have some merit.

But a couple of the game’s top young stars at the position were far from undrafted.

Despite character concerns, Percy Harvin was drafted with the 22nd pick in 2009. He was then traded for this offseason, as the Minnesota Vikings returned another first-round pick (No. 25 overall) in 2013, proving that the Seattle Seahawks still think he’s worth a first-rounder and a fat contract.

Green Bay Packers wideout Randall Cobb went 64th in 2011 and has surely made more than a few teams regret allowing him to fall that far. He recorded 72.4 scrimmage yards and 156.1 total yards per game last season as a sophomore.

He was drafted 17 spots lower than Kendricks, who probably just lost his starting job.

The fact that every one of the aforementioned slot receivers now play for (and, in Harvin’s case, used to play for) 2012 playoff teams should absolve teams at the top of the draft order from criticism if they select Austin.

Only Calvin Johnson (with an NFL single-season record 1,964 yards, no less) topped Titus Young’s 383 yards in the Detroit Lions (picking No. 5 overall) wide receiver position group, and Young isn’t with the team anymore.

Or any team.

The Cleveland Browns’ (picking No. 6 overall) top receiver, Josh Gordon, gained 805 yards as a rookie. The New York Jets’ (No. 9) top two wideouts in terms of receiving yardage leaders—Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens, combined for 1,116.

Thirteen receivers bested that mark individually last year.

Tavon would be a fantastic weapon for Sam Bradford if he’s available to St. Louis in the draft’s opening frame. They’d probably have to trade up to get him, though, which doesn’t mesh with this regime’s short history.

General manager Les Snead traded down twice—from No. 2 (Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins) to No. 6 (Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys), and ultimately to No. 14 (Michael Brockers)—in the first round of the 2012 draft.

Snead was a part of the aggressive 2011 Atlanta Falcons squad that leapt from No. 27 to No. 6 to snag Julio Jones, indicating that they felt they were one piece away from being serious playoff contenders.

That turned out pretty well, but the Rams are not one piece away.


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