West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin lined up in the backfield on Saturday night against Oklahoma.
The rocous crowd in Morgantown, West Va. went characteristically wild as the Mountaineers' senior playmakers ripped off more than 300 yards rushing against the Sooners.
Austin sparked West Virginia's offense with long runs, big catches and huge returns. Put simply, Austin was making plays.
While nobody, including Austin himself, expects the vertically challenged wideout to make the switch to running back in the NFL, the burst, elusiveness and vision he displayed in that role bodes well for his NFL Draft prospects.
Austin will be knocked leading into the NFL Draft because he is small. At 5-feet-9-inches tall and 174 pounds, Austin can't make much of an argument against claims that he is undersized. But despite his slight frame, he may be the best senior wide receiver in the country at the moment.
Compared to Percy Harvin by some, Austin has been one of the biggest playmakers in college football on a weekly basis. His skill set translates to the NFL, too.
For staters, Austin has speed to absolutely burn opposing defenses. His quickness, burst and straight line speed will all be on display at the NFL combine.
Most impressive is Austin's vision, though. He's advanced in his ability to find soft spots in the defense both when running routes and once the ball is in his hands. Austin's build does not translate to him being a running back at the next level, but that doesn't mean he can't use some of the running back skills he has to make a huge impact in a quick passing attack in the NFL.
Austin is a mere two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than Percy Harvin. If he bulks up only slightly, Austin will be a dangerous threat on the outside. His hands, route running and ball skills are all impressive enough to succeed at wide receiver. He explodes in and out of his breaks, catches with his hands and makes surprising plays on the football given his size.
While he predictably lacks physicality, Austin will make up for it with his ability to make people miss. In an NFL where speed is king, Austin should be royalty for NFL teams. Get him and space and his skills will flash in a big way.
Geno Smith may be getting most of the NFL hype in Morgantown, but Austin has a chance to have the biggest NFL impact of any Mountaineer. Austin has an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to be drafted in the first round in April, though. To earn that distinction, Austin would likely have to run a mind-numbing 40-yard dash or blow scouts away at his pro day.
But there is a place for Austin the NFL, and it will be at wide receiver. The NFL game has created more and more open space in recent years, making players like Percy Harvin successful. Austin will benefit from that open space as well.
Expect Austin to come off the board sometime on the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft. And expect to hear his name on Sundays next season, as it won't take long for him to turn heads.