Tavon Austin | Wide receiver | West Virginia | 5'9, 173 pounds
There isn't a fit for Tavon Austin on every NFL team. Some teams won't want an undersized wide receiver that may be restricted to playing only the slot at the next level. Other teams will look at Austin's ability after the catch and versatility as a plus. Austin is an excellent player, but he's not without flaws.
As a senior, Austin was given the Paul Hornung Award. While awards have no relation to future NFL success, the Hornung Award is telling because it's given to the nation's most versatile player. Throughout his West Virginia career, Austin made a name with his versatility. He's a slot receiver who can work in motion to shift the defense. Was lined up at running back in pistol sets. Is used on end arounds and is dangerous in the return game.
After the catch, Austin is dangerous. He has incredible start and stop ability with the ball in his hands. His vision after the catch is rare. There aren't many defenders that can catch Austin from behind. His playing speed is legit and he gets up to his top gear in a hurry. Is difficult to jam at the line because his first move is so fast.
Because Austin can cut so smoothly, the pace in which he runs his routes makes it difficult for defenders to stick on him.
Austin's height is the immediate negative takeaway. Austin was listed at 5-foot-9 by West Virginia and may measure shorter at the NFL Combine. Although Steve Smith and Wes Welker have had excellent careers, they're far from the norm. Because of his size, there are some plays that won't be able to be called for Austin. He's not going to be a factor in most jump ball situations and will have to be used in certain ways in the red zone.
Doesn't always catch the ball with his hands. Austin will let the ball get into his body to make a catch. He went over the middle at times for West Virginia, but dropped some passes anticipating a hit. Didn't run a complex variety of routes at West Virginia. Used a lot on slants, screens and some drag routes over the middle.
Austin doesn't have the strongest build and he may get banged around in the NFL. Doesn't do a lot as a run blocker. Will need to be coached up in this area to at least learn how to mirror in front of defenders.
Conclusion: In the ever-evolving landscape of NFL offenses, Austin should be an attractive draft choice. He's not just a wide receiver, though he's a good one. But West Virginia often lined Austin up at running back in a pistol formation toward the end of the season. Against Oklahoma he had 21 carries for 344 yards. That went along with his receiving duties and return carries. Austin is a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands.
Pro comparison: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown is slightly bigger, but how the two can be used is similar. Brown was named the Mid-American Conference Special Teams Player of the Year twice and Austin is just as good in the return game. Much like Austin at West Virginia, Brown was successfully used in the running game and has the speed to open up the defense over the top.