West Virginia wide receiver/ running back Tavon Austin has been known as one of the most explosive offensive weapons in the country since he became a Mountaineer. His NFL prospect status has fluctuated as he has a lot of question marks about how he projects to the next level. Some may choose to leave these questions unanswered and just look at the phenomenal season he has had so far.
Tavon Austin’s season reached an amazing peak last night as he accounted for 572 all purpose yards (a Big VII record) as both a running back and wide receiver.
Austin’s unreal change of direction and agility were well known by anyone who had seen him play. The biggest concern with Austin has been the question of where exactly he would be utilized, does he have the size to last, and at what point is he considered good value?
I think Austin has answered these three questions this season.
As shown Saturday against Oklahoma, I think Austin is best utilized in a Percy Harvin type role. I would stick him in the slot and try and get him in space in the passing game. I would also stick him in the backfield and try and get him 5 carries a game. I would of course supplement some time at kick returner as well.
Does he have the size to last at the NFL level? Well he certainly won’t be a physical, powerful, possession receiver for a team that out-muscles d-backs. He also won’t carry the load of a running game either. However, I do think that he won’t be crushed like a Pat White or have the constant injury struggles like a Peter Warrick. He is similar in size to Dexter McCluster who has been unspectacular but has still held up to the NFL beating.
Now where do you draft Austin? Dare I say in the first round?
When looking through this draft for explosive offensive weapons, few have the potential to be as useful as Austin. I am definitely not a big believer in drafting gadget players like Austin. The fact of the matter is that they are so effective in college because they operate well in open space and are able to outpace defenders that won’t be playing on Sundays. That open space simply isn’t there at the NFL level.
As mentioned earlier, Dexter McCluster has been unspectacular despite being dynamic in college while playing in the SEC. Percy Harvin has been very good, but has principally been utilized as a receiver (with the exception of late last season).
I base the first round prediction of Austin on the idea that I think he can be effective as a wide receiver first and foremost. I think he has the hands and route running ability to be an explosive option in the modern passing game. He certainly won’t win many jump balls or be a big red zone target, but he offers enough at the position to be considered early.
The running and special teams contributions are just a bonus. I think you can’t rely on him to be a hybrid wide receiver/ running back because that role simply hasn’t developed at the NFL level. Frankly, the closest we get to that kind of hybrid is with powerful backs like Steven Jackson and Ray Rice that are dominant backs with good ability catching passes out of the backfield. These guys are obviously nothing like Austin.
So it may sound like I am down on Austin. Quite the contrary, I think he is a first round pick as a playmaker and he could be added to a contending team late in the first round looking for a little offensive spark. I like his potential at wide receiver and think that it is enough to justify the early selection even if you disregard the running ability, which I think you have to.
Of course, I have been proven wrong before. Tavon Austin could be the one to bring that explosive super-playmaker role that we see in college to the NFL level.