8th Overall Selection by the St. Louis Rams
Overview: St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead has been relentless in his efforts to surround 4th year quarterback Sam Bradford with a talented support system in order to fully develop the former 1st overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. After adding wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens, as well as running backs Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson in the 2012 draft, Snead loaded up in the 2013 free agency period by adding ex-Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook formerly of the Tennessee Titans. While those additions alone are enough to re-shape an entire offense, Snead also used the #16 pick, #46 pick, #222 pick, and swapped 3rd round picks to move up into the top ten and acquire the Buffalo Bills #8 overall selection. With the 8th pick in the first round Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher took West Virginia playmaker Tavon Austin, the most dynamic offensive threat in the 2013 draft class. Austin is an electric and versatile weapon capable of lining up in the backfield, out wide, and in the slot. Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will undoubtedly design a package of plays with the sole purpose of getting Austin in the open field. Austin is one of the most explosive and elusive open field runners to enter the league in years and he will not only boost the Rams offense, but will be providing big plays in the return game as well. The diminutive Austin may never be a true #1 wide receiver and still has much to learn about the position, but his ability to create with the ball in his hands will force the Rams to get creative in their efforts to get him the ball. St. Louis also added Austin’s former Mountaineer running mate Stedman Bailey in the 3rd round. The selections of Austin, Bailey, and addition of Cook via free agency has catapulted the once barren Rams receiving corps to one of the NFL’s most talented groups. Entering year 4, the St. Louis Rams are expecting big things out of Bradford and their explosive young offense, and rightfully so.
Position Battles: One of the most interesting training camp battles in the entire NFL will be among the St. Louis Rams receiving corps. It looks to be a completely fluid situation with any of the top 5 wide receivers capable of winning a starting spot. As it currently sits, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis are atop the depth chart entering camp followed closely by Brian Quick, Austin, and Bailey. Quick possesses the best combination of size, speed, and ability, but has been slow to adjust to the speed of the NFL game after playing his college ball at tiny Appalachian State. The 6’4, 225 lb. Quick has the tools and talent necessary to eventually become a legit #1 receiver and the Rams are quietly hoping he can oust Pettis early for a starting role. Austin will look to make an impact as a slot receiver and will get his toughest competition from Stedman Bailey, whose route running, soft hands, and ability to create separation will make it hard to keep him off the field. Despite having a strong spring, the odd man out will most likely be Austin Pettis who simply does not possess the speed and playmaking ability of the other 4 players. It should also be noted that Austin Pettis is also the only wide receiver out of the top group that was not hand picked by Snead and the Rams current coaching staff.
Notable Match-Ups: One factor working against Bradford, Austin, and the rest of the St. Louis Rams offense is the fact that they play within the NFC West. The 3 “other” teams in the Rams division all finished in the top 12 in total defense, with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers finishing #1 and #2 in points allowed. The Rams will face off against some of the league’s most talented secondaries in 2013, with games against the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It is hard to pin point individual match-ups with Austin lining up all over the field, but the week 1 game against Arizona could pit Austin as a slot receiver against Cardinals 2013 3rd round pick Tyrann Mathieu, also known as the “honey Badger“. Mathieu will play slot corner and safety in Arizona and should see plenty of Austin on gameday.
2014 and Beyond
The St. Louis Rams are loading up on explosive young talent and have the makings of one of the most exciting teams in the NFL. The only reason they have not been getting more buzz is the fact that they are the 3rd best team in their division and it really is not that close. The San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are two of the NFL’s best teams and both clubs are trendy picks to meet in the NFC Championship game. Their uphill division battle aside, the Rams will look to feature Tavon Austin heavily in 2013 and beyond. Austin will play multiple roles within the offense and sooner rather than later should have offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer scheming to get him the football as often as possible. Much like former Minnesota Viking and newly acquired Seattle Seahawk Percy Harvin, Austin is a weapon who may never develop a true position on the football field. He will get more comfortable at wide receiver as his career advances, but his impact as a runner and in the return game will remain. Tavon Austin may never be able to carry an offense, but he is the type of talent that makes an average offense good and a good offense great.