Atlanta Falcons: Tavon Austin Could Be Dark-Horse Replacement for Tony Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez is retiring and needs a true replacement. Tavon Austin is a slot receiver and all around threat, but his career will just be starting.
Tavon Austin should explode in the NFL and the Falcons do need depth at receiver. So, why not have him explode for the Falcons offense?
In a recent mock draft that I was part of, the Falcons' pick came up and Tavon Austin was available, among others. The thought hit me: Why not take Austin and run more 3-WR sets if I'm the Falcons?
Why not bring in the best all-around threat at wide receiver since Percy Harvin?
Mike Smith has already spoken about the Falcons needing playmakers. It's not like Roddy White (32 on Nov. 2) or Harry Douglas (29 on Sept. 16) are getting any younger. Adding Austin would bring youth to Atlanta.
Additionally, Austin can play multiple spots for the Falcons as needed. He'd be a wide receiver, a running back, a return specialist and even someone who could run wildcat concepts from time to time.
Falcons Offense Is Not a Puzzle Missing a Piece
Despite the likelihood of losing Tony Gonzalez to retirement, the Falcons don't need to bring in a tight end of equal caliber to replace him. They don't have to bring in a tight end period to replace his production, but rather a third receiving option.
Does the Falcons offense need a tight end to be successful?
With Roddy White and Julio Jones taking the bulk of the targets now, the Falcons can get away with someone who is more of a slot receiver. They can then attempt to fill the tight end spot without looking for a player of Gonzalez's caliber.
The Falcons could go with a couple of different guys to bring more variation to the offense at tight end, like Zach Sudfeld or Joseph Fauria, later in the draft. However, they could feel comfortable with Chase Coffman and Michael Palmer as the starting pair at tight end.
Bringing in a slot man who can also double as an option out of the backfield would give the Falcons a unique, Percy Harvin-style option in the passing game, and another all-around back for the running game.
Versatility Is Off the Charts
Rusher, receiver and returner are words that can describe the roles Austin has filled for the West Virginia Mountaineers. He's one of the best all-around threats to have ever stepped foot on that campus after being recruited as a running back by Bill Stewart.
He didn't get into his best groove until Dana Holgorsen used him as the versatile threat that he is. In his senior year, he accounted for over 1,900 yards of total offense and 15 offensive touchdowns. His per-touch average of 10.5 yards is insane considering his catches (111) and carries (73) are similar in quantity.
Adding Austin's versatility to the Falcons' offense would give them someone to pair with Julio Jones in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield. This alone would make the Falcons offense much more unpredictable.
Unpredictable is scary for defenses that would face the kind of talent that Austin and Jones bring. Not to mention, his overall speed would show instant impact as well. Becoming faster, more versatile and more unpredictable are good ways to improve an offense that was already top 10 in scoring.
Deep Threat and Playmaking Ability
When it comes to being a true playmaker, Tavon Austin is definitely it. As a receiver, he had 25 plays of 15 or more yards. As a rusher, he had 18 runs of 10 or more yards and seven runs of 20 or more yards.
Austin also recorded a 74-yard run and 75-yard reception as his longest plays of the season. Most of what he gets is because he is one of the best creators of yards after the catch in the college ranks. With the ball in his hand, there is none better at blowing past a defense for and making them look silly for a big gain.
He doesn't just earn his long plays from yards after catch or on runs, though. He can blow the top off of a defense. Add in his ability on screens and deep routes to what Julio Jones and Roddy White can do in the offense, and opposing teams would say that it's just not fair for the Falcons to have all these weapons.
Atlanta would have a ton of variation in the backfield between Austin, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers, and could afford to take a running back later in the draft if they took Austin early. He's a big play threat all over the field and would be an excellent addition to the offense.
Return Game Fix
As I pointed out before, Tavon Austin is also a return specialist. However, he's not just any return specialist. He's a playmaking, explosive returner who is a threat to take a return back at any time, regardless of it being a punt or a kick.
Over the past two seasons, Austin has 347 yards and two touchdowns on just 34 punt returns—a 10.2 yard average—and he also has 1,751 yards and three touchdowns on 68 kick returns—a 25.8 yard average.
That means on a total of just over 100 returns, Austin is responsible for almost 2,100 yards and five touchdowns.
For comparison, over that same time span the Falcons kick returns have gained 1,203 yards and no touchdowns on 51 returns, a 23.6 yard average. Their punt returns have gained 520 yards and no touchdowns on 60 returns, an 8.7 yard average.
While it may not look like much, if the Falcons could bring in Austin's explosive ability to score on returns, along with his ability to regularly gain what the return game has already been averaging, the Falcons could look like kings with the pick of Austin.
Would you take Tavon Austin at No. 30 overall?
Austin is truly an all-around threat. His returning, receiving and rushing make him a great fit for a new-age NFL offense. His screen fits will be what make him do even better in Atlanta and the Falcons would be wise to bring him in.
Even if Tony Gonzalez comes back, this pick could make a ton of sense for Atlanta. That is if Austin even makes it to the Falcons' pick. The overall consensus before the combine is that the latest he should go is pick No. 29 to the New England Patriots.
Then again, we are still two full months away from the draft and anything can happen. Bringing in a true threat like Austin to team with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Jacquizz Rodgers and, of course, Matt Ryan, would give the Falcons an offense that could legitimately put up 40 points a game.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.
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