Former West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin is a borderline first-round pick on most evaluators' draft, but that isn't stopping him from making waves at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
After arriving with the wide receivers on Thursday, the former Mountaineers star finally got to publicly address the media on Friday. In a candid session that is sure to raise some eyebrows inside NFL front offices, Austin staked claim atop his own personal big board.
"I think I'm the all-around best player in the draft," said Austin (per USA Today's Robert Klemko).
To be fair, Austin did not stand up to the podium and provide himself with a Lion King moment. According to Mary Paoletti of Comcast SportsNet New England, the all-purpose stud was asked the question and answered accordingly.
That being said, Austin wasn't done making lofty predictions for himself. He told reporters that his goal was to run a 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds and that he was once clocked at 4.29, according to CBS Sports' Will Brinson:
Will Brinson @WillBrinson
Tavon Austin is hoping to run "anything under a 4.4" in the 40. Says he's clocked a 4.29 before. #mercy2/22/2013, 4:29:56 PM
If Austin were to match his supposed career-best time, it would be just 0.05 seconds slower than Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson's combine record.
Unfortunately for those patiently waiting to see whether Austin can establish himself as the fastest player in this class, wide receivers don't work out until Sunday, so fans and media types will be left to dissect his comments over the next couple days.
And you know what? No matter what happens with his workout or on draft day, Austin's quote is nothing short of brilliant.
Let's start with the viability of Austin's claims. No draft board in the nation—other than perhaps the Tavon Austin List of Tavon Austin's Best Players According to Tavon Austin—have Austin as the top player on their board.
That's a perfectly reasonable position. Austin is undersized at 5'8" and needs to add bulk to his frame to withstand the rigors of NFL competition. That means there are almost no circumstances in which he'll be used as a split end on Sundays, putting his ceiling as an elite slot receiver.
In today's NFL, that's not a detriment. Wes Welker has become a perennial Pro Bowler in the slot and even traditional receivers like Larry Fitzgerald have used their versatility to excel as an inside wideout.
Austin (obviously) still has a ton of work to do to reach that level. His hands are suspect—a death knell for some prototypical slot guys—and for all of his speed, he doesn't have the top-end leaping ability to go up for high passes. But he's already an explosive route-runner, creating separation with his speed and initial burst, and could emerge as the NFL's best return man in his rookie season.
Prior to Friday, he was already one of the draft's most intriguing prospects from a skills perspective. The 2013 class has become renowned for its defensive and offensive line talent, but it's come at the expense of a skill position crop that is questionable at best.
Take Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson for instance. Barring something unforeseen happening between now and April, he will be the first skill position player off the board and deservedly so. He's an absolute athletic freak who should wow everyone in Indianapolis this weekend, but his overall package comes with a boatload of questions.
First and foremost, he played just one season in Knoxville. The first two years of his eligibility were spent in community college, where he dominated vastly inferior talent. At Tennessee, Patterson was an all-purpose menace, but was such an inconsistent route-runner that it bludgeoned his connection with Tyler Bray.
He finished his only FBS season with 46 receptions for 778 yards and five touchdowns. The reception and touchdown statistics were both less than half of what Austin put up in 2012, albeit Austin's came in an admittedly more pass-happy system.
It's borderline crazy to claim Austin is the best all-around player in a draft that includes Luke Joeckel, Jarvis Jones, Star Lotulelei and Chance Warmack. It just is.
But is it out of the realm of possibilities that Austin becomes the best skill-position player in his class? Not in the slightest.
Viability of the claim aside, an even bigger question still remains: What else was Austin supposed to say? Was he supposed to throw on a Mel Kiper, Jr. wig, give reporters his latest big board and individual scouting report on each player? Or would teams rather him give some vanilla answer like "there are a lot of great players here" to appease the masses?
Austin said what every other player in Indianapolis feels—or at least what they should feel. You don't devote your life to the human 22-car pileup known as American football nor do you reach this high of a level without having the utmost belief in your ability. The field is too competitive, and we've learned throughout history that talent can only take a player so far.
So teams should not be remotely discouraged by Austin's quote nor fans be fearful if their team takes the youngster. He's confident, but not in a way that would make him do sit-ups on his lawn. He's a young kid who believes in himself, which should be encouraging to all 32 franchises in attendance this weekend.
Will Austin be the best player in the 2013 draft? I highly doubt it. But his quote put him in the conversation, by hook or by crook.
Now it will just be up to Austin to prove himself not only in Indianapolis this weekend, but on the field next season.
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