Tavon Austin: Projecting Perfect Fit for One of Combine's Fastest Players

Justin OnslowContributor IIFebruary 25, 2013

Feb 24, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin runs with the ball after making a catch during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Tavon Austin didn't exactly take NFL talent evaluators by surprise when he ran one of the fastest times at the NFL combine on Sunday. No one doubted his speed.

The West Virginia wide receiver and general offensive weapon is considered one of the most electric players to come out of college this year—and for good reason. With speed he displayed at the combine (4.34 40-yard dash), he simply flies past defenders on his way to the endzone.

In 2012, Austin compiled incredible numbers. He caught 111 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, ran for 652 more yards and found pay dirt three times on the ground. He also returned two kicks for touchdowns and averaged 25.41 yards per kickoff return.

Having projected first-round quarterback Geno Smith throwing him the football was an added benefit, but the 5’8”, 174-pound speedster didn’t need a top-tier passer to do a lot of damage. What Austin does with the ball in his hands is special.

With elite agility, speed and field vision, there’s no reason to believe Austin’s college success won’t translate to an exceptional NFL career. He’s a natural runner in open space, and there isn't a player in the country who can pick up yards after the catch quite like Austin.

Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller compares Austin to DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles because of his elite ability to generate yards and make big plays after the catch. In the following video, Miller expresses concerns about Austin’s size, but he did enough at the combine to potentially dispel some of those anxieties.

Austin measured a little shorter and heavier than his prior listed weight (5’9”, 171 pounds), and he also exhibited impressive strength at the combine, hammering out 14 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press—more than 16 other receivers who participated.

Given Austin’s size, durability may ultimately be a factor in how NFL talent evaluators view him, but it’s still very likely he’ll find a home in the first round in April. That home will largely depend on fit.

Austin doesn't have the height or strength to play the wide receiver position at the next level. In the NFL, those roles are typically reserved for receivers who can out-jump or out-muscle defensive backs down the field. However, there isn't a better slot receiver in this draft class.

Austin’s speed, agility and quickness make him a perfect fit to line up in the slot in the NFL.

Traditional slot receivers typically work a lot of underneath routes, taking advantage of space to turn short passes into big gains—think Wes Welker and Danny Amendola. While the NFL slot receiver is a more ambiguous position with the presence of big possession receivers like Marques Colston and Brandon Marshall often lining up in the slot, there is still a place for the speedy slot receiver.

For Austin to have immediate offensive success in the NFL, he’ll need to go to a team that will utilize his skills in the best possible way. Given the depth of this year’s draft, the most likely candidates select in the bottom half of the first round. Here are a few teams that might consider drafting Austin in the first round:


Minnesota Vikings

While a lot of what Austin does on the field is reminiscent of Percy Harvin, the Vikings desperately need another electric receiving threat who can open up the passing game. Harvin can line up just about anywhere, but he’s been victimized by increased coverage in recent years, due in large part to the absence of quality receivers on Minnesota’s roster.

Pairing Harvin and Austin in the same offense would instantly upgrade a passing attack that finished No. 31 in the NFL in 2012. Variety is the spice of life, but no one could complain about having two electric receivers like Harvin and Austin.


Seattle Seahawks

Seattle has a number of solid receivers, but none that stand out as home run threats in the passing game. Austin would give the Seahawks an elite big-play threat to open up vertical routes for Golden Tate, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin.

The Seahawks may address other positional needs in the first round, but there’s no question they would benefit from adding a player like Austin in the draft.


Houston Texans

With Andre Johnson nearing the back-end of his career, the Texans need to find another pass-catching weapon to take some of the pressure off him. Austin would be a terrific option, and his ability to work underneath routes and pick up yards after the catch would keep opposing defenses from slanting coverage too much in Johnson’s direction.

Having extra mouths to feed in the passing game doesn't necessarily mean decreased production for those receivers. With Austin working underneath routes and Johnson playing a large role in the vertical passing game, Houston’s offense would have a new feel in 2013.


San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have an electric quarterback, an exceptional possession receiver and a quality pass-catching tight end. What they don’t have is a receiver who can work in space to pick up big yards after the catch.

With Austin’s impressive combine performance, it’s likely he won’t make it to pick No. 31 for the 49ers. If he does, San Francisco has to seriously consider selecting him at the end of the first round.