What Does Tavon Austin Have to Offer as an NFL Pro?
It is not often that a team has the chance to acquire a game-breaking wide receiver. In most cases, they come at the top of the draft, featuring freakish size and a rare blend of speed and power.
The former West Virginia receiver doesn't necessarily compare to the above in physical dominance— he's just under 5'9" and 174 pounds and isn't as natural of a receiver, but also has a rare blend. That blend is an uncommon combination of an extraordinary burst and change of direction (COD).
He's able to stop and start in an instant, making a series of ankle-breaking, weight-shifting moves. These moves not only leave defenders watching the back of his jersey, but they also are instinctively used to set up running lanes to get to the open field.
Consider the following play against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Austin is in the backfield and is prepared to take one of his 73 carries on the season as a running back. He's versatile enough to run the ball from this alignment or catch it from the slot; regardless of where he's aligned, he's a threat to take it to the end zone at any time.
When he gets the handoff, the strong-side defensive tackle (circled) is sliding outside with gap discipline to ensure that the stretch run concept leads Austin laterally to the sideline. This isn't what Austin wants, however, because his goal is to eventually make a hard cut downhill.
With the defensive tackle sliding out, it's difficult for him to make the cut.
So what the senior ball-carrier does is plant his outside foot into the ground and quickly shift his weight inside. Because Austin is so quick, the defensive tackle tries to make the play by sliding inside, thus losing gap discipline. By sliding inside, he's created the opportunity for Austin to make another cut outside.
Note that Austin has yet to pass the line of scrimmage. Whilst he's making these cuts, he's behind the line, which is typically not promoted by coaches. This is different for Austin because he has the ability to make the cuts without wasting much movement and still running with a forward lean.
When the defensive tackle slid inside, Austin made an abrupt cut outside and created a sizable alley in the B-gap between the defensive tackle and end.
At that point, Austin burst forward and picked up nine yards with ease.
Later in the same game, Austin made another startling cut that helped him get to the second level, where he showed another exciting trait: open-field vision.
It's 1st-and-10 (6:12 mark) and Austin is in the backfield once again. The Sooners are playing with a four-man front and are hoping to contain the runner by keeping him in the backfield.
Austin gets the handoff to his left and stretches the run outside of the offensive tackle, where he meets a safety. At first look, the defender has a proper angle to force Austin to the inside. That quickly changes when Austin makes a quick incision with his outside foot and jumps inside.
The cut was made to ensure that the defender couldn't tackle Austin, who then made another cut at the 33-yard line. This one propelled him to the middle of the field, where Austin used a quick burst to separate from nearby defenders and then turn on the jets to cross midfield.
Ultimately, he finished around the 25-yard line, which showed how big of a playmaker he is.
Austin was able to turn what could have been a one- to two-yard gain into more than 50 yards. That's what coaches like to call "chunk yardage," and every team is looking for it right now. It's one of the reasons Austin is being considered as a potential first-round selection.
Another reason is his production as a slot receiver. It's a position that's grown increasingly difficult to defend in professional and college football, as Austin showed against Texas this past season.
In that game Austin had 10 receptions for 102 yards and one touchdown. The lone touchdown was a brilliant route by the young receiver, and it's one that he's likely to run quite a bit in the pros.
It is known as a "jerk route" in coaching circles, as the goal of it is to bait the near defender with a quick stop. That forces Austin's defender to play closely prior to running past him.
Austin was lined up at the left slot in West Virginia's offense on this play. The defender was a linebacker that initially showed blitz before dropping into coverage late.
He took off from the line of scrimmage and ran a vertical stem of five yards before stopping. This drew in the linebacker, making it appear as if Austin was running a quick hitch or stick route.
Once the linebacker came over, Austin abruptly left the spot, running right behind him and into the middle of the field for the catch.
After catching the ball, he burst across the middle of the field before running down the right sideline, scoring a touchdown to give his team an early lead. This goes back to chunk yardage, a must-have in the NFL.
Chunk yardage is one of the biggest indicators of a team's success during the season and in the playoffs. If a team struggles to create big plays, their offense will likely be boxed in and lack creativity because of defenses sitting on underneath routes. With Austin, that's harder to do because he creates separation and can pick up yards after the catch in a hurry.
Teams that could use this type of talent include the Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers. All could use Austin's game-breaking talent by moving him all over the field, including at running back and receiver.
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