How Tavon Austin Could Become Matt Schaub's Best Friend
A year after selecting wide receivers DeVier Posey in the third round and Keshawn Martin in the fourth round, the Houston Texans could be looking at another receiver early in this April's draft.
They are lacking weapons in the passing game even though they still have one of the league's best receivers in Andre Johnson.
Johnson, who had more than 1,500 yards receiving last season, will be 32 years old by the time the season starts, while the two aforementioned receivers still need more time to develop. They weren't factors last season, combining for only 16 total receptions. The closest a receiver came to Johnson was Kevin Walter, who had 41 receptions and was just released.
What does that mean moving forward for the Texans? They have to add more youth to the position and more playmakers. One possible option is West Virginia's Tavon Austin.
Austin isn't the preferred size for the Texans, measuring in at only 5'9" and 174 pounds, but he's a dynamic threat and is incredibly explosive. In some ways, he's a slighter version of Percy Harvin, who was recently traded for a plethora of draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks.
Like Harvin, Austin can handle special teams duties, line up in the slot and take handoffs in the backfield. He did all three at West Virginia, where he was a threat to score at any time. He's sharp in and out of his breaks and possesses rare agility that enables him to make multiple defenders miss.
In addition to the above, he has excellent vision and is very instinctive and tough for his size. The majority of his receptions have come behind the line of scrimmage or a short distance in front of it, but that's not necessarily a knock. We've seen players be very successful in the same fashion, such as the previously mentioned Harvin and the Denver Broncos' recently acquired Wes Welker (per Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today).
Incorporating Austin into game plans would require a little more creativity from the Texans than they currently have, however.
At the moment, the Texans are a play-action passing team that heavily relies on the running game to move the ball. They throw many passes to shallow crosses and utilize screen passes well, which is something that Austin's done a lot of at West Virginia.
Getting Austin in space via screen passes is one of the best ways to utilize his talent because he's very dangerous in the open field. Consider the 1:14 mark of the video to the right. Austin is lined up as a slot receiver in a Trips Bunch set.
When the ball snaps, he takes a step back and opens up to quarterback Geno Smith, who throws Austin the football. Once he catches it, he immediately bursts upfield, then makes the first defender miss before accelerating forward to pick up the first down. Not all players have this kind of ability, which is why Austin is somewhat of a rare prospect.
Austin's agility is also a significant factor on the "pivot" or "whip" route. This route has many names, but most know it as the one that Wes Welker commonly runs.
When running it, Welker takes a hard stem inside to force the defender to slide over, then stops and turns back outside. This is a simple but effective route because of Austin's great agility and foot quickness, as seen at the 1:13 mark in the clip to the right.
He's the lone receiver on the wide side of the field and is matched up with the infamous Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, who is also quick-footed.
When the ball snaps, Austin releases inside as if he's running a one-step slant route, which forces Mathieu to overcommit. Austin then plants his right foot into the ground and bounces to the outside, separating from the defender before catching the ball.
This is an easy route to implement into the game plan and a highly popular one among NFL slot receivers. Austin has the ability to run this half a dozen times a game for easy yardage much like Welker has in New England over the years.
This route, along with the screen passes and shallow crosses, is very easy to throw for Schaub. Schaub had some issues with turning the ball over at the end of the 2012 season and in the two playoff games. He threw a total of four interceptions in his final three games, so these routes will help him prevent that because they are simpler throws.
Another option that the Texans could consider, if they add Austin, is using him in the backfield. Although the Texans have many weapons in the backfield already, such as Arian Foster and Ben Tate, they could look to use Austin as a threat from it on passing downs.
Should the Texans draft Tavon Austin?
Austin would be an ideal matchup against linebackers because he'd have the freedom to run option routes and beat them with his quickness in space. That is the key to utilizing the projected first-round selection, as he can do the most damage when the ball is in his hands at the second level.
Overall, there's a chance that the Texans select Austin in the first round with the No. 27 overall pick, but it's unlikely because he's probably not going to be available at that selection. The Texans are also likely to be looking at bigger receivers who can play outside and eventually replace the veteran Andre Johnson.
If the Texans aren't fortunate enough to have the chance to select Austin, Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is a possibility, provided he's available at their selection.
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