Why Tavon Austin Will Dominate the NFL in Spite of His Size Concerns

Brandon Holstein@@BHolsteinNFLDM3Featured ColumnistApril 3, 2013

Nov 23, 2012; Ames, Iowa, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers running back Tavon Austin (1) rushes down field against the Iowa State Cyclones during the first half at Jack Trice Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

As one of the NFL draft's rarest talents, you're sure to find a wealth of information out there on Tavon Austin.

However, if your like me, you keep running into the same boring adjectives over and over again.

And while all these do a good job, not even the most generous choice of wording does enough to accurately describe Tavon Austin's overall impact on the football field.

To truly capture his skill you have to go beyond the mind-numbing stats and past the game-changing performances.

Stripping away the accolades and entering an area free of coach-speak, until all that is left standing is the player, completely exposed for all he's worth.

A place where Austin's talent truly stands alone and showcases exactly why he is an elite one-of-a-kind-talent and cant-miss prospect in this month's NFL draft.

A Unique Pawn Piece

In chess, the pawn piece is known as the weakest piece on the board because of its limitations to only move in one direction, and only cover one space at a time.

Tavon Austin is the quintessential opposite of this. 

At West Virginia, Austin was used in a myriad of ways that each displayed a unique skill.

Whether it was out of the slot, in the backfield, or as a returner, it didn't matter. The more ways they could get him the ball, the better off they were. 

This is exactly the type of versatility Austin brings, and just a few of the reasons why offensive coordinators are chomping at the bit to get him on their respective teams.

Just check out the videos below to see what I mean.

At the 8:37 mark you see Austin come in motion, forcing the defense to pause and hesitate for just a split-second.

Watch the safety to the weak side as Austin fakes the misdirection play. 

Anticipating Austin getting the ball, the safety is forced to keep his eyes in the backfield and attention away from the outside-developing wheel route.

The result? A blown coverage and easy six points for the Mountaineers.

This single play highlights how Austin's sheer presence can create opportunities and divert attention away from his teammates, effectively showing how he can be used as a decoy and impact the game without ever touching the ball.

Now let's checkout a clip from the very same game in which Austin is lined up in the slot to the wide-side of the field and actually gets his hands on the football.

Right off the bat Austin finds himself in the enviable situation of being matched up one-on-one with a linebacker. 

An easy read for quarterback Geno Smith, Austin uses his explosive foot speed and quickness to easily beat his man to the outside, creating separation and yards after the catch. 

This play takes all but seven seconds from start to finish, but is yet another example of the matchup problems Austin creates for defenses.

Without the right personnel in place your defense is nearly all but useless; as Tavon Austin is able to exploit weaknesses in coverage like a savvy veteran receiver.

Now, one last example of Austin's versatility. Only this time let's check out a clip from the Oklahoma game, in which Austin blew up for an astounding 572 all-purpose yards. 

The play begins with Austin lined up in the backfield, directly behind Smith in a pistol formation. 

As Austin takes the handoff he bursts through the hole and attacks the second level of the defense, before showing off his excellent open-field running skills and overall vision.

By slightly hesitating, he forces the oncoming safety to freeze just momentarily before turning on the jets and taking it to the house. Displaying uncanny acceleration and the ability to explode out of his cuts, while leaving defenders in his wake by taking poor angles to the football.

These three plays are just but a small sample of everything Austin adds to an offense, but do give you an idea into his overall effectiveness and dynamic ability to effect the outcome of a game.

Things you should keep in the back of your mind before you write him off because of his lack of size.

Every Superman Has His Kryptonite?

5'8", 174 pounds.

Those are the numbers standing between Austin and potential top-10 pick.

After all, football is a violent game. One in which a player must not only be a great athlete but also be put together well enough physically to handle the consistent blows and abuse their bodies take over an extended period of time.

Look at the fate for some of the NFL's most talented slot receivers this past year and its understandable why teams would be skeptical, despite Austin's world-class speed.

Danny Ammendola: Missed five games in 2012 due to multiple injuries.

Percy Harvin: Missed seven games in 2012 due to an ankle injury.

Ryan Broyles: Tore his ACL for the second time in the past two years.

Players with limited size are bound to get nicked up and are far more prone to injury than bigger wide receivers. It's simple logic and a fact of life, but luckily there are ways in which this can be combated. 

We all at some point in our lives have played the game "Bloody Knuckles". Object of the game being to beat your opponent into submission by striking their knuckles with yours until the pain is too great for one person to continue on.

The game of football is somewhat the same.

While power and force are key elements, quickness and reaction time are nearly just as useful in avoiding the big hits and scary collisions.

This is where Austin finds his loophole.

Thanks to his quickness and agility, Austin rarely takes direct blows to his body, thus extending his shelf life and ability to stay on the field. It's one of the reasons he was able to play in 40 career games at West Virginia without missing much time at all due to injury.

Check out this play below to get an idea on how Austin goes about protecting himself.

At the beginning of the play, Austin is lined up in the slot to the left of the formation.

Running a simple five-yard hitch, Austin snares the ball with a defender bearing down, just about ready to deliver the knockout hit.

Caught in a vulnerable position with his feet temporarily off the ground, Austin is able to feel and avoid the pressure and impending contact by ever so slightly sidestepping the oncoming defender.

On the surface this play seems largely insignificant, but if you look closer it actually shows us two valuable lessons about Tavon Austin and his propensity to avoid big-time collisions. 

First is that he has impeccable spatial awareness skills to feel where his body is relative to space.

And secondly, he is an extraordinary athlete with the reactionary skills to combat defenders looking to inflict pain on the much smaller receiver.

Frustrating for a defender to say the least, corralling Austin in space is almost like trying to catch a minnow in water with your bare hands.

Landing a direct hit on him?

Well, that's like trying to harpoon that same minnow with a toothpick.

Very rarely will you be able to stick it directly; however your probably much more likely to land measly glancing blows that only cause so much damage overall.

Something that can easily get lost in translation unless you watch the film yourself, and just another reason why Austin is much more the exception to the rule than anything else.

Houdini? More Like Picasso!

Perhaps the most efficient words I ever heard someone use to describe what it was like watch Barry Sanders play football was stated simply as this:

"Poetry in motion".

Three simple words that individually mean very little, but when put together strike the very core of how Sanders was able to take running and turn it into an art form.

Tavon Austin is not Barry Sanders; that is not what this is all about.

They two don’t even play the same position, so comparing them is, and would be unfair.

However, biases aside and keeping it in context, the comparison is not that far off.

Especially when you consider Austin's dazzling ability to operate in space and make people miss—a rather "Sandersesque" quality, and one he showed quite frequently during his time at West Virginia.

Including in this clip below.

Much like Sanders, Tavon Austin has the uncanny ability to stop and start on a dime, changing directions and accelerating instantaneously to make others look foolish.

One of the best examples of this is highlighted in the play above.

As the defender comes up to set the edge and force Austin back into the teeth of the defense, he looks all but bottled up. 

Or so you would think.

Using his vision, Austin locates his opponent and then goes to work. 

Flashing an unbelievable juke move, Austin sticks his foot in the ground before accelerating past his would-be opponent, simply waltzing into the end zone, after harassing No. 30 in a very public manner.

The great ones can do this, and they do it on a very consistent basis.

It's an innate ability and unique sense that allows them to be the type of players you hold your breath for each and every time they have the football in their hands.

Tavon Austin is this type of player, and one of the main reasons you hear references to Houdini when announcers try to describe his elusiveness and ability to escape seemingly any situation.

However, I myself would argue that Picasso seems much more fitting overall—and I'll show you what I mean using the two plays shown below.

Like an artist creating a masterpiece, Austin's improvisational ability in the open field during both of these impressive runs is undeniably rare. 

Exploiting every square inch afforded to him, Austin is able to use the football field as his open canvas.

Masterfully weaving and bouncing from left to right, while finding cut-back lanes most would fail to even see, let alone create on their own. 

Look, I understand that the Barry Sanders comparison may be somewhat of a reach, but it’s hard to argue when you see how well Tavon Austin is able to make more with less.

It's rare, beautiful, powerful, compelling and captivating all at the same time. 

Just a few of the reasons why you should hope your team drafts him, or, pray that he ends up in a division entirely different from your own.

Because, lets face it, dealing with him twice a year would suck…



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