If you touch Tavon Austin right now, you might come away with second-degree burns. That is because the electric wide receiver out of West Virginia is sizzling in the draft community.
Finishing up my mock draft…I do have Tavon Austin going in the top 10.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 10, 2013
You know who would be smart to snake Tavon Austin if he falls? The Panthers at 14.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) April 10, 2013
I remember tweeting the 'crazy thought' about Tavon Austin going in the top-10 a couple months ago.Feels good to see it becoming a reality— Bryan Perez (@FirstRoundGrade) April 10, 2013
Judging by Twitter responses, Tavon Austin and Dion Jordan are the "favorite" players in this year's class.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 10, 2013
Austin is certainly a talented individual, and it is no surprise he has become a draft favorite. He is the epitome of "Swiss army knife" coming out of college, able to line up all over the field with excellent results.
His ankle-breaking abilities and speed have strapped a rocket to his draft stock. But how high will he actually climb?
The biggest obstacle to a top 15 pick for Austin is his size. At 5'8" and 174 pounds, his best NFL comparison from a size standpoint is Dexter McCluster. It hasn't gone unnoticed.
Talked to a @nfl scout this morning who compared Tavon Austin to Dexter McCluster rather than P.Harvin. Liked speed, but size worried him— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) April 10, 2013
To be clear, Austin is a more talented individual coming out of college. McCluster made some noise on tape as well—part of the reason he was a second-round pick back in 2010—but Austin is a more complete package.
But the scout who spoke to Bucky Brooks has a point—size matters. It is certainly a factor in the collective thinking of NFL teams when it comes to draft value.
Here is a list of wide receivers shorter than six feet tall taken in the top 15 picks over the past 25 years.
Out of 44 receivers taken with top-15 picks since 1988, 10 were under six feet tall. All of them were 5'10" (4) or 5'11" (6), not to mention most of these names evoke cringes from certain fanbases.
In other words, teams rarely take small receivers with a top-15 pick, and they never take one as small as Austin. Talent notwithstanding, otherwise Wes Welker might have gone in the top 10.
This might be oversimplifying the situation, but sometimes Occam's razor rules. This seems fairly cut and dry.
The NFL is a notoriously stubborn animal. Will it change course this year?
Of course, all it takes is one team to deem Austin worthy of a top-15 pick for it to happen. Times change, and Austin is certainly worth a pick that high. That is the rub—not whether he should be taken, but whether it will actually happen.
It is difficult to see Austin going in the top 15 come draft day. Again, he is certainly a talent worthy of such a lofty draft status, but NFL teams might not view it that way.
It comes down to value. The NFL has become a passing league—quarterbacks, offensive tackles and pass-rushers come at a premium. Will teams forego taking one of those positions for a diminutive receiver, however talented he may be?