First Round, Eighth Pick
The team that lands Tavon Austin will be the possessor of a rare and valuable element that also could be fragile. The NFL has few players with elite phone booth quicks and legitimate breakaway speed, but it also has few players who last long as offensive weapons at under 180 pounds.
Let's look at the gamebreakingest player in the 2013 NFL draft.
Austin can hurt the opponent as a wide receiver, running back, kick returner and punt returner. No one in this class is better at making tacklers miss in the open field, and Austin also has speed to outrun the fastest player on most NFL defenses. Austin plays with an aggressive mentality that keeps defenders on their heels, and he'll be a player opponents have to account for on every play.
Austin is right at the "too small to hold up for long in the NFL" size line. He's limited to being a slot receiver in the NFL, and physical coverage could cancel him out. He seems to hear footsteps when he works the middle of the field, and Austin won't be a good fit in every NFL offense. His return skills aren't decisive and well-honed enough to produce the kind of results that a player with his abilities should produce.
Austin is only 5'8" and 174 pounds, but he ran a 4.34 40 at the scouting combine, and his tape backs it up. He lifted 225 pounds 14 times, so he isn't an insignificant pipsqueak. His short shuttle time of 4.01 was second best at the combine, and again, his tape matches a physical profile of being extraordinarily quick in the open field.
Austin was a "movable chess piece" in the Mountaineers' spread offense. He lined up in the slot and in the backfield, and he also came in motion at the snap to get the ball on sweeps and other touches designed to get him in open space.
Austin is going to have to exclusively line up in the slot or release while in motion/out of the backfield to avoid press coverage. He won't work against physical corners on the outside who have the sideline to use as an extra defender.
Austin doesn't run the traditional route tree, but he can break sharply a few yards upfield out of the slot to create separation on short timing routes. Where Austin shines is against zone coverage—he has a natural knack for sitting down in dead spots and drifting toward more open space, where he does most of his damage. Austin also changes speeds in his routes to sit down in space or shake a trailing defender when necessary.
Austin is a sure-handed receiver, but he rarely has to catch a contested ball, and he can fail to make the catch over the middle when a safety is bearing down on him.
Austin can catch the ball outside of his frame, and he can actually use his small frame to block out on seam routes surprisingly well. Austin has also shown that he can time his leaps and climb the ladder for the catch.
Run After Catch
It's easy to run out of superlatives when describing Austin's game after the catch. His natural quickness and speed are top notch, but he wields them with an aggressive mindset and killer instinct.
Austin can make otherwise good football players look like the Washington Generals against the Harlem Globetrotters. He has a plethora of moves and strategies, and Austin loads them up and deploys them without hesitation.
Austin also understands how to set up blockers in the open field to break big gains. He'll instantly be one of the most dangerous players in the NFL with the ball in his hands.
The effort and willingness is there, and Austin can even have a positive effect as a blocker on some plays, but he is just too small to make a real difference as a blocker. His activity in this area does reinforce that he is not a "finesse" player, even though his small build may lead some to believe that without seeing him on tape.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
The NFL might be too rough for Austin to get many carries out of the backfield in traditional running personnel sets, but he can still wreak havoc as a running back in spread formations that create wider running lanes.
Otherwise, Austin should be used mainly as a slot receiver and on jet sweeps, tosses and other plays designed to get him the ball in space. He should go to a team that already runs a lot of spread formation, or a team that is planning on moving in that direction.