Prior to the 2013 NFL draft, fans and media members alike had a feeling the St. Louis Rams would select two wide receivers. The only problem was no one knew who those two receivers would be. Names like Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Robert Woods and Justin Hunter were all logical early-round choices.
Austin’s stock rose considerably as the draft drew near, so the possibility of drafting him looked bleak. But the Rams didn’t let his ascension into the top 10 scare them off. St. Louis’ front office pulled the trigger and executed a blockbuster draft day trade with the Buffalo Bills to ensure its selection of the first-team All-American.
That meant the selection of one wide receiver was down with one to go. In the third round, no one believed the Rams would select another West Virginia wideout with Quinton Patton and Da’Rick Rogers still on the board.
Rogers ended up going undrafted for off-the-field issues, and Patton wasn’t held as in high regard as Stedman Bailey, so St. Louis made the move.
Drafting Bailey meant the organization drafted two wide receivers from the same school in the first three rounds of the draft. That’s not something that happens everyday. Yet, it didn’t matter that both players went to the same school. The only thing that mattered was the on-field ability of both players. Less than two months in, the move appears to already be paying dividends.
Let’s break down the five benefits of having Austin and Bailey together in St. Louis.
No one person learns new material the same way. Some people are categorized as visual learners, while others are categorized as auditory or kinesthetic learners. Whichever style of learning best suits you will ultimately help you digest something new and fresh—just ask two of St. Louis’ newest additions.
Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were college teammates and the best of friends at the University of West Virginia. Their tight bond on and off the field helped the Mountaineers turn in the 12th best offense in collegiate football last year. Moreover, their strong work ethic helped one another land in the NFL this past April.
Since entering into the NFL a short time ago, Austin and Bailey have been viewed as integral pieces of the Rams offense in 2013. General manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher have big plans for both rookie wide receivers. So, it only makes sense that the organization decided to put the two players together during organized team activities.
As roommates, Austin and Bailey will help one another make sense of a foreign language (St.Louis’ playbook). Here’s what Bailey told Ryan Van Bibber of TurfShowTimes.com: "We're both learning the playbook together. We get to quiz each other before we go to sleep, going over everything we went through in practice."
For St. Louis’ sake, let’s hope Austin and Bailey’s strong influence on one another from their days at West Virginia carries over at the professional level.
Learning the playbook from a mental standpoint is just one small piece of the puzzle. Not only do players have to learn the playbook, but also, they have to learn to execute the designed plays that appear in the playbook on the field.
Not to mention most players don’t just learn one position, but they often have to learn two or more depending on the position. Additionally, most players are relatively new to one another when they enter the league, so it’s hard to immediately decipher everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
Fortunately enough, this won’t be a problem for Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. As I mentioned in the first slide, No. 11 and No. 12 know each other inside and out. Bailey made this very clear at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles, as reported by Ryan Van Bibber of TurfShowTimes.com:
We understand each other very well. I know his strengths; he knows mine. We use our strengths to our advantage on the field. We work with a chip on our shoulder because we want to prove that we're very good wide receivers.
This, in turn, will help keep both players motivated during their rookie season. It often seems like players who enter the league with chips on their shoulders experience success much earlier than players who don’t. Nothing is a given in the NFL, hard work and dedication payoff for those who are willing to put in the time.
When one player is around another player long enough, it often seems like a natural bond is created over time. In recent years, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have nurtured an inseparable bond that helps keep them one step ahead of their opponent. The same can be said about Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson.
Brady and Schaub both know what Gronkowski and Johnson are going to do next without any type of verbal communication. This is what happens when two players get on the same wavelength. This type of bond only comes to fruition after countless repetitions have been hammered out in practice.
Luckily, the Rams drafted two players who can practically read each other’s minds at this point. Sure, it may not be a quarterback-wide receiver duo, but the situation is unique because it’s a wide receiver-wide receiver duo. The duo will help quarterback Sam Bradford improvise on game day if need be.
There are times in a game where the play breaks down or a player throws off the whole play by running the wrong route. Unfortunately, these types of things happen more frequently than we think they do.
Not to worry though, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will have Bradford covered when this happens for the first time. By knowing one another’s tendencies, Austin and Bailey will help Brian Schottenheimer’s offense turn nothing into something at a moment's notice.
With three years of experience under their belt together, Austin and Bailey have practically seen every in-game situation possible. Chances are improvising on broken plays won’t be an issue for St. Louis’ offense in 2013.
Broken plays may even be viewed as a strength in certain situations because it will give both rookie wideouts the opportunity to exploit the opposition’s secondary.
For the first time in Sam Bradford’s career, he will have the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back years. He’s hoping consistency from the offensive coordinator position will help St. Louis’ offense take one giant leap forward.
Without question, learning a new offense year after year has held Bradford back in terms of development. However, having the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back years won’t be his only developmental aid. Adding immense talent at every offensive skill position will help the Rams offense evolve like never before.
Long gone are the days of wide receiver Brandon Gibson as the team’s No. 1 pass-catching target. When Les Snead took the front office over, he vowed to properly equip Bradford’s offensive arsenal with top-notch talent.
Even though Snead drafted wide receivers Chris Givens and Brian Quick in 2012, he signed pass-catching tight end Jared Cook in free agency and drafted wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2013. As you can see, the overhaul on offense didn’t take long.
Of the new regime's five new pass-catchers, no two players will help the offense evolve more than Austin and Bailey.
At the collegiate level, Austin’s production was ridiculous. He garnered 3,413 yards receiving and 1,031 yards rushing. Furthermore, he tallied 35 touchdowns from scrimmage. Add in Bailey and you have one of the best duos in college football history.
Together, Austin and Bailey registered 7,675 yards and 76 touchdowns from scrimmage. Drafting both players and putting them on the field at the same time simply made too much sense. The Rams knew it did—that’s why they did it.
Expect Bradford’s numbers to be way up by season’s end.
Aside from the eye-opening numbers, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey bring a winning attitude to a team that hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2003. Shoot, the last time the Rams won more the eight games, Marc Bulger was playing quarterback, and Marshall Faulk was playing running back.
Over the course of their collegiate career together, Austin and Bailey notched 26 wins and 13 losses. To equal 26 wins in St. Louis, one would have to add up the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons. It’s pretty astonishing that it took St. Louis seven seasons to win 26 games.
Austin and Bailey have never been part of a team that has posted a losing record. The Big 12 surely challenged them more than ever in 2012, but both players did enough in the final three games of the season to ensure the Mountaineers posted a winning record when it was all said and done.
Some key players such as Sam Bradford, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Rodger Saffold have never finished a season above .500 while playing in the NFL. So a winning attitude and positive perspective in the locker room will only help one of the league’s youngest teams.
Is 2013 the year where St. Louis finishes above .500 for the first time in nine years?