Draft Profile: WR – Tavon Austin
The 49ers will look to the draft to address the wide receiver position in the draft. Outside of Michael Crabtree, the wide receving corps is a question mark…
The 49ers will look to the draft to address the wide receiver position. Outside of Michael Crabtree the wide receving corps is a question mark. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are coming off injuries and the team is not sure what they will get from AJ Jenkins. So look for the 49ers to draft some receivers and if the one they like is there at 31, they might pull the trigger. Austin is expected to go late first-early second round and the 49ers just might like his speed and quickness.
Former Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez enjoyed a lot of success riding versatile, undersized matchup nightmares like Steve Slaton and Noel Devine (among others). Like these two, Austin was a running back in high school but was moved to wide receiver early on at West Virginia and the results have been spectacular, as he’s earned All-Big East accolades after each of his three starting seasons with the Mountaineers.That culminated in a 2012 campaign in which he led the entire country by gaining 198 all-purpose yards per game.
Strengths: Video game-like athleticism with rare change of direction skills. Lateral explosion is something special, doing an excellent job sticking his foot in the ground and bursting in any direction. Knows how to change gears and turn on the jets to blow by others on the field. Very good start/stop ability with patience and vision to quickly survey and waste little time creating, always appearing to have a plan. Goes zero-to-60 in a flash and forces poor angles by defenders, following blocks and anticipating holes to set up his moves. Very good space player and extremely shifty and elusive with the balance and deceiving strength to stay on his feet through contact. Smaller target for defenders to square up and a tough ballcarrier to tackle in motion. Good body control to make tough catches look easy with quick hands to pluck. Fearless and confident going up for the ball. Tough, gutsy and can take a hit, working hard to get every yard. Versatile skill-set with experience all over the offense at running back and receiver, often used as a decoy. Dangerous return man and very good at weaving through defenders, playing with different gears that others on the field just don’t have. Extremely productive with numerous school records, including career catches and all-purpose yards.
Weaknesses: Smallish frame and limited length with obvious durability concerns due to size. Will dance too much and get caught going east-west too much or in reverse, getting himself in trouble always looking for the home run. Smaller hands and will have some drops and double-catches, sometimes looking to create before securing the grab. Strong effort as a blocker, but obviously limited in this area and can be tossed by defenders when they get their hands on him. Probably relegated to the slot at the next level. Too much all-or-nothing runs
he Mountaineers have had a dangerous spread offense since Rich Rodriguez led the team, but have moved from a run-based system (ranked third in the FBS in rushing in 2007) to a pass-based spread (ranked sixth nationally in passing in 2011, 10th in 2012). A huge part of the offensive success the Mountaineers have enjoyed over the last two seasons is due to the talent of Austin. A small but quick and elusive playmaker, Austin’s role and impact grew seemingly by the week during his senior season, as he went from a slot returner and returner to a fully fledged Swiss-Army knife, including lining up in the backfield and taking handoffs,
The two-time Maryland high school player of the year set all kinds of state career and single-season records, a large share of which (34 touchdowns, 2,660 rushing yards — that’s 12.2 yards a carry) as a senior. WVU coaches couldn’t wait to get him on the field, playing him in all 13 games and starting him in four. He caught 15 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown while racking up 476 kick return yards (including taking the opening kickoff against Connecticut 98 yards for a score). Big East coaches named him second-team all-conference in 2010 as he became a larger part of the passing game (58-787, 8 TD) and rushing attack (15-159, TD), but kicked him up to first team as a receiver (101-1,186, 8 TD) and returner (36 attempts for 938 yards, two TD on kickoffs; 19-268 on punts, ranked sixth in the FBS with a 14.1 yard average) after an excellent junior season. He led the FBS in all-purpose yards once his 182 rushing yards (one TD) were added in, and finished 2011 with 390 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns in the team’s 70-33 blowout win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Austin burst into Heisman contention during his senior season with a 572 all-purpose yard (second most in FBS history) performance against Oklahoma on national television. Austin’s full repertoire was on display, as he caught 4 passes for 82 yards, rushed 21 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns, and 146 kick return yards. His senior season saw him total career highs in y.f.s. (1932), all receiving categories (112-1289-12 TDs), and rushing (72-643-3 TDs), as well as 978 return yards and two touchdowns. His dominating play saw him finish eighth in Heisman voting, win the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player), and garner a first-team All-America as an All-Purpose player.
Strengths: Slot receiver possessing elite acceleration with the ball in his hands, takes advantage of available lanes to explode for big gains. Shows excellent vision both as a runner out of the backfield, as a returner, and as a receiver with the ball in his hands. Almost unstoppable at continue on for additional yardage. Not a frail receiver; plays tough, has some upper-body thickness, and bounces up quickly from hits. Varies the speed of his route, lulls defenders to sleep and takes off to create space on out routes or over the middle. Tough to grab after the catch in zone coverage. Flashes the hands to adjust to wide or high passes, as well as tracking balls over his shoulder. Also goes down to grab low throws. Displays excellent balance to tightrope the sideline. Often used on fly sweeps, using his elite quickness and acceleration to cut inside or get the corner for big plays. Finds space as a kickoff returner to use his speed, will head straight upfield and can spin off tackles in the open field to maximize the return. Can make the first man miss on punt returns and has the vision to slalom between players to the sideline or up the middle. Very difficult to track down from behind. Wins at every level of the field despite his size, and has been somewhat underutilized deep. Improved as a blocker, and will body up on bigger players.
Weaknesses: Limited to the slot on most plays; lacks the size and strength most scouts prefer outside, or even as a kick returner. Hands are good, but not exceptional; will let some hot passes through his small hands and into his chest. Gets a lot of his yardage on shallow crosses, quick throws outside, and the fly sweep/”touch pass.” Might not have the chance to get the sideline as often at the next level, forcing him to lower the shoulder and get what’s available to him inside. Must prove he can hang onto the ball after taking big hits from NFL defenders. Will hesitate on punt and kick returns at times instead of immediately accelerating or trusting his blocking, and can get tripped up easily on contact. Incredible balance and stop/start ability, but he might not have elite straight line speed.
NFL Comparion: Randall Cobb
Bottom Line: Don’t blink when Austin has the ball in his hands, as his elite acceleration helped him finish second in the country in all-purpose yards as a senior and lead the FBS as a junior. Don’t be surprised if he turns out to be a first round pick or the first wide receiver off the board, as he is a huge playmaker on offense and special teams in the NFL despite the slight build that scared scouts away from other WVU offensive stars in the past.