In Peyton Manning's passing attack with the Denver Broncos, one of his main weapons is the Slot Wide Receiver. So far, Brandon Stokley has been that guy and he may be that guy once again in 2013. However, the Broncos could draft his future replacement this April and there are a few prospects who fit the description. Tavon Austin is one of them.
Tavon is a 5’9", 175 lb. Wide Receiver/Running Back/Return Man out of West Virginia. Ranked 4th out of 400 Wide Receivers nationally, Tavon has a pre-Combine 40 Time of 4.38 seconds. He is rated as the 38th overall prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft class and is expected to be chosen in the late 1st- early 2nd round in April.
One of the nation’s top playmakers, Austin has played in 52 career games for the Mountaineers and started 40. His career totals as a Wide Receiver include 288 Catches for 3,413 yards, an 11.9 average and 29 Touchdowns. As a Return man, Tavon has 34 Punt Returns for a 12.7 average and 1 TD. He has returned 97 Kickoffs for a 24.8 average and 4 Touchdowns. Austin also ran the ball 109 times for 1,031 yards, a 9.5 average, with 6 Touchdowns.
In 2012, Austin had 114 catches for 1,289 and 12 TDs, 72 carries for 643 yards and 3 TD's, returned 32 Kickoffs for a 25.4 average and 1 TD and returned 15 punts for an 11.0 average and a TD.
To put it another way, Tavon had 1,932 Yards from scrimmage with a 10.4 average and 15 TDs along with 978 return yards with a 20.8 yard per touch average and 2 TD's. That adds up to 2,190 yards and 17 TD's in 13 games last season. It’s no accident why he won the Paul Hornung Award last season.
He started at wide receiver in 2010 as a sophomore, then moved into the slot in the spring of 2011. Austin led the nation in all-purpose yardage, averaging 198.0 ypg and also finished the 2011 campaign with 101 catches, a WVU single-season record
He is one of two receivers to have 100 or more catches in Big East Conference history and he accomplished this feat in back-to-back seasons.
In 2010, Tavon played in 13 games and started 11, coming second on the team with 58 receptions for a team-leading 787 yards. He also led the team with eight receiving Touchdowns. Austin ended up 4th in the Big East in receptions, 5th in receiving yards and 8th in scoring touchdowns.
During the 2009 season, Austin played in all 13 games, starting four. He was named to the All-Big East Freshman Team by ESPN.com Tavon sored his first career touchdown on a 58-yard reception against East Carolina and led off the Connecticut game with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, seventh-longest kickoff return in school history.
GRADE - 85.4
The 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 COMPARISON 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.
Tavon Austin electrified college football over the last four years as a wide receiver, running back and return specialist. Austin finished his career in Morgantown with one of his most impressive seasons and was named the winner of the 2012 Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the nation's most versatile player.
Austin shattered several school and conference records as West Virginia transitioned from the Big East to the Big 12, but perhaps his most impressive performance came in a 50-49 losing effort against Oklahoma. Austin finished the game with 572 all-purpose yards, the second most in FBS history and a new Big 12 conference record. - Chip Patterson
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.
Used in much the same fashion as a receiver, runner and returner as the Minnesota Vikings feature Percy Harvin, Austin has emerged as the top senior playmaker in the country.
At just 5-9, 172 pounds, Austin may not have been viewed as worthy of first-round consideration a few years ago, but in today's wide-open NFL that rewards mismatches Austin could prove among the more valued commodities on draft day.
Due to his experience as a running back, Austin shows little fear amongst the big bodies and is as dangerous in the quick screen game as any player in the country. Not surprisingly, it is in this role that coach Dana Holgorsen elected to feature Austin last season, having him operate out of the slot so as to take advantage of the playmaker's vision, agility and acceleration.
Due to his lack of traditional size, Austin's ceiling in the NFL is limited. His production at this level, however, may not have a ceiling as he'll not only be featured as West Virginia's top receiver but also as a change of pace running back and as the team's primary return specialist, where he earned the Big East's Special Teams Player of the Year in 2011 by averaging a gaudy 14.1 yards per punt return (tops in Big East, sixth nationally) and 26.6 yards per kickoff (including returning two for scores in 2011, three for his career).
Austin will be compared to many other "undersized" athletes in the NFL. Expect to hear him compared to Percy Harvin, DeSean Jackson, and even Wes Welker, on occasion.
In reality, Austin's game lacks the physicality of a Harvin or the vertical element that Jackson brings to the Eagles.
He is not the same caliber of route-runner or receiver that Welker has proven to be. A fairer comparison might be to former Kansas City Chiefs' returner and receiver Dante Hall (5-08, 187) due to their similar size and elite make-you-miss fluidity.--Rob Rang
Beyond The Combine
2012: 106 rec, 1149 yds, 12 TDs & 49 rush, 521 yds, 2 TDs
2011: Led the nation in all-purpose yardage, averaging 198.0 ypg
101 catches (WVU single-season record)
Very shifty and quick makes the first man miss
Great vision, exceptional ability to see the field and run with the ball after the catch
Great balance and posture when going in and out of cuts
Accelerates out of breaks, shows great separation speed on the field
Effective in the outside short, outside mid-range, and long passing game
Very versatile, can play slot, wideout, competent as a tailback, & returns kicks
Great straight-line speed
A constant big play threat that attracts the attention of opposing defenses wherever he is on the field
Good job of breaking arm tackles for his size
Knows how to drop pads and hips when going into breaks
Although he is small, doesn’t seem to get jammed easy at the line
His size doesn’t deter him from being a "workhorse"
Plays with toughness
Lacks size, needs to bulk up (5-8, 170)
Takes too many hits, in the NFL that may cause issues with his size
Needs to polish his route running
A lot of his receptions come from behind the line of scrimmage
Needs the ball in space, doesn’t seem as comfortable in traffic
Isn’t an ideal fit at any position
Thoughts: Any team would love to have the luxury of having an offensive weapon like Tavon on their team. He is capable of a being a big play threat from multiple spots on the field and on special teams. Austin is a player that defenses have to be aware of his whereabouts at all time because of his ability to create big plays in open space. His versatility adds value to any NFL team in this day in age when injuries are so abundant. Tavon’s size may become an issue on the next level especially since he doesn’t necessarily avoid contact. Although he is an explosive player it may be hard to find an ideal fit for a starting full-time position for him. He isn’t big enough to get many carries at RB, his routes need to be polished for him to be consistent at the slot position, and he doesn’t effectively run the full route tree to be effective as a number one or two WR. There is also still that question mark out there about how consistent he can really be in an NFL offense. That being said any team that has the luxury to add Tavon to an already stable WR core definitely should.
Tavon's Night (Tavon Austin vs. Oklahoma 2012 Highlights)
Tavon Austin West Virginia Senior Year Highlights
Tavon Austin West Virginia Senior Year Highlights
I’m not positive how many times Tavon scored in games he did not start, but 40 TD’s in 40 starts is a Touchdown per game. I think that fits the definition of a playmaker. However, his durability will be a question due to his stature. With a similar skill set and size to Dexter McCluster, he has the talent and speed to make an impact for the team who selects him, I just don’t see him in a Bronco uniform at 28 due to other positions of priority and it doesn’t look like he would last until Denver’s 2nd round pick at #60.
Rumor has it that the Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland has his eye on Austin and his teammate WR Stedman Bailey. Miami has the 12th and 44th pick in this year’s draft.
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