Tavon Austin is considered by many draft prognosticators to be a mid-first round pick. The New York Jets have picks No. 9 and No. 13 in the first round and a need at wide receiver — among many other positions.
The logic of numbers seem to match, but do the team and the player?
At West Virginia, Austin was a jack-of-all-trades offensive threat serving as a receiver, running back and kick returner. His playmaking was built from speed and creating space in an open field. His 40-yard dash time at the Combine of 4.34 was impressive, but less so to consider him a down field receiver when factoring his height —only 5’8″ — and his vertical leap of 32″.
Ideally with Austin most likely unable to hold an outside receiver position — like 5’9″ receiver Steve Smith does — the majority of Austin’s receiving opportunities will come from the slot.
An offense built around creating space for Austin out of the slot and the backfield, giving defenses various looks of where Austin is positioned on any given play would be advantageous for both Austin and his team.
For the purposes of the Jets, creating plays built with quick slants and screens for Austin would also give quarterback Mark Sanchez less opportunities to inaccurately throw down field — something the team should be working as hard as possible to reduce. An offense built around short, high percentage throws would be beneficial for an average quarterback — how else do you think Alex Smith led the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in 2011?
While all of this might make sense on a logical level, it might not be the offense the Jets are inclined to build. Earlier in the offseason, new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg basically shot down the theory of a more conservative, high-percentage offense by claiming quarterbacks don’t need to be accurate to succeed.
If this is the type of attitude Mornhinweg is going to bring to the Jets’ passing offense, Austin might not be a great fit. If Mornhinweg wants to stretch the field with the passing game like he attempted to do with the Philadelphia Eagles, having a receiver with Austin’s skill set would be counterproductive.
As a pure receiver, Austin doesn’t grade out very well. According to Football Outsiders’ Playmaker Score — a projection system created to find which college receivers best translate to the NFL using stats and data from the Combine and pro days — Austin ranks below a total score of 200 and below receivers like Stedman Bailey and Robert Woods. The Playmaker Score does only look at pure receiving numbers — no rushing or returning — which is a reason why Austin is rated lower than most would expect.
Football Outsiders notes the 62 past receivers who have scored under 200 in the Playmaker Score have collectively averaged under 100 yards per season, though exceptions like Stevie Johnson are in that group.
A low Playmaker Score is further proof Austin should be incorporated into an offense more like Dexter McCluster than Victor Cruz — which could be another problem for the Jets.
Throwing Austin in the backfield, even for a couple plays per game, could interrupt whatever it is the Jets have been planning with their running game this offseason. Signing Mike Goodson, already having Joe McKnight and possibly trading for Chris Ivory would put three very similar “versatile” running backs seeking playing time before even considering throwing a “versatile” receiver into the mix.
Having two first round picks could allow the Jets to be more willing to take a gamble on Austin and still get an offensive lineman or pass rusher in the first round, but they should only take him if they’re ready to commit to building parts of the offense to his strengths — or in other words take the exact opposite approach of the Tim Tebow trade.
Austin can be a great fit if the Jets have plans on accommodating him. If the Jets profile him as a slot receiver and use him like Victor Cruz, it won’t work out — we’ll likely see the Jets and Austin part ways after his rookie contract and disappointing tenure only to see him pop up flourishing in Sean Payton’s offense as a Darren Sproles replacement.
This can work — and Austin can be a good pro — but the recent past seriously questions if the Jets are the team that can actually bring the results.
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