There are some skill players in the NFL that don’t need to worry about play design or offensive scheme to make an impact on a game. Guys like Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald are very capable of just lining up and relying on mismatches to get their numbers and make a serious offensive footprint. For the first round pick of the St. Louis Rams from this past April’s 2013 NFL Draft, however, that isn’t the case.
Rookie speedster Tavon Austin is just 5-foot-8 174-pounds and a far cry from a mismatch lining up on the outside. Austin is usually dwarfed by opposing defenders and has to use his elite quickness to find space along with play design to get the ball into his hands.
This technique has eluded current Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer thus far in 2013 as quarterback Sam Bradford has only been able to find Austin for short gains through the first four weeks of the season. Austin’s 20 catches have totaled only 124 yards for a measly 6.2 yards per catch, and his YAC (yards after contact) average is even more pitiful at 3.1, according to Pro Football Focus. These numbers just won’t do for a player that the Rams moved up into the top 10 to select in hopes that he would provide the offense with a much-needed dynamic weapon.
Where the Rams have gone wrong is with Schottenheimer’s less than clever offensive play-calling which fails to create space for the small playmaker and forces him to make catches in traffic with little to no hope of getting further downfield. There have been several breakdowns in the blocking for St. Louis that have foiled any potential big gainers for the former West Virginia speed demon, and without space he really can’t fully work his magic.
A less than stellar preseason was explained away by head coach Jeff Fisher as the team just not showing all of its cards in relation to the speedy rookie. Now that the regular season is here, it’s clear to see that the problem is far worse than a fear of showing opponents what the Rams had planned. The true problem for the Rams was actually that their plans for Austin weren’t very good.
The fallback analogy for a misused commodity like Austin is a square peg into a round hole, and nothing really explains the current situation much better. Until the Rams realize that traditional offensive sets aren’t going to accomplish what they need to get Tavon the necessary space to make magic happen, this top 10 pick is going to remain somewhat average.