Tavon Austin’s Disappearing Act in St. Louis Rams’ Offense
After being selected No. 8 overall by the St. Louis Rams, Tavon Austin has yet to come close to the productivity that was predicted for him. He was deemed the most electrifying playmaker in the draft by many experts. With all of the media coverage surrounding the draft teams are more aware of what young players can do than they have ever been before. Yes, other teams know exactly what Austin does well. Is the lack of success for Austin the result of a learning curve or from a seemingly bland playbook by Rams Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer? The Rams had stated after the preseason that the playbook for Austin was yet to be unveiled. Well, here we are six weeks into the NFL season and everyone is wondering, where in the heck is this playbook?
Austin has basically ran routes within five yards of the line of scrimmage all season. His 24 catches on the season have yielded a measly 159 yards. I’ll do the math for you here; that is a whopping 6.6 yards per catch. Matching that with his 3.83 yards after the catch average it tells me that Austin is not getting the space a playmaker like him requires to be successful. To be fair, Austin has seven drops to lead the league in that category this year. St. Louis could be losing confidence in their young receiver. He also has 10 catches that resulted in a first down this year. The Rams thought that he was going to be a guaranteed YAC machine coming into the season. While that as not been the case thus far, the recent addition of Zac Stacy and a running game could help pull linebackers and safeties to the line of scrimmage giving Austin a chance of gaining more yards after the catch.
He was one of the best players in college at gaining yards on screen passes his senior year. The Rams really have not ran many screen passes to him this year. He has the speed to find holes and break a screen into a big play in a similar way to the screen pass Daryl Richardson took for an 18-yard gain last week. If Austin is so dynamic, then run a screen play to him where you know he can beat defenders if he gets a block or two down field.
My other thought on this would be to get him the ball on intermediate routes that allow him to use the speed he was blessed with to get separation from his defender. He lacks the size to be a true deep threat, but he could be used to run medium depth out routes that don’t require balls thrown over a defender. Even Wes Welker and Danny Amendola run routes that are farther than five yards from the line of scrimmage. Welker has been a supreme slot receiver throughout his career while being undersized and quick, and Austin is a much faster version of both of these players. Allowing Austin to run different depths and routes will prevent defenses from forming a blanket of containment over the top of him.
The St. Louis Rams are going to have to find ways to get Austin the ball in space and allow him to beat his man. Austin is learning the same lesson that Dexter McCluster had to learn for the Kansas City Chiefs. Linebackers in the NFL posses closing speed that is better than he ever saw in college. Tavon Austin can still become the playmaker he was envisioned to be, but he will need better gameplans that put him in a position to succeed.