When the St. Louis Rams selected Tavon Austin at No. 8 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, they were expecting big things from the star wide receiver/kick returner/running back from West Virginia. And for good reason, as any top ten pick at a skill position is expected to make immediate contributions.
Well, Austin didn’t start out tremendously well and began hearing cat calls as boisterous fans labeled him a bust. Through the first nine games of the season, he accumulated a modest 31 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns. He’s begun to play better lately (four receptions for 177 yards and two scores the last two games), but many still think he was drafted too high. Was he?
Probably. And I say that because I don’t think many receivers should be taken in the top ten, unless they are both fast and big. Austin is fast (4.34 40), but at 5-foot 8, 176-pounds, he ain’t big.
Austin’s value was inflated slightly by his ability to return kicks, which he’s done fairly well at during his rookie year, highlighted by a 98-yard punt return for a TD. But even considering his potential as an All-Pro return man, you expect more out of such a lofty draft pick.
Now, the reason you can’t label him a bust yet is because it’s so early, and he hasn’t been playing with a consistent quarterback. Franchise QB Sam Bradford went down at the end of last month, and he was playing pretty well through seven games, tossing 14 touchdowns against four interceptions while completing 60 percent of his passes. In his place has been the morbid Kellen Clemens who’s barely completed 50 percent of his passes. It’s hard to develop as a wide receiver when you have a shoddy backup throwing to you.
Another thing to consider is that receivers take more time to develop than other skill positions, like running back for instance. Rookie running backs yearly come in and make impacts right away. Receivers, not so much. A lot of it has to do with the increase in both speed and physicality, but it also has a lot to do with learning to read coverages and adjust routes. Sure, you have physical marvels like Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson who came into the league and blew up from the get-go, but that’s far from the norm. Just because Austin hasn’t yet put up huge numbers in the fashion of other highly drafted receivers from years past doesn’t mean he won’t in the coming future.
My advice to Rams fans who are frustrated with Austin is just be patient. Was he drafted too high? Again, probably, but he’s got as much speed and explosiveness as anyone in the entire NFL, something that doesn’t come along frequently. With more experience and eventually getting his QB back he should develop into the player the Rams thought they were getting when they traded up eight slots with the Buffalo Bills to take him so early.