St. Louis Rams 2013 NFL Draft: A Case Against Tavon Austin

Feb 24, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin warms up before running the 40 yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

 

Yes, despite the infatuation with the opening of free agency there is still going to be an NFL Draft this year. Naturally, the mock drafts that have been circulating since mid-December will now be drastically altered, compensating for the roster moves made by each organization. Miami will likely not be looking to fill a void at wide receiver, Pittsburgh will now look to put some pieces around Roethlisberger, and Baltimore will be looking to revamp their entire “Back-8″ in the defense. For St. Louis, free agency as likely narrowed their “options” in the first round, with seemingly no need to look for a tackle (assuming Jake Long signs) or a tight end. The release of Danny Amendola and Quintin Mikell suggests that the St. Louis Rams will be looking towards the draft to fill those holes, which takes us to into our debate…

Most post-free agency mocks have the St. Louis Rams targeting a wide receiver with the 16th overall pick in the draft. The analysts seems to be split, with roughly half having Cordarrelle Patterson in that slot, and the other half putting the golden horns on Tavon Austin. Coincidentally, the two have been battling for the top of the wide receiver board since the Combine, and after an amazing showing at West Virginia’s Pro Day, many have Tavon Austin moved to the tippy top of the “best available” list at the skill positions.

No one would be upset with a player like Austin joining the squad, especially give the potential contributions on both special teams and within the offense. However, fans and analysts alike seem to be smitten with his explosiveness in college to the point where they are blind to the reality of one undeniable weakness, one that cannot be improved with coaching, practice, or experience; his size. Tavon Austin measured in at an astounding 5’8 tall, 174 lbs. at the Combine, making him one of the smallest overall players at the Combine, trumped only by the occasional running back and defensive back. And, while we have seen many “shorter” player succeed in the NFL, we have never seen anyone with that combination of “smallness” perform at the next level. Here is some history to show just that…

There have only been six players in the history of the NFL that played at 5’8 (or shorter) and weighed under 180 lbs. that gained over 2,000 receiving yards throughout their entire career. The most “dominate” of those players was Tim Dwight, who was 5’8, 180 lbs., and played from 1998 until 2007. Dwight started a mere 32 games in the NFL, and ended his career with 194 receptions, 2964 yards, and 19 touchdowns.

In the return game, players like Dante Hall and Allen Rossum have had success, both racking up 10,000+ return yards with 5 or more kickoff return touchdowns in their careers. However, their impact on the actual offense was negligible, with Hall pulling in a minuscule 162 receptions and 1,747 yards in his nine seasons in the league.

Testing the bounds of this correlation between height and performance, moving the height-o-meter up a full inch to 5’9 does not shed light on much more success in the league. The increased range does generate some names, like Steve Smith (Carolina), Gary Clark, Mark Clayton, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and Hall-of-Famer, Tim McDonald. However, those addition inclusions share a common thread that has likely attributed to their success in the league; weight. The modern players, like Welker, Smith, and Branch, all weigh at least 185 lbs., and that bulk on their small frame shows when watching them play on the field. “Chippiness” and “toughness” have been labels thrown on both Smith and Welker since they emerged as perennial threats in the NFL. Smith plays on the outside, but Welker, much like Austin would in the NFL, plays primarily in the slot. Slot players are frequently ask to run across the face of linebackers, or to curl and slant in the zone between the deep safety and the second level of the defense, putting that player in a position to take multiple, devastating hits throughout the season. Welker has maintained his health in New England, but done so, primarily, out of the a spread offense and with an additional 15 lbs. of bulk to absorb the hits, playing consistently at 190 lbs. or more throughout his career. Austin would have neither of those luxuries in St. Louis…

Naturally, that points to being “undersized” in the weight department as the potential deterrent for success in the NFL, which would make sense given the increasingly violent nature of the game. We see receiver after receiver in the NFL leave with injury after a big hit, just ask Mohamed Massaquoi in Cleveland, who is constantly injured playing in the rugged AFC North despite his 6’0, 210 lbs. frame. So, looking through history, has anyone had success with such a petite frame? A wide receiver weighing under 175 lbs. has surpassed 800 receiving yards in a season only 10 times in the “modern” age of football, which we are going to subjectively mark as beginning in the 2000-2001 season.  Of those 10 times, Marvin Harrison accounted for seven (each seasons from 2000 to 2008), with the other three belonging to Steve Breaston, Anthony Armstrong, and Dennis Northcutt. And, while those receivers were successful playing at such a light weight, they each have something that Austin does not… each is, at least, 5’11 tall.

There are always exceptions to the rules in the NFL, with players like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson breaking the mold on “undersized” quarterbacks. However, slot receivers and running backs take a beating in this league unlike any other position in the NFL. Tavon Austin has the credential of a clean injury history, but will not be playing against Big 12-caliber talent at the next level. The expectations that he could be used as a utility back and in the return game, on top of lining up in the slot, only increases the likelihood that Austin could be injured. The St. Louis Rams have not had luck keeping undersized players healthy; think Donnie Avery or Danny Amendola. With players like Cordarrelle Patterson likely available in the first, and multiple projected slot receivers likely to be available in the mid- and latter rounds of the draft, the St. Louis Rams would be smart to invest in someone with a little more meat on their bones. For fans that are craving a sub-6’0, 4.3 40-time guy that can be used as a utility player in the offense… there is already one on the roster; Chris Givens. Grab a player with a true, outside wide receiver build to pair with Brian Quick and let the offense get creative moving Givens and the newly-acquired Jared Cook around in the formation.

 

Topics: St. Louis Rams

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  • Jimmy

    Well Tavon is so fast and has good moves he rarely seems to take hard hits so it wouldn’t bother me if he is smaller than most slot receivers

    • Nathan Kearns

      I guess I would argue that most dynamic, slot players are fast and have “good moves,” right? Or they wouldn’t make it to the league at that size…

      He didnt take many big hits, but played in the Big 12. The NFL, especially the NFC West is filled with some of the biggest hitters in the league. Think of Patrick Wills getting a solid shot on him over the middle…

      Not just concerned with injuries, but just visibility and being a target for Bradford down the field. 5’8 is extremely short, especially with 6’5 offensive lineman and 6’5 tackles hovering infront of Bradford on every snap; guess we will see

    • Beer O’Clock

      …or add another Patrick, Patrick Petersen. How many players did Tavon play against that were not only much bigger, as fast and more athletic than he is?

      Tavon has to block, too.

      Tavon will be electric, no doubt and get more than his fair share of highlight film moments in the NFL. I haven’t seen a college player with his combination of moves, intuition and speed since Percy Harvin (who is 3″ taller).

      If the Rams didn’t have Givens, I would say take the chance. But, they do have Givens who already who stretches the field. IMHO, I’d get one of the taller, bigger receivers (Patterson, Hunter, Rogers) who run a 4.4x. The combination of Givens, Cook and either Patterson/Hunter/Rogers would create a lot of mismatches on both size and speed.

      You can’t downplay the risk on injury to someone his size. Percy Harvin is a good example. His moves in college were, IMHO, better than Tavon’s and his speed almost equal.

      As one notable scout said about Tavon: “at his size, he better be able to walk on water.”

  • stan c

    how many games was he injured in college – Div 1 playing against smurfs of course? 0 oh – and haven’t the rules changed to favor more O. Let’s talk physics – big recievers weigh more so more force when they get hit, plus more height means greater “moment arm.” The kid is so quick he has raely if ever taken a direct hit. Just watch the Oklahoma game – look what he did from the backfield. TA needs to find a qb like Brady who can get him the ball where he won’t take big hits. A QB like Bradford would most likely get him killed because some don’t have the sense to throw the receiver open. On second thought, I agree with you. Rams – please don’t draft him – your QB is not good enough to throw to TA.

    • Nathan Kearns

      Smurfs indeed, and yes they have changed to favor the offensive player, but those “favoritisms” typically come after the hit has already occurred.

      I can full appreciate the speed that he played with in college, but it is hard to make the comparison from college to the NFL, in terms of both the size, strength, and speed of the athletes, as well as their instincts, technique, and their pursuit angles.

      I could see where you were coming from on most of your argument, up until the point where you decided to randomly, and inaccurately, rip on Sam Bradford. If I am not mistaken, Bradford just turned two previously cut, practice squad players in millionaires (Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson), one of which signed for more money than Wes Welker. He has been as accurate as any quarterback in the league, especially on the deep ball, although most casual observers will merely look at his overall completion percentage at shrug off the facts. Bradford’s “best” offensive weapon over the last three years was Brandon Lloyd, who only played for half the season, then went to New England were was utterly worthless in the Patriots’ offense… that should say something. Even with Danny Amendola out for half of ’12, Bradford still threw for 3700+ yards and 21 TDs in a run-oriented offense; and that was with Chris Givens (a 4th round rookie) and Brandon Gibson (Miami’s new 3rd or 4th receiver on the depth chart) as the most effective wide receivers. We do agree on one thing though, hope that St. Louis does not draft Austin. Thanks for the read!

      • Beer O’Clock

        Great point!

        Since the Amendola signing in New England, there’s been a lot of Bradford bashing on this site. The general implication is “just think what Amendola will do with Brady instead of that rag-for-an-arm Bradford”.

        Bradford has great accuracy. You put Bradford with one offensive coordinator and the Patriots line with Welker, Hernandez and Gronk running routes and he would be putting up Brady numbers.

  • Beer O’Clock

    Good article, Nathan. I agree 100%.

  • Me

    LOL….then don’t draft him. He’s too little, he’ll get hurt. I’m sure the team that gets Tavon will appreciate his toughness, speed, cutability, vision and heart. St. Louis don’t deserve him. He needs to go to a team that has a chance at a Super Bowl. St.Louis ain’t that team.