Tavon Austin led college football with 198 all-purpose yards per game in 2012 and is widely regarded as the most dynamic playmaker in this year’s draft class. He reaches top speed quickly, has elite change of direction skills, and explodes out of cuts. Austin also demonstrated vision, the patience to follow blocks, and the ability to anticipate openings in the defense—especially in the return game.
The biggest issue is that all these skills come in a 5-8, 174-pound package. That size (or lack thereof) essentially limits Austin to playing the slot and also raises concerns about his ability to hold up to the rigors of the NFL—though he did not miss a game in college. Some scouting reports ding Austin for too much east-west in his running, and he also has small hands—though again, that didn’t prevent him from leading the nation with 8.8 catches per game as a senior and twice topping 100 receptions at West Virginia.
The common NFL comparison for Austin is Percy Harvin, as both are multi-purpose play-makers. However, Austin isn’t nearly as strong as Harvin; where Harvin can run through would-be tackles, Austin can be brought down by arm tackles. Another common current comparison is DeSean Jackson, but he’s more of a vertical threat in the passing game than Austin has proven to be. He’s also not (yet, at least) a polished route-runner like slot machine Wes Welker. Ultimately the Austin comparisons lead to a pair of Chiefs: former special teams ace Dante Hall and current hybrid receiver/back Dexter McCluster—though to be fair to Austin, all comparisons are favorable in his direction.
Ultimately Austin’s NFL success will depend on his offense finding ways to get him the ball in the open field and allowing him to showcase his gifts. Brian Schottenheimer hasn’t really had this type of weapon before, and Austin can’t be projected into a role like Laveranues Coles or Amendola filled because both have three inches and several pounds on Austin and were able to play outside as well as in the slot. However, you don’t trade up in the first round to draft a guy you don’t plan on using, so you can make the assumption the Rams will find a way to shake Austin free in the slot while Brian Quick and Chris Givens take care of the outside.