One of the most intriguing options for the New York Jets in the upcoming NFL Draft is West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. Surprisingly there seems to be many Jets fans hesitant about using the 9th or 13th pick on him, despite him providing strong value at either location. Among the complaints I consistently hear about Austin are his lack of size, durability issues, a lack of need for him because of Jeremy Kerley being the team’s slot receiver and him not having the capability to be a lead playmaker on offense. These excuses to avoid Austin are misguided. The Jets offense is in desperate need for a player like Austin, who is a truly a “wow” player, something the Jets have lacked seemingly forever.
First off, let’s begin by addressing Austin’s durability and size. Austin is 5-8, 175 pounds and yet did not miss a single game in 4 years at West Virginia despite an enormous amount of touches between offense and special teams. Over the course of 4 years, he racked up a total of 543 touches. That is 543 opportunities to be tackled and injured…Austin never missed a snap. Consider his senior year when he had 21 carries and 4 receptions against Oklahoma (for a total of 426 yards) and then 6 days later turned around and had 14 carries and 6 receptions against Iowa State for 173 total yards, along with a 42 yard punt return and a 29 yard kick return.
Austin has ELITE short area quickness and burst, coupled with a unique ability to forced missed tackles. In a 4 game tracking of his 2012 season, he forced 59 missed tackles (AKA two career’s worth for Shonn Greene), while also avoiding a single drop in 29 targets. Austin doesn’t take big hits because of his shiftiness and lack of size. He did most of his receiving work up the seams and over the middle, yet was never taken out by a safety or linebacker. Contrast that with Stephen Hill, a BIG target who spends the entire game outside the numbers but managed to not stay healthy throughout his rookie year.
Both Wes Welker and Victor Cruz are no more than 10 pounds than Austin, both have had immense success in recent years working out of the slot, while managing to stay on the field. Injuries can happen at any time at any place on the football field (look at Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes last year), assuming somebody will get hurt because of their weight when they have no history of injuries is an unfair assertion.
Austin is going to provide more versatility to an offense than a “slot” receiver which is why it is foolish to say the Jets don’t need him because they have Jeremy Kerley. People get too locked into believing in specific positions for wide receivers. We already covered in-depth why Kerley is more than a slot receiver and Austin certainly has the skill set to be more than that. You can play Kerley, Austin and Santonio Holmes at the same time. They can bounce between split end, slot, flanker and in Austin’s case, running back. There are different packages and situations that always move receivers around the formation. You collect play-makers at the position and figure out where to line them up later. This is a good problem to have. A tall target who lacks quickness (Stephen Hill) is more locked into being a split end, playing outside the numbers than a short, shifty receiver is locked into playing anywhere on offense.
You know what a shaky quarterback situation needs? It needs a player who can take a 3 yard slant route or swing route for a 70 yard touchdown. You know what an offense that will struggle to move the ball and score points needs? A player who can convert a 3rd and 2, on a sweep at the running back position, on a quick out from the slot, a quick in-cut screen from the split end position or a bubble screen from the flanker spot.
The Jets need a game-changer on offense. Austin is a movable chess piece who must always be accounted for by opposing defenses. He is a threat to score anytime he touches the football on both offense and special teams, where he would also solve the Jets ongoing punt return problem. Is he going to have 1,750 yard receiving seasons like Calvin Johnson? Of course not. Can he be Randall Cobb 2.0 or a similar player to Percy Harvin who changes the dynamic of a stagnant’s team’s offense? Absolutely.
Football can be a simple sport at times. The Jets need players who can score touchdowns and create points. There is nobody better equipped in this upcoming draft to do that than Tavon Austin.