Tavon Austin, from the looks of it, will be drafted somewhere in the middle of the first round. He could be the first offensive skill position player taken, not including quarterbacks.
This is absolutely fascinating because, at 5-9, 174 pounds, he does not fit the profile of a first round draft pick, let alone the first offensive skill position player in the draft.
So I asked a number of front office men who they see when they evaluate Austin. These are the responses I heard:
*Santana Moss. This may be the best comparison, but Moss is an inch taller and about 15 pounds heavier. They have similar playing styles, though, and Moss was the sixteenth pick of the first round. He has not been a dominant NFL wide receiver, but he has had four 1,000 yard receiving seasons and made it to one Pro Bowl. “He moves a little like him,” one front office man said.
Moss has been a durable NFL receiver despite his size. Scouts are concerned that Austin will not be able to hold up under a heavy workload, but he didn’t miss a game at West Virginia, and scouting legend has it he never even missed a practice.
*Randall Cobb. The Packers receiver is built more like Moss than Austin, but it’s not a bad comparison. “Cobb has some of the same balance, start-stop ability and acceleration that Austin does,” a scout added. That ability makes both players dangerous in the slot.
*DeSean Jackson. They have similar dimensions, but different playing styles. Jackson, who was a second round pick, is 5-10, 175. One scout said Austin relies more on quickness, change of direction, instincts and body control; Jackson relies more on pure speed.
*Wes Welker. He is 5-9, 185, so he is a little thicker and stronger. Welker and Austin are alike in that they both have explosive quickness. Austin has more speed.
*Antwaan Randle El. Like the rest of these players, he is a little bigger than Austin at 5-10, 185. But Randle El wasn’t quite as electric. “Austin is a better Antwaan Randle El,” one team exec said. “He’s that kind of athlete though.”
*Steve Smith. They both are 5-9, but Smith is 10 pounds heavier and has a very different playing style, relying much more on his surprising strength. “He is a little like Steve Smith in that he is small but still can do a lot of things,” one scout said. “He can play all the spots and return.”
Perhaps Austin is none of those players.
Perhaps he is Russell Wilson—a player who had it all but prototype size.
Said one high ranking exec, “If you can get over his height, you’ll have a player.”
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com.