STRENGTHS - One of the most explosive players in the country, Austin has the rare athletic tools to be a game changing player in the NFL. Quick off ball into route and explosive out of his cuts, Austin is easily able to gain separation from man coverage. Not only does he get separation with a burst out of his cuts, but he has the elite playing speed to pull away and get separation on deep routes. When defenses try to protect deep by playing zone, Austin has a good feel for finding open spots. Fearless heading into traffic, Austin does not peek at the defense and consistently catches the ball right before getting hit. Soft, natural hands combine with excellent concentration so that he catches nearly every pass thrown his way (In the games evaluated he caught over 95% of passes thrown to him). Austin is able to catch passes that get on top of him quickly because he gets his head and hands around fast when he comes out of cuts. Quick getting started up the field after the catch, Austin is naturally instinctive running in the open field. He follows blockers well, can make explosive cuts off their blocks and has the elusiveness to easily make tacklers miss in the open field. In addition to being a big play threat as a receiver, he is as dangerous as a punt and kickoff returner, which only increases his value.
WEAKNESSES - Obviously, the big issue is that at just over 5'8 Austin lacks the size NFL teams prefer. Historically, NFL teams shy away from drafting even the best receivers who measure under 5'9, so Austin could slide into the second or third round despite being a premier prospect. Not asked to run a wide variety of routes at West Virginia, Austin will have to become more polished running the entire "route tree."
SUMMARY - While evaluating quarterback Geno Smith was enjoyable, Tavon Austin's explosive playmaking ability was the best part of grading West Virginia this year. Way too often people say that a receiver or running back is a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball and most of the time that is an exaggeration, but in Austin's case it is spot on. In today's NFL where big receivers are the "in" thing, premier slot receivers like Wes Welker have proven to be invaluable and with Austin's big play ability he should become a star quickly. Although few receivers under 5'10 ever become dominant number one receivers, I am confident Austin has the tools to become such a player, similar to the Panthers' Steve Smith. Overall, Austin is likely going to be a first round pick because he is more explosive than recent first round picks Kendall Wright and Jeremy Maclin. I believe that Austin will become an impact player who makes big plays as a receiver and returner throughout his career. His on field play reminds me a lot of current Eagles star DeSean Jackson.