Big receivers who can get down the field in a hurry usually garner the most attention leading up to the NFL draft, but this year's "can't miss" receiver seems to be West Virginia's Tavon Austin, the 5-foot-8½, 174-pound slot receiver that seems to excite everyone assessing him.
"When everybody watched him play, they saw an electrifying, dynamic, versatile performer who changed the scoreboard. That's what he's been doing since his high school career at Dunbar High in Baltimore," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "He's a business-like kid. He's serious about his work. Team-oriented kid, works hard."
While some team might go for the risk-reward pick that is Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee, who fits the height/speed/athleticism mold but is considered raw, before Austin is drafted, most analysts seem to feel Austin is the most valuable, versatile receiver in this year's draft class. For some, that assessment goes even beyond the position.
"He's my favorite player in the draft. I'm sensitive to him because he's 5-8 like myself," said former NFL coach Jon Gruden, now an analyst for ESPN. "When you watch the kid play, he's magnificent. He's a great return man, punts, kicks. He lines up at tailback and he plays like a tailback. He looks like Darren Sproles at tailback and he looks like Wes Welker in the slot.
"I've seen him be magnificent after the catch, all-purpose yardage. Look, he's tough. Tremendous stop-and-start quickness and flat-out finishing speed. I've seen quick guys, fast players, but I've never seen very many that have the combination of speed and quickness like Austin has. He ran for 8,000 yards as a high school tailback in Maryland, and he averaged 7 or 8 yards a carry this year when they handed it to him. He's just a fun, deluxe joker to have on your football team. He's going to make an impact, I believe, big time."
Austin led all active Football Bowl Subdivision performers with 288 receptions, 7,286 all-purpose yards and an average of 13.77 yards per play. He also ranked second with 3,413 receiving yards and third with 29 touchdown catches.
As for versatility, his 97 kickoff returns placed seventh among active players, and his 2,407 kickoff return yards finished sixth. He also scored four times on returns, ranking fourth in the nation. Finally, he averaged 9.37 yards on 110 rushes in his four-year career with the Mountaineers.
"Ten or 15 years ago, he would have been a third-round pick. Now he's a top-16 pick because today's NFL allows him to be successful," Kiper said, referring to Austin's size. "I think he could go 16 to St. Louis and be a real good pick for (QB Sam) Bradford and company and give some juice to that offense."
That would take him off the board before either of the Vikings' two first-round picks at Nos. 23 and 25.
Around the time of the NFL Scouting Combine, Cal's Keenan Allen was a pick many saw as natural for the Vikings at No. 23, but after running an unimpressive 4.71-second 40-yard dash at his pro day (Austin ran a 4.34 at the combine), Allen might fall out of the first round altogether.
"He could. Actually when you redo the whole projection, I had Keenan Allen going 40 before his pro day," Kiper said. "… If you redo it now, you're thinking 44."
Allen and Austin are two receivers with very different physical makeups. Austin is the short one being compared to a lighter Percy Harvin. Allen is the well-built one being compared to Anquan Boldin. Yet with the draft a little more than a week away, Austin is the one considered a surefire first-round pick and Allen is seeing his stock fall.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Receiver movement: One rises, another falls
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