In the 2013 draft, there were three wide receivers that were viewed as the hottest prospects in the class – Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins.
The Rams were so enamored with Austin that they traded a slew of draft picks to move up to the No. 8 spot to draft Austin. Hopkins lasted until the 27th pick before Houston grabbed him and the Vikings swung a trade with New England to land Patterson at No. 29.
Patterson is being touted as the next big thing. Hopkins caught at least one pass in every game last year, finishing with 52 receptions for 802 yards and continued improvement is expected for this season.
Austin was the least productive of the group, catching 40 passes for 418 yards and often finding himself in head coach Jeff Fisher’s doghouse. He was slow to catch onto the system in St. Louis, but there is no denying his ability to make plays.
While he has fallen behind his fellow 2013 draft classmates, the reason the Rams moved up to get him was because, like Percy Harvin, he can do a lot of things to make big plays.
Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is likely going to draw the assignment to contain Austin from making big plays, but he has been impressed with he’s seen of him on film.
“He’s explosive,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s a slot guy, so I guess I’ll be on him most of the game. He’s an explosive guy. He’s fast and he knows how to make guys miss. I’m ready to accept the challenge and go play against him.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer is also aware of the unique skill set a player like Austin has as a receiver, runner and returner. He will draw a lot of attention, although Zimmer is keeping their plan to limit him close to the vest.
“There’s a lot of different ways,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes you cheat the zone to him, sometimes you double cover him, sometimes you play somebody over the top of them and be physical at the line of scrimmage. I’m not going to tell you how we are going to defend him.”
Perhaps because they’re both second-year receivers, Munnerlyn was asked to compare Austin with Patterson. But Munnerlyn was quick to correct the questioner, pointing out that Patterson and Austin are very different types of receivers.
He did say, however, that the Vikings have a receiver that reminds him a lot of Austin and that they have similar methods of creating problems for defenses.
“I would put him in mind of Greg Jennings,” Munnerlyn said. “Greg Jennings is a crafty guy. Greg is faster than what people think he is. Greg knows how to get open. I put Tavon in the mind of Greg Jennings. Cordarrelle is more of a bigger type receiver. Tavon is going to be a great challenge for our defense. I’m excited to go out there and play against him.”
Some receivers who make their living cutting across the field and getting in space can create separation from defenders in a hurry with lightning quickness as opposed to deep speed.
Austin is likely going to make his living on slants and crossing routes, not taking defenders 40 or 50 yards down the field. The primary weapon that Austin brings to the table is the ability to make a quick-twitch move that leaves a defender behind him and create a throwing lane for his quarterback.
“It’s the quickness – their ability to get into and out of their cuts,” Munnerlyn said. “Bigger guys have trouble getting out of their cuts, but guys like Greg and Tavon Austin-type guys can get out of their cuts like nothing.”
The Vikings pass defense was routinely scorched last season, which is one of the reasons Munnerlyn was signed in free agency. He is adept at taking on slot receivers who make explosive plays like Austin is capable of. He anticipates having the assignment to keep Austin in check and it’s a matchup he’s excited to be a part of.
“I’m just looking forward to it,” Munnerlyn said. “We’re looking to build something here and part of that is taking on challenges. Tavon Austin will pose a challenge. It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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