NFL Scouting Combine: WVU's Tavon Austin could fill many roles
WVU receiver Tavon Austin makes a catch as he runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- With the expected departure of Mike Wallace, the Steelers will have a big need for a speedy wide receiver. And, with the expected departure of Rashard Mendenhall, they will also have a need for a feature running back.
One player in the draft might be able to address both needs in a special way.
West Virginia's Tavon Austin might be the most talented player at the NFL Scouting Combine, a multipurpose threat who can run the ball, catch the ball and return kicks with great productivity. And, after running a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash and doing 14 reps in the 225-pound bench press, Austin's draft stock is on the rise as much as any player at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"A lot of teams are looking for a guy who can do multiple things on the football field," Austin said. "I think I'm that guy."
But would the Steelers take a chance on Austin (5 feet 8, 174 pounds) with the 17th overall pick in the draft?
For starters, he is not the tall receiver the Steelers will likely target in the draft, certainly not the size of California's Keenan Allen or Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson, considered by many the top wideouts in the draft.
What's more, they drafted an Austin-type player in the last year's draft -- Chris Rainey -- and spent most of the season trying to find ways to have him be productive in the offense. They didn't have much luck.
Austin, though, is even better than Rainey.
He finished second in the nation with 114 receptions and totaled 1,289 receiving yards. He also rushed for 643 yards, averaging 8.9 yards per carry, and finished with 2,760 all-purpose yards. In a game against Oklahoma, he had 572 total yards, including 344 rushing.
"In the NFL, it's all about matchups, and this young man is a matchup nightmare," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock after watching Austin run Sunday. "What I love about [Austin], he's got good hands. We already know he can run, we know how quick he is. I know he's tough. And he's a game-changer."
Size and durability are a concern for Austin, but he likes to point out he hasn't been hurt or missed a game in eight years. He patterns his game after New England's Wes Welker, another small guy, but he has been compared to Percy Harvin of the Minnesota Vikings. Austin could be the type of slot receiver the Patriots would embrace, especially with the 29th overall pick.
The only receiver who ran a faster 40 time than Austin was Marquise Goodwin of Texas, an Olympic long jumper who was timed at 4.27.
"I think I'm the all-around best player in the draft," Austin said.
Allen (6-2, 206) did not run at the combine because of an injury, but he said he is eager to show NFL coaches and general managers that speed is not as issue with him.
"I know people have been doubting me on my speed, but I don't feel like I'm a slow guy," Allen said. "I feel like I'm pretty fast, but I definitely put some effort into it."
Allen compared himself to Baltimore's Anquan Boldin -- someone who can make tough catches in traffic. When asked what he is telling NFL coaches, even though he didn't work out for them, Allen said: "That I'm a starter. I feel like I'm a starter, self-motivated, a humble guy. My work ethic is there. I'm a film junkie so I'm definitely doing that type of preparation for the game."
Patterson only played one year at Tennessee -- he elected to forgo his senior season because of a coaching change -- but he was so dynamic that he came to the combine as a raw but promising product. Not only did he total 1,858 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012, he had touchdowns as a runner, receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner.
But, after he ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash and posted a mark of 37 inches in the vertical jump, Patterson's stock soared even more. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, he is built along the lines of Atlanta's Julio Jones -- a physical receiver with speed.
"I don't listen to anything anyone says about my ability," Patterson said. "God gave it to me, and I go out every day and practice hard at practice. And in the games I expect big things out of myself."
Patterson isn't the only former Tennessee receiver in the draft. Justin Hunter (6-4, 196), a world-class long jumper who ran a 4.44 in the 40, is a Mike Wallace-type and one of the top deep threats at the combine. Da'Rick Rogers was considered a possible No. 1 pick until he got kicked off the Tennessee team because of three failed drug tests.
Patterson is considered the best of the three.
"The things I did in college, I expect to come in as a rookie and be a good rookie and be a Pro Bowler," Patterson said.
First Published February 26, 2013 12:00 am