West Virginia's former do-it-all playmaker Tavon Austin will take his electrifying game to St. Louis.
The Rams traded up to select Austin with the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday, in order to snag him before the New York Jets could with the No. 9 pick. He was the first skill position player of the night to be drafted.
"I'm thankful that I can step into this position. ... I'm thankful to be able to play with Sam Bradford, get with the team and start the journey," said Austin, who was joined by his family in New York. "The Rams believed in me and I believed in them. I'm ready to get to work."
Quarterback Geno Smith, whom many predicted would be among the top 15 picks, fell completely out of the first round.
There was suspense for Mountaineers fans who waited for more than an hour through multiple picks targeting offensive linemen and edge rushers before Austin was the first skill position player off the board.
Austin's playmaking ability should be enhanced on the turf at the Edward Jones Dome.
"I had a feeling they liked me when I went up there for the visit," said Austin, on a conference call distributed by the Rams. "I'm going to come in and play special teams, running back or slot receiver. I'm going to come in with the right mindset and hopefully put some points on the board. ... They've definitely got a plan for me."
In the days leading up to the draft Austin's stock rose dramatically to the point he arguably generated the most buzz of all the potential first-round picks.
He was called "dynamic" and the most "explosive" player available in the draft by a variety of analysts.
At just 5 feet 8 and 174 pounds, he had his most success in college with yards after the catch as a receiver, runner and returner.
He scored 17 touchdowns for West Virginia last year, 12 receiving, five rushing, and a punt and kick return.
His biggest splash came against Oklahoma when he amassed 574 all-purpose yards.
At the NFL combine, Austin ran a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash, then continued to command attention in the weeks leading up to the draft.
As Austin's star rose, Smith's seemed to fade among the analysts who speculated he could even fall out of the first round. Once the New York Jets passed on him at No. 13, it became unclear which team had a need for a quarterback.
Smith, who threw 42 touchdowns, 4,205 passing yards, and threw just six interceptions in his senior season at West Virginia was criticized for being a system quarterback, and even called out in one scathing report to have a poor work ethic.
Smith tweeted a message to his detractors earlier in the week: "Just want to thank all those so called 'experts' who say I can't be an NFL QB. Thursday will be a special day but the work has only begun."
He said Wednesday he was not worried about his critics, and simply excited to enjoy the biggest day of his life with his mother, Tracey Sellers, who celebrated her 40th birthday on draft night.
"The doubters are going to be there regardless. I really don't worry about those people," said Smith. "When I hear my name called, whether it's first or last, whenever it is, it's going to be a huge accomplishment for me because it's a goal that I've been working toward."
The pair were in the green room at Radio City Music Hall joined by teammate Stedman Bailey, a guest of Smith's, expected to be picked in the second or third round.
Coach Dana Holgorsen who appeared earlier in the day on the "Dan Patrick Show," said he would be there, though he did not appear on the ESPN telecast of the event at any point.
"I'll be there supporting them. I've been through a lot with them for the last couple years. This is a celebration for them," Holgorsen said. "I'm excited about both Tavon and Geno. It's going to be a great night for them. It's going to be a great night for West Virginia."
Smith finished his career as the team's most prolific passer with 11,662 passing yards, and the all-time leader in completions with 998 and passing touchdowns with 98.