NFL Draft: WR AUstin moving up many boards
6 hours ago • By Jim Thomas

West Virginia’s football team hasn’t played a game in 3½ months, yet Tavon Austin seems to be getting better each week.

The whole idea of pre-draft “risers” and “fallers” in many instances is a silly concept. Often, it’s a case of public perception catching up with what most NFL personnel departments have known for months.

In the case of Austin — the dynamic wide receiver, kick returner, and yes running back — he seemingly has a growing legion of supporters as the draft draws near. So much so that it no longer seems a slam dunk that he’ll be around when the Rams get their first bite of the apple at No. 16 overall on April 25.

Longtime draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. all but had Austin in the Hall of Fame during a recent conference call.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Kiper said. “He’s just tremendously electrifying, great quickness.”

Kiper, who is from Baltimore, has a better handle on Austin than most because he has been watching him play since Austin’s days at Baltimore’s Dunbar High.

“He doesn’t break tackles — he’s only 5-8½, 5-9 — and yet try to get a handle on him to tackle him,” Kiper said. “So the first thing you have to do is corral him. He’s a great kid, very businesslike in his approach, serious about his business. ... I think Tavon is going to have a heck of a career.”

Today’s NFL is all about the passing game, spreading the field, using every inch of the field to your advantage on offense. It’s the style of play former Rams coach Mike Martz used so effectively during the days of the Greatest Show on Turf; he was a decade ahead of the rest of the league.

Austin is the type of player whose skill set should translate well to that style of offense.

“The guy’s got Az Hakim-like quickness,” said one veteran NFC scout, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If you get him the ball on the field anywhere, he can score. Hand it to him, toss it to him, bubble screen it, throw it deep.”

Although Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt were the headliners on those Greatest Show teams, Hakim was a small but very explosive threat.

Others have compared Austin to a DeSean Jackson without the headaches.

Jackson, another mighty mite, clearly the best wide receiver in the 2008 draft but lasted until the second round largely because of character concerns.

Kiper sees Austin going to the Rams at No. 16.

“A lot of teams could be in the mix for him, but I think St. Louis will be a good fit at 16,” Kiper said. “(Danny) Amendola is now in New England, it’ll be a great fit with (Sam) Bradford there, to help him out.”

But Buffalo at No. 8 overall, Tampa Bay at No. 13 and Carolina at No. 14 all could be possible landing spots. There has been some speculation that Miami could move up from No. 12 in a trade with No. 6 Cleveland to land one of the top three offensive tackles. At 12, the offensively impaired Browns could then take Austin.

However, some teams will have problems about taking such a small wide receiver so high in the draft. In fact, there has been some debate in the Rams’ draft room on Austin, according to league sources.

If Austin is gone or the Rams just can’t pull the trigger on a 174-pound player, there are other options.

Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and California’s Keenan Allen are widely considered along with Austin the most likely first-rounders. That’s even with Allen’s pedestrian 40 times (4.7 seconds) at his recent workout.

Patterson isn’t quite as fast as Austin, who was timed in the 4.2s by some at the NFL Scouting Combine, but definitely falls into the burner category. Unlike Austin, Patterson’s got size at 6 feet 2, 216 pounds. Patterson is dynamic with ball in his hands, but had only one year of major-college football before turning pro early.

Tennessee was his third school since finishing high school, preceded by North Carolina Tech and Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. Which raises a red flag: why did he move around so much?

Although Patterson caught a modest 46 passes for the Volunteers last season, he displayed Austin-like versatility, averaging 12.3 yards per carry on 25 rushing attempts. He scored touchdowns receiving, rushing, returning punts and returning kickoffs, and ended up leading college football’s best conferece — the SEC — in all-purpose yards (1,858). Patterson even tossed a TD pass against Missouri.

As with Austin, there’s no telling what a creative offensive coordinator could do with Patterson on the field.

“I think Patterson has a huge, huge upside,” said longtime draft analyst and former Dallas executive Gil Brandt. “But it’s not gonna come as fast as it would with some guy that’s played three or four years (in college).

“As an example, there’s a wide receiver that played at Clemson (DeAndre Hopkins). If you want a player for next year — draft him. If you want a player for three years from now, draft Patterson.”

And that may be the rub with St. Louis. The Rams already have one young, talented developmental player in Quick. Do they need to add another “project” to their receiver corps in Patterson, however talented?

As for Cal’s Allen, some teams may be scared off by those 40 times. In fairness, he is coming off a knee injury and probably wasn’t in top running form. Most observers didn’t expect him to run that fast anyway.

“Here’s the deal with Keenan Allen,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said nearly two months ago. “If you like him on tape, he’s Anquan Boldin. If you don’t like him, he’s speed deficient.”

Despite his lack of timed speed, Allen never had a problem gaining separation in college. He’s a smooth, fluid route-runner. He plucks the ball out of the air, and plays with a physical style that draws the comparisons to Boldin — who’s no burner himself.

“The kid at Cal, he’s a big-time receiver,” said the veteran NFC scout. “He’s the most polished. ... of the bunch.”

On paper, Austin, Patterson and Allen look like the three impact wide receivers in this draft.

But Baylor’s Terrance Williams is regarded by some as a Mike Wallace-style deep threat. Tennessee’s Justin Hunter is another deep threat with big-play potential.

The Rams are casting a wide net at the position. Allen, Austin, Hunter, Patterson, Williams and Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton have either made pre-draft visits to Rams Park or have visits scheduled.

The Rams met with Hopkins at the Combine and like him; they met with Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton at the Senior Bowl and Combine; they’ve shown interest in Southern California’s Robert Woods; ... and on and on.

It will be surprising if the Rams don’t take a wide receiver with one of their two first-round picks. It will be shocking if they don’t take a wideout somewhere in the first two rounds.