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  • Tavon Austin making No. 1 WR money without No. 1 WR numbers

    Tavon Austin making No. 1 WR money without No. 1 WR numbers
    Alden Gonzalez
    ESPN Staff Writer

    DENVER -- Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin is different.

    He wears socks decorated with Roger Goodell's face, produces weird noises on the sidelines, and, of most relevance to the topic, gets his production in unconventional ways. So perhaps it wouldn't be fair to compare him to the elite receivers in the game, even though the four-year, $42 million extension he signed with the Los Angeles Rams puts him in the neighborhood of that earnings bracket.

    The deal carries a $10.5 million average annual value that makes Austin the 12th highest paid receiver when it begins in 2018. But Austin has never caught for 1,000 yards or even 500. The 11 receivers ahead of him in that list -- A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton, Doug Baldwin, Keenan Allen, Vincent Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Larry Fitzgerald -- have averaged no fewer than 765 receiving yards per season throughout their careers.

    But to the Rams, Austin's value can't be measured by prototypical receiver standards.

    "There’s no receiver that comes close to his rushing yards," general manager Les Snead said. "And one of the big stats is that he’s been a guy who can put balls in the end zone, and that’s what counts. That’s why we value him."

    Austin, taken eighth overall in 2013, has averaged 647 yards from scrimmage in three years. But he nearly doubled his production in 2015, a year that saw the 5-foot-8, 176-pound receiver catch for 473 yards and rush for another 434. Only five other players -- Devonta Freeman, Charles Sims, Gio Bernard, David Johnson and Mark Ingram -- rushed and caught for 400 yards, and they're all running backs.

    Austin's rushing total last year was nearly four times greater than that of the second-place receiver, Jarvis Landry of the Miami Dolphins. His 809 rushing yards since 2013 are 234 more than the second-place receiver in that span, Terrelle Pryor of the Cleveland Browns.

    In scrimmage touchdowns, Austin is tied for 25th over the last three years.

    In punt-return touchdowns, he is tied for first.

    "From a big-picture standpoint, we look at him as a weapon on offense," Snead said. "I think he’s somebody that tilts the field; that defensive coordinators have to be aware of. You combine him and '30' [Todd Gurley] on the field at the same time, it’s a duo that, because of their skill set, you keep some teams on their heels."

    And that's the thing about this deal -- it's relative to the Rams' situation, not necessarily the NFL's precedent.

    The Rams have been desperate for playmakers at receiver pretty much since Tory Holt's departure, which made them more willing to lock up a guy who has at least shown the capability. But it remains a big leap of faith, one that is perhaps hinging on the Rams' belief that the offense will open up more with Rob Boras in as offensive coordinator and Mike Groh hired as the new passing-game coordinator.

    Austin has only really touched the ball once in the first three preseason games, but that's because the Rams don't want to tip their hand.

    During the offseason, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Austin could "maybe double" his catches from 2015, which would amount to 104. That would probably be in addition to the 52 carries he had, not to mention the 34 punt returns. Looking further down the road, locking Austin up secures a primary weapon for No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff over the next six seasons.

    Snead will tell you it's a lot simpler than that.

    "The biggest thing about locking him up is you have a couple of key playmakers to go with our tight ends," said Snead, referencing Austin, Gurley and a tight-ends group that includes Lance Kendricks, Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway. "I wouldn’t say it’s just for Jared; it’s for the offense."

Related Topics


  • MauiRam
    Rams receiver Tavon Austin isn’t so sure about 100 catches this year ..
    by MauiRam
    By Vincent Bonsignore, Los Angeles Daily News

    OXNARD >> Given the full context, the slant pass Tavon Austin took to the house on Friday shouldn’t illicit more than a casual nod of approval.

    Like everyone else on the Rams organized team activity practice field, Austin was in shorts, jersey, cleats and helmet. Which tells you all you really need to know about the limited physicality during the 11-on-11 portion of practice.

    This was two-hand touch, NFL style.

    So digest the play as you will.

    The door you just heard open is the exit opportunity the pessimists will likely take advantage of right about now.

    The optimists might want to stick around a bit.

    See, by the time Austin made the catch just a few yards off the line of scrimmage, a group of defenders began converging on him. All it would have taken was one of them getting a good solid hand on Austin and the play would have been over.

    Never happened.

    A twitch here, a juke there and Austin was beyond the first couple of Rams defenders. Then a lean, a jab step and whoosh, he exploded past the second group on his way to open grass.

    In his wake, flailing arms, disbelieving looks and genuine frustration.

    And a chorus of oohhs and aahhs from his offensive teammates.

    In a very imperfect version of football, this was as legitimate an explosiveness play as you see.

    And it was Tavon Austin, defined.

    Get him the ball, by any means necessary and at any point on a football field, and let the havoc ensue.

    “The one thing we know about Tavon is, he’s a special playmaker,” said Rams offensive coordinator Rob Boras.

    Which is why the Rams have made it an objective to get Austin the ball more this year, a quest that began last season when Boras took over as offensive coordinator the last four games and has carried over during the offseason.

    “Any way you can get an explosive guy like that the ball, we’ve got to get creative and do it,” said Boras, who is concocting ways to do exactly that along with new Rams passing game coordinator Mike Groh.

    Rams head coach Jeff Fisher let that little nugget out of the bag a couple of weeks ago when he predicted Austin could double the 52 catches he had last year to 104 this season.

    “This offense has been re-designed to make sure he gets touches of the football,” Fisher said. “He’s going to have a big year this year.”

    Still, the 104 catches seems extraordinarily ambitious for a player who’s averaged 41 catches per season over his first three years. Especially with rookie Jared Goff likely to be the starting quarterback.

    If given the chance to explain, Fisher would probably amend his prediction to Austin doubling his offensive yardage production across the board.

    Not just through pass receptions....
    -06-11-2016, 11:27 PM
  • Nick
    ESPN Rookie Review: Tavon Austin
    by Nick
    Rookie Review: Tavon Austin
    November, 18, 2013
    By Kevin Weidl |

    Tavon Austin was one of the most talked about prospects heading into April’s draft. The pint-sized receiver (5-foot-8, 174 pounds) from West Virginia was heralded by many as one of the most electrifying playmakers from the 2013 class.

    Entering his senior season, there was talk about Austin maybe working his way into the first-round mix. He put together a tremendous senior year in which he accumulated 2,917 total yards while adding 17 touchdowns in a variety of manners -- receiving, rushing and on special teams as a returner. He combined that with a strong pre-draft process during which he confirmed the speed he had displayed on tape by clocking in with the second-fastest 40-yard dash (4.34). The St. Louis Rams traded with the Buffalo Bills from No. 16 to No. 8 to take Austin.

    What made Austin unique coming out of West Virginia was his rare combination of lateral quickness and top-end speed. On tape, he was able to effortlessly weave in and out of traffic and was a threat to deliver a home run from anywhere on the field. Austin also brought excellent versatility, which was seen in last year's Oklahoma game, when he lined up at running back for the first time in his career and manufactured 344 yards rushing and two touchdowns. I attended that game, and it was the best individual performance I have seen live, as Austin registered a Big 12-record 572 total yards of offense against the Sooners.

    Austin’s knack for creating splash plays in college placed high expectations on him coming into the season. He finally delivered what general manager Les Snead and the Rams organization had been waiting for in a 38-8 road victory over Indianapolis in Week 10. Austin pulled in two catches, both for touchdowns, of 81 yards and 57 yards while adding a 98-yard punt return for a touchdown. All three of Austin’s touchdowns were a direct result of his ability to create with the ball in his hands.

    It would be easy to sit back and say Austin had been a disappointment leading up to his performance against Indianapolis, but when stepping back and taking a second look, that isn’t necessarily the case. First, going into the Indianapolis game, Austin was tied for second with the Houston Texans' DeAndre Hopkins and the New England Patriots' Aaron Dobson for receptions among rookie receivers with 31 -- behind only Keenan Allen of San Diego with 32 receptions.

    Second, digging into the tape revealed that Austin had several big plays negated by penalties, including an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown in Week 3 against Dallas and a 64-yard touchdown reception against Carolina in Week 7. In addition, there have been several instances where Austin was cut loose by coverage, but QBs Sam Bradford and Kellen Clemens failed to locate him.

    Austin can continue to improve working on avoiding traffic with routes,...
    -11-20-2013, 03:51 AM
  • MauiRam
    Tavon Austin will be worth the wait ( ESPN)
    by MauiRam
    By Ashley Fox |

    Rookie WR's slow start isn't a surprise; his future success won't be, either.
    Tavon Austin is not a bust.

    Expectations for the rookie wide receiver out of West Virginia are impossibly high, but understandably so when you factor in that St. Louis gave up a small fortune to select Austin eighth overall in the 2013 draft. The Rams coveted Austin's speed. They liked his ability as a return man. They knew he could be a playmaker either out of the slot or the backfield.

    And that's why the Rams swapped their first- and third-round picks with Buffalo and gave the Bills their second-round pick in order to draft Austin, a player they viewed as another young building block for the future.

    On paper, Austin is a can't-miss player worthy of being the first skill position player selected in the draft. That the paper hasn't transferred into eye-popping production this early in the season shouldn't come as a gigantic surprise.

    The transition from college to the NFL often is hardest for wide receivers. Most are neither physically nor emotionally ready to play in the league as rookies. NFL offenses are complex. The playbook is voluminous. The terminology is different. Defenders are bigger, stronger and faster than in college. The demands of the job – training, practices, meetings, film study – are exponentially more grueling.

    So it can take time. And patience. And practice. And experience.

    Cincinnati's A.J. Green is the rare exception to the rule that it takes receivers time to have a significant impact in the NFL. As a rookie in 2011, Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns as quarterback Andy Dalton's primary target. Green had an impact from the jump.

    But look at some of the other big-name receivers in the game today. As a rookie out of Georgia Tech in 2007, Detroit's Calvin Johnson had 48 receptions for 756 yards. In his first season out of Oklahoma State in 2010, Dallas's Dez Bryant had 45 catches for 561. Following a stellar career at Alabama, Atlanta's Julio Jones had 54 catches for 959 yards in his rookie year in 2011.

    All of those players went on to have 1,000-yard seasons -- Johnson and Jones did in their second seasons, while it took Bryant until his third year.

    It took Roddy White, a rookie in 2005, until his third season to hit the 1,000-yard marker. White struggled as a rookie. He was a fast food junkie. He didn't know how to study. He didn't like to watch film. In his first season in Atlanta, White caught just 29 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns. But with the help of former Falcons receiver Joe Horn and Paul Petrino, then Atlanta's wide receivers coach, White hauled in 83 passes for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns during his breakout campaign.

    White learned. He adjusted. He became a film junkie and a foodie. He took care of his body...
    -10-12-2013, 11:46 AM
  • MauiRam
    Patience, Rams fans: 'I'm going to bounce back,' Austin says ..
    by MauiRam
    By Nate Latsch

    Tavon Austin doesn't hide his disappointment with a rookie season that ended prematurely.

    The No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft had finally found his footing late last season and was beginning to establish himself as the playmaker the Rams needed when the speedy wide receiver suffered an ankle sprain that caused him to miss the final three games.

    "I was a little disappointed, but things happen for a reason," Austin told on Tuesday following the team's OTA session. "Nobody wants to go in and get hurt, and unfortunately, that happened to me. But I'm going to bounce back."

    The three games he missed were the first he's ever missed in his life, Austin said. He called it humbling as well as a learning experience.

    The timing of the injury, after a slow start, well, that was just cruel.

    Austin caught six passes in each of his first three games, but his breakout performance came Nov. 10 in Indianapolis, when he returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown and then caught two passes for 138 yards and two more scores in a 38-8 win.

    The next week he had a 65-yard touchdown run in a win against the Bears at the Edward Jones Dome.

    But Austin would catch only five more passes in the following two games before being sidelined with the ankle injury.

    "It's just all about how you come on," Austin said. "Some people come on late. Some take more time. That's what happened with me. It's all about patience. That's one thing I had. I knew eventually it was going to come my way. I had made a couple big plays in the beginning of the season, but they got called back. So it's all about just being patient and understanding."

    Austin finished his rookie campaign with 40 catches -- which ranked second behind tight end Jared Cook's 51 on the team -- for 418 yards and four touchdowns. He added 151 rushing yards and a touchdown and that one punt return score for a total of six TDs.

    Not a bad debut, but not what many expected after the Rams traded up in the draft to get him, making Austin the highest-drafted offensive skill-position player.

    The 5-foot-8, 176-pounder ranked seventh among rookies in receptions in 2013, ninth in total touchdowns, 11th in receiving yards and 19th in yards per reception (10.5).

    "We're not disappointed in what his production was last year at all," Rams coach Jeff Fisher told reporters in March at the owners meetings in Orlando. "One of the things that was misleading was he had two or three returns called back -- one against Dallas -- and then he got hurt. I think another year in the program, in the offense, OTAs, training camp, you'll see more production. I think we'll do a better job of using him now that we know what he's capable of doing. Kind of looking...
    -06-11-2014, 12:11 AM
  • Nick
    Rams want Tavon Austin to play DeSean Jackson role in new offense
    by Nick
    Rams want Tavon Austin to play DeSean Jackson role in new offense
    4:35 PM ET
    Alden Gonzalez
    ESPN Staff Writer

    THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams are operating under the expectation that Tavon Austin will be ready by training camp. The fifth-year receiver recently underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair ligament damage in his left wrist, a procedure that will sideline him for organized team activities but should have him healthy and ready by late July.

    The Rams are hoping he returns as a slightly different player.

    Under former coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams used Austin, the eighth overall pick in 2013, as something of a gadget receiver. He returned punts, made 75 of his 181 catches behind the line of scrimmage (tied for second in the NFL over the last four years) and carried the ball 125 times (by far the most among receivers during that stretch). But the Rams aren't yet certain if Austin will continue to return punts. And first-year coach Sean McVay wants Austin, 5-foot-8 with breakneck speed, to establish himself as more of a deep threat, perhaps similar to what DeSean Jackson was for McVay's offense in Washington.

    Is Austin capable?

    "He’s shown he can track the ball down the field," McVay said from the Rams' rookie minicamp on Friday. "Really, as far as establishing him as a deep threat, I think we’re just looking for all our receivers to be complete. You want to be able to have a short, intermediate and deep route tree. And I think it gives you a little bit more route versatility so people can’t squat on you. You certainly want to be cognizant of accentuating guys’ skill set, but also not being regulated in terms of, 'This is what they do.' That’s the thing that he’s really embraced, and we’re looking to do that with Tavon."

    Aside from 2017 fourth-round pick Josh Reynolds, who's still very raw, and 2016 sixth-round pick Mike Thomas, an outside candidate to even crack the 53-man roster, the Rams don't really have someone who specializes in lining up on the outside and beating defenses over the top.

    McVay brought up a couple of long touchdown strikes from last season, against the Buccaneers in Week 3 and against the Saints in Week 12, as examples that Austin can make plays down the field. But the 26-year-old has made only 15 career catches on passes that have traveled at least 15 yards through the air, a total surpassed by 125 players over the last four years. His reception percentage on those deep balls is 28.8, 13.7 percentage points below the league average from 2013 to '16.

    One major disadvantage is obvious -- Austin's height, which makes it exceedingly difficult for him to make deep catches without significant separation.

    But Jackson is only two inches taller, at 5-foot-10. And with the Falcons last year, new Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur had the explosive, 5-foot-8 Taylor...
    -05-15-2017, 02:27 PM