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.

"Thereís no receiver that comes close to his rushing yards," general manager Les Snead said. "And one of the big stats is that heís been a guy who can put balls in the end zone, and thatís what counts. Thatís 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 heís 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, itís 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 wouldnít say itís just for Jared; itís for the offense."