It’s time for another installment of my “2013 Mock Draft Analysis!” On Monday, Josh Hill of Fansided.com unveiled his new and updated 2013 NFL Mock Draft. In his Mock, Hill projected the following player to be selected by the Steelers with their 1st Round pick:
Damontre Moore, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Texas A&M
An outside the box pick here is Tavon Austin, as with only Emmanuel Sanders as they only real receiving threat the Austin could be of service. If Todd Haley is serious about running that stupid dink-and-dunk offense, no one is better suited for it than the speedy Austin. But Moore has fallen causality to a terrible combine. He was atrocious in the drills he ran in comparison to how much he’d been talked up leading into the combine. But unlike Star Lotulelei who was a top 3 pick in some mocks, Moore’s bad combine is a fixable project and one that the Steelers would love to be in charge of.
Due to the fact that I have made Damontre Moore a subject of numerous posts over the last three weeks, I will not bore you readers with more of the same prospect analysis. But if some of you are still interested in what I have to say on the former Aggie pass-rusher, you can follow the links to some of those aforementioned posts on Moore (here, here, and here).
Today though I want to discuss my thoughts on the other prospect Hill alluded to in his Mock Draft analysis: Tavon Austin.
It is no secret that the Steelers need to find an upgrade at the wide receiver position. With Mike Wallace in South Beach, the only experienced depth behind Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders exists in the forms of veterans Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery, both of whom are UFA’s after the 2013 season.
While the rumors that Sanders would sign/signed a RFA with the Patriots were abundant last weekend, the likelihood of the former S.M.U. Mustang heading up North to catch passes from Tom Brady seems to be growing smaller by the day. But if New England actually inks Emmanuel to a deal, then it would make sense for Pittsburgh’s brass to want to acquire a versatile “slotback” type of pass-catcher like Austin.
During his final two years at West Virginia, Austin was arguably the most electrifying player in Division 1-A college football. Overall, the speedster (4.34 40 Time at The Combine) caught 215 passes for 2,475 yards and 20 touchdowns, rushed for 825 yards and 4 more scores, and formed a dynamic pass-catching duo with his teammate Stedman Bailey. In addition to his outstanding play on the offensive side of the ball, Tavon was also dangerous return man and scored on 3 kickoff returns and 1 punt return as well.
There is no denying how much of an outstanding play-maker that Tavon was in college . But for all of the present hype surrounding Austin, I nevertheless came away from watching him with a significant number of questions about whether or not the 5’8″ 174 lb. slotback could do specific things at the pro level:
- Can a player of Austin’s stature fight for a jump ball with N.F.L.-sized cornerbacks?
- Does his size limit him to working only in the slot as a wide receiver?
- Will Tavon be able to get off of the line consistently against far more physical cornerbacks if they get their hands on him within the “5 yard chuck zone?”
- If the jet sweeps or designed runs out of the backfield for Austin are well defended and the running lanes close, can he turn the ball upfield for the 4 to 5 yard plunges instead of going “East/West?”
- Will Austin only limited to playing in large amounts space on bubble screens and slants from the slot?
- Will Tavon be able to turn 5 yard slants into 40 yard touchdowns when the defensive backs he faces can take proper angles, and can make fundamentally sound tackles?
- Will Austin’s slight frame limit him to a set number of offensive touches per week?
- How successful will Austin be able to run the ball in closed quarters and between the offensive tackles before he gets to the 2nd level of the defense if Pittsburgh’s offensive line struggles like they did last year?
- Can a player of Austin’s frame block, and block effectively in the run-game and downfield?
- Will his presence on the field mean that it is a pass-only situation or the play is diagrammed to him if he cannot block effectively?
- Can Austin maintain his speed and explosiveness once Heinz Field’s shoddy grass surface turns to mud when winter begins?
The biggest fear I have however about Austin deals primarily with what will occur if Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley and Big Ben get too “cutesy” with the Steelers’ passing-game. If Pittsburgh’s offense cannot effective stretch the field vertically, Safeties and Linebackers will begin to cheat and try to close the passing windows on the short and intermediate routes. If the physical Safeties cheat up, the diminutive Austin will be at their mercy of hard-hitting Defenders when he goes over the middle to catch passes. Although Tavon avoided plenty of “big hits” in college, one certainly has to wonder how long a player of his stature can hold up if he receives too many licks.
When Tavon Austin was in open-space and juking, cutting, and speeding all over the field, he was a threat to score whenever he touched the pigskin on offense and special teams at West Virginia. Pittsburgh’s offense lacked a legitimate “game-breaker” on the offensive side of the ball last year, and there is no denying that they could stand to use one with Mike Wallace gone.
I would also have to believe that Colbert & Co. have the types of questions I have listed above in mind if they are seriously considering making Austin their 1st Round selection. The rebuilding Steelers can ill-afford to miss in Round 1 this year. Thus, Pittsburgh’s brass might be less prone to take a player with so many potential questions surrounding his transition to the N.F.L. like the West Virginia slotback does.
If Tavon does come to Pittsburgh though, all I can say is that I hope will turn out to be a slot receiver more in the mold of Antwaan Randle El, not 1st Round bust Troy Edwards.
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