During a decorated college career at West Virginia, Baltimore's Tavon Austin was tough to grab in the open field.
Austin had 3,413 receiving yards in four years in Morgantown, W.Va., and much of the damage he did as a receiver came after the catch when the Mountaineers quickly got him the ball in space.
Five games into his NFL career, though, the Dunbar graduate hasn't found that space as easily.
The Rams, who traded up to select Austin eighth overall in April’s NFL draft, have made an effort to get their top pick involved. Quarterback Sam Bradford has targeted him 40 times, more than any of his other receivers. And Austin leads the Rams with 23 receptions. But he is averaging just 6.8 yards per catch and 3.7 yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus, who says he has only broken two tackles.
When I profiled Austin before the draft, I spoke to a few respected NFL analysts who raved about his playmaking ability and believed his skill set would translate to the pro game despite being just 5 feet 8. But it came with an asterisk -- some believed that for Austin to reach his full potential, his team would have to be creative in how they used him.
Outside of their pathetic Thursday night effort against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 4, I haven’t seen much of the Rams. But some detractors are already taking aim at Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who was criticized for being too conservative during this time with the New York Jets, for how he has used Austin in the offense.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated recently broke down some film of Austin, and he concluded that both the coaches and players should share the blame for Austin’s so-so start.
Austin leads all rookies in receptions and he scored a pair of touchdowns in Week 2. But eight other rookies, including Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, have more receiving yards. Ravens rookie Marlon Brown, who was not drafted, has one more touchdown and just six fewer receiving yards than Austin, the first wide receiver selected in the draft.
Austin, who was a record-breaking running back while starring at Dunbar, also has 10 rushing yards on four carries.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher recently said that his coaching staff might "experiment with some different things" to give Austin opportunities to make plays in the open field. So perhaps the Rams, despite trading up to get him, are still trying to figure out exactly what they have in Austin. He is probably dealing with a rookie learning curve, as well.
Whatever the reason, we have yet to see Austin on the NFL highlight reels this season. But with elusiveness like his, it may only be a matter of time until he starts to break through.