Through eight games, Tavon Austin has 31 receptions (leads the team) for 207 yards (fourth on the team) and 2 touchdowns (tied for third on the team) along with 4 carries for 10 yards. As a punt returner, he has had 23 returns for 90 yards and has returned 6 kickoffs for 134 yards. When the St. Louis Rams drafted Austin, the thought was that he would come in and be an instant playmaker and give the offense an added element of speed and agility. Combined with Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Jared Cook and later Stedman Bailey, the hope was that the Rams could just torture teams in space. To this point, none of that has happened and though it has been regarded Sam Bradford’s best season before the injury, the offense was been held to 15 points or less in three of their games with Bradford.
Austin can certainly get better in terms of his understanding of offensive concepts and adjusting to the speed of the NFL, but 5’8” 176lbs is not going to change much. He has struggled to get off of the line of scrimmage and they have needed to use motion or put him behind other receivers to get him a free release. Still, the results have not been extraordinary.
The Rams really tried to feed Austin in their first three games and he had 6 catches in each of his first three games including his best game as a pro when he caught 6 passes for 47 yards and two touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons. In the last five games, Austin has had just 13 catches and in some games, he has had trouble getting into the game at times.
This is starting to resemble Desmond Howard. Howard was a similarly dominant college player at Michigan like Austin was at West Virginia. He was good enough to win the Heisman Trophy. The Washington Redskins fell in love with his playmaking ability and drafted him fourth overall. They found out quickly he simply could not play wide receiver. He was utterly worthless in that role, far more than Austin has been. Howard found a role as a kick and punt returner and won Super Bowl MVP with the Green Bay Packers, but was a massive bust overall. In both situations, there were people who felt both players would be game changers and their strengths would mask their weaknesses, but to this point, that has not been the case.
Austin has time and can get better at working to get his release off of the line and find ways to get in position to use his speed and quickness, but the early returns are extremely concerning. There was so much excitement around Austin coming into the draft and had the Rams traded up to take him as the New York Jets were believed to be hoping he fell to them at 9th pick, so they could take him. Austin is struggling and the Rams have to be extremely concerned with how much they invested in him.