After a trade with the Buffalo Bills, the St. Louis Rams have selected West Virginia WR Tavon Austin with the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Pros: Has rare on-field speed and agility that allows him to do some pretty epic damage from a number of positions. Austin is quick enough to break away from chasing defenders even when they're moving in a straight line and he's heading at an angle. Could be the most devastating Pistol running back ever because his lack of height works to his extreme advantage -- defenses lose Austin's first step while they're picking him up, and one step is all Austin needs.
Possesses amazing straight-line speed, but it's his lateral agility and quickness that makes him so tough to stop. Whether at the line or in space, he can cut on a dime and leave defenders in his dust. Puts his foot in the ground at full speed and drives his body away from contact. Has some ability to move through contact for his size,. though this is not a primary asset. Very durable for his size -- never missed a game in high school or college. Understands how to break contact by spinning out of hits and running out of bounds.
Cons: Has probably topped out from a size perspective, because he's already pretty decently muscled and any more mass could affect his speed and make him average. Not a pure running back per se -- this is more an adjunct skill, because he tends to go east-west too often and doesn't have the body mass to break out of tackles. Boom-or-bust player to a point; if he runs into too many brick walls, his athleticism might be negated. Will face more multiple defenses in the NFL; many college opponents of West Virginia's high-flying offense played on their heels and just tried to hold on. Needs a coaching staff that understands his total positional value.
What he brings to the team: Unprecedented athletic multiplicity. There are two fairly common perceptions when it comes to Tavon Austin's NFL prospects, and I think both might be egregious when you consider how the league has changed. Some believe that Austin will max out because he doesn't play one specific position, and others think that his size will limit his potential. But when the Seattle Seahawks traded a first-round draft pick for former Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin and gave him a six-year, $67 million contract in March, it forwarded what the Vikings knew with Harvin, what the Green Bay Packers have developed with Randall Cobb, and what the New England Patriots have done with Aaron Hernandez. More and more, players who can win battles in multiple spaces are providing optimal value, and Austin may wind up as the next-level example of this process. If he's half as explosive as he was in college, he's going to make the Rams coordinator very, very happy.
Was it the right pick? It's a risk/reward move, but the Rams need dynamic playmakers, and there's nobody in this draft who fits the bill better.