When you talk about playing style and stature amongst the wide receiver position in the NFL, Washington’s Jamison Crowder and Rams receiver Tavon Austin should be mentioned in the same conversation. Both receivers stand 5’8 and hover around the 180 lb range and have a prolific skill set when working from the slot, while also doubling as dangerous return men for their teams. The comparisons should continue on for the 2017 season as Austin’s production will be measured against the impressive season Crowder put together in 2016 with McVay’s offense.
When comparing production, especially last season, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that Washington was a more accomplished team, along with a postseason contender, while also having a more established quarterback at the controls. Additionally, Crowder was the fourth best receiver on a team that boasted Desean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed. However, you cannot ignore his production and the presence he added to the passing game from the slot, and with the same man calling the plays for Austin this season, Rams’ fans will look for Tavon to surpass those numbers.
Despite missing one game last year, Austin totaled 58 receptions (career high) and 509 yards (career high), however, the shifty receiver has had difficulty creating production over the course of a season. Tavon has never averaged over 35 yards per game through 16 games. Rams’ fans can assign blame to constant offensive coordinator turnover and a revolving door of quarterbacks, but unfortunately as the 8th pick in the draft, you are expected to produce. In St. Louis and LA, rightfully so, the Rams made every effort to give Austin short touches so he could find space and create the big play, and in some cases, his yards per catch suffered.
Austin is a receiver that an offense is forced to play in their base package so that they can always give the opposing defense something to think about in both the pass and running phases, however, in multiple receiver sets, it is no secret that his home is in the slot, where Jamison Crowder played a majority of his snaps with McVay. With more receiver help hopefully coming, McVay will look to put Austin in one-on-one situations where he will be expected win based upon his athleticism, like Crowder was able to do.
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Jamison Crowder, touted as a talented return man from Duke, exploded on the scene in 2016 with 67 receptions and 7 touchdowns for Washington. Redzone production is evident when watching Crowder’s film, an area where Austin will need to improve. The number of touchdowns (7 to 3) is obviously something that jumps out when you look at stats, but Crowder also averaged 4 more yards per catch than Austin. When a team struggles to move the chains like LA did last season, 4 yards make a big difference. You can take a look at how Crowder thrived in 2016 with Sean McVay.
For me, the speculation starts with how Austin will be utilized in the ground game for the Rams. With the objective of force feeding him the ball in LA and St. Louis, Austin averaged 31 rushing attempts in his four seasons with the team. A huge part of his game, he receives far more rushing attempts than the conventional receiver. Fans will recall he put together over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2015 on the ground alone.
To compare, in McVay’s offense, Crowder totaled 4 carries in two seasons. To throw another similar receiver in the mix, Desean Jackson had 0 carries last year. It could be argued that Washington, with its’ offensive production, did not feel the need to add any “gimmick” running plays to their offense. However, a good coach utilizes his players’ skill sets and puts them in the best scenarios to win, so let the speculation begin as to how Coach McVay will use Austin in this new Rams’ offense.
Finally, it is essential that Austin receives help. Whether it be Goff, Gurley or Austin, football is a team game and the success of others stems from the work of their teammates. With the addition of Robert Woods, the Rams still have work to do in the in the receiver room. For Washington, Garcon and Jackson drew safety help and Reed occupied linebackers, LA needs additional threats to clean up boxes and attack vertically when defenses bring a safety down. Currently, as their most talented receiver, Austin will need to excel in McVay’s role for him in order for the Rams to consistently contend for the NFC West.