There have been a lot of questions about the future of Tavon Austin, and his ability to live up to such high expectations. True Rams fans still have faith in their beloved 8th overall pick. We caught glimpses of greatness in the first half of his 13 week season, with the prospect for greater things in the latter half. Unfortunately, a high ankle sprain stalled his progress, and we did not get to see if Tavon could build on his success. While the rookie didn't quite live up to the hype, he is showing signs of promise. That said, here's a quick look at a few comparable players and their respective rookie season.
By the numbers
Dexter McCluster (KC) - in 11 games
- 21 receptions, 209 yards, 1 td
- 18 rushes, 71 yards, 0 tds
- 1 punt return td
Percy Harvin (Min) - in 15 games
- 60 receptions, 790 yards, 6 tds
- 15 rushes, 135 yards, 0 tds
- 2 kickoff return tds
DeSean Jackson (Phi) - in 16 games
- 62 receptions, 912 yards, 2 tds
- 17 rushes, 96 yards, 1 td
- 1 punt return td
And if you don't already know, Tavon Austin - in 13 games
- 40 receptions, 418 yards, 4 tds
- 9 rushes, 151 yards, 1 td
- 1 punt return td
Breaking it down:
Looking at just the numbers, we find an odd medium between Percy Harvin and Dexter McCluster. If Tavon finishes out the season - and he gets back the 3 tds from penalties - these numbers may point more toward Percy Harvin. Unfortunately, the penalty plagued Rams found multiple ways to keep Tavon out of the end zone. As an un-official spokesman for the entire Rams Nation, I think it's safe for me to say that we hope Tavon turns out more like Harvin than McCluster (injuries aside). Harvin has the innate ability to create plays from nothing, an "X-Factor" that many believe Tavon Austin possesses. The real concern with a player like him, is the ability to create these plays consistently; where Percy Harvin does, Dexter McCluster does not. We cannot expect Tavon to bust out a big play each and every game, but giving him 8-12 touches a game will only elevate the chances for a game breaking play. Plus, he's proved that he can haul in a variety of passes, as shown by his above average 58% catch rate, which is the exact same as Dez Bryant.
Side Note: Stedman Bailey had an impressive 68% catch rate and proved to be a valuable asset after Tavon's injury. Look for him to have a breakout year in 2014.
If you are wondering why I included DeSean Jackson on this list, here's why: I think Tavon has the ability and speed to become a deep ball threat. We saw Clemens (and Bradford) air it out for Tavon once or twice, only to find missed targets and a 62 yard bomb called back for "tripping" by an irrelevant offensive lineman. All of Tavon's big plays came from dink & dump passes and runs. Maybe the Rams should try lining him up outside once and a while? Let him run loose down the sideline, and see if he can get open. It probably doesn't hurt that he runs a 4.34 40-yard dash, which is quite similar to DeSean's 4.35, moderately better than Harvin's 4.40, and much better than McCluster's 4.58.
Barring injury setbacks, Tavon Austin has a bright future with the St. Louis Rams. Before this season, he never missed a game or practice due to injury. I know, the NFL is a different beast. But if the Rams weren't already out of playoff contention, I bet Tavon would have suited up for weeks 15 and 16.
Aside from the numbers - which aren't all that bad - Tavon draws a lot of defensive attention, whether or not he has the ball. This should allow for other players to step up and create plays. Unfortunately, Brian Quick and Chris Givens have been disappointing for their lack of consistency, and it seems unrealistic to expect either of them to do so. The absence of a true #1 receiver is disturbing, which is why going after guys like Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans in the draft could be in the cards. Tavon wasn't drafted for his pure receiving skills alone. Les Snead, and the rest of the Ram's organization, saw an opportunity to get a franchise changing player, who has the versatility to do just about everything on the offensive side of the ball. Let's start using him like it.