Los Angeles Rams WR Tavon Austin has been looked down on for the majority of his career.
There is a notion that he is a "bust" because his numbers don't reflect that of his draft status as the 8th overall draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but it is not Austin's fault that his draft slot came with unrealistic expectations. He is a good player and that is being overlooked due to his draft slot.
Derrik: It seems like a lot of people get onto Austin for needing touches force fed to him, but when it happens, he is capable of plays like this one. What are your thoughts on having to force touches to skill players like Austin?
Ben: It's something that shouldn't be stigmatized. The truth is, plenty of teams "force touches" to offensive skill players. That's what a running back is. Tavon has a unique, game breaking skill set that can be maximize these created touches, so why is it so bad for that to be part of his utilization?
Derrik: It isn't. The only reason he gets penalized for it is because he was drafted in the top 10. Like our friend Ian Kenyon was saying a few days ago in our conversation with him, if Austin gets drafted in the middle of the second round, nobody bats an eye about the way he is used.
Ben: The endgame for any offensive player is this -- How can I use this player in a way that ultimately affords my team scoring chances? Austin can absolutely be a game changing player on offense, it just comes down to working with that makes him so special.
Derrik: Like you said earlier, that is the case to some extent for any player. A coaching staff needs to be creative and get the ball to good players; good play makers will always find a way to make big plays. The Rams now have two elite play makers in Austin and Todd Gurley. Assuming Jared Goff is more stable than Nick Foles was in 2015, the Rams' two playmakers should be able to uncork more explosive plays than in years past.
Ben: Is it insane to say that if Austin got used in the passing game like a running back, he would have a shot at 1,000 yards?
Derrik: I mean, considering plays like this screen are essentially what you are talking about, no, I don't think it is insane. The problem is less that Austin has a simple role than it is there being no other receiver on the roster to take attention away from Austin. Hopefully one of the rookies, Michael Thomas and Pharoh Cooper, can provide a new force among the receiving corps, but Austin is the only sure threat for now.
Ben: The thing is, Austin was so dangerous in this role with even worse talent around him last year. Even the slightest upgrade at quarterback and the surrounding cast will elevate Austin's efficiency.
Derrik: Precisely. If there are even just a few plays per game where less attention is directed toward Austin's side of the field, he is bound to turn some of those chances into big plays. He is an incredibly dynamic player with the ball in his hands.
Ben: Hey look, Tavon doing real receiver things!
Derrik: Yes! Just what the people want! Even though Austin is best when he can simply run free in space with the ball in his hands, he has developed more effective route running ability throughout his career as a Ram in order to create separation down the field.
Ben: It is important to realize, and this may be me pleading with the team a bit, that Austin is so electric that he is worth targeting as a primary pass catcher in their offense. Sacrifice some hiccups for the sheer sake of his explosive skill set.
Derrik: I've said this about a number of quarterbacks and it applies here: "Live by the sword, die by the sword." Austin is going to have drops down the field and lose yards by trying to do too much at times, but his successes will make those plays easy to forget.
Ben: It's a bit simplistic, sure, but explosive plays can redefine an offense and force a defense to respect the vertical passing game, in turn elevating the rest of the offense.
Derrik: When an offense makes big plays, defenses start to hesitate. When defenses start to hesitate, they stop making big plays against the offense. Explosive plays often lead to more explosive plays.
Ben: Running. Back. Touches.
Derrik: Just like you talked about! This is not a huge gain, but is shows two things that Austin can do. First, it shows that the offense has some flexibility in where they can line Austin up at. He can line up as a running back and the Rams have already used him there plenty (just like West Virginia did when he slaughtered Oklahoma). Second, he shows off some great elusiveness in a short area to gain extra yardage.
Ben: He can threaten as a runner and a receiver when he is in the backfield so it is not transparent to the defense what the play will be when he is back there. His ability to immediately turn receptions into yards after the catch means that he can be massively effective on short, dump off style pass plays.
Derrik: Exactly. Of course, most of these plays aren't going to look like much, and even this play is not a massive gain, but it's the little things that he does to create yards and the ever present threat of a home run that makes these plays great usage of him.
Ben: These type of plays with Austin remind me of Chris Johnson's Tennessee Titans days. They kept feeding him the ball because they knew, eventually, he would bust a huge gain and likely a touchdown.
Derrik: It's almost as if good things happen when you give good ball carriers chances.
Ben: This is further showing that Austin can be a legit option as a receiver. He runs a beautiful route, grabs the ball on a tight sideline throws and is still somehow able to get a few yards after the catch. Very few receivers would be able to redirect after that catch and get those extra yards.
Derrik: Notice the jab step inside and up the field at the top of his route, then how quickly he flips his hips and gets to the sideline. He can be a real receiver on top of being s short game catch-and-run threat.
Ben: I have a saying that receivers are usually good until they aren't. What I mean by that is that receivers, especially number one and number two receivers, usually have unique athletic skill sets that can get exploited with the right amount of targets. Different quarterbacks use different receivers in different ways. Ben Roethlisberger's pinpoint accuracy makes Antonio Brown a star just like Jameis Winston's aggressive passing style helps big-bodied receivers like Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin (at Florida State) produce. Austin was star at West Virginia because the ball was constantly in his hands. Too often during his pro career, the Rams haven't furred out how to consistently do that for him, not to mention the relative quarterback play has been much worse. Austin has this incredibly unique skill set, unlike most any other player in the league. With solid quarterback play and proper usage, I think he will be a major contributor for the Rams.
Derrik: With Goff presumably providing more stability and accuracy than Foles did last year, I think that ends up being the case as well. Aside from Gurley, Austin is far and away the best skill player that the Rams have right now and that needs to be fully embraced.