Dana Holgorsen hadn’t yet signed on as West Virginia’s coach when athletics director Oliver Luck provided the first bit of play-calling advice.
As the two toured the Milan Puskar Center, Luck motioned toward a photo of Tavon Austin and said, “You need to get him the ball.”
Following his boss’s instructions the last two seasons, Holgorsen utilized a flurry of screens, reverses and Jet sweeps to exploit Austin’s burst and elusiveness. It added up to 215 catches and 88 carries, not to mention the 68 kick returns and 34 punt runbacks, as Austin achieved maximum involvement.
In advance of tonight’s NFL draft, Holgorsen predicted such a dynamic skill set — even in such an undersized body — will translate effectively to Sundays.
“He fits a whole bunch of offenses,” Holgorsen said. “You can move him around and get him the ball in a variety of ways. (The spread offense) is what college football’s been about the past few years, and that’s what the NFL is going toward.”
ESPN’s dueling mock drafts from Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both forecast Austin at No. 13 to the Jets. The NFL Network’s gurus have Austin going No. 8 to the Bills (Mike Mayock) or No. 14 to Carolina (Gil Brandt).
“I get it — he’s only 5-foot-8, 174 pounds, but Tavon Austin is in that rare category in terms of playmakers who have the suddenness and the top-end speed to match,” McShay said. “We’re talking Percy Harvin, DeSean Jackson, those types. I love the versatility.”
Upon hearing from Holgorsen that Austin never missed a practice under his watch, McShay added: “That’s a player with explosiveness and toughness.”
Austin’s performance against Oklahoma last November – 344 rushing yards and 527 all-purpose — boasted a career’s worth of explosive plays.
McShay recounted a longtime NFL scout calling it the best individual performance he ever saw, and Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, whose brain nearly jumped out of his skull on the OU sideline, concurred:
“I’ve seen a lot of the great, the Barry Sanders of the world, that can stop and move lateral that fast. (But) that’s something I’d never seen. A lot of running backs can’t, no running back can do what that guy did.”
Though WVU lost 50-49 in the Big 12’s most exciting matchup of the season, Austin said it “showed pretty much that I’ll come to the team, make big plays and help the team win.”
WHAT THE DRAFTNIKS ARE SAYING
Brandt on the Panthers targeting Austin:
“The matchup nightmare comes in to take some of the load off of veteran Steve Smith, who’s starting to slow down. With Cam Newton at QB, Austin can really prosper.”
Mayock on the Bills’ interest at No. 8:
“The more I thought of Austin and the hole the Bills have at receiver — with nobody but Stevie Johnson — the more I said, ‘They’ve got to generate some touches for an explosive playmaker,’ and that’s who Austin is. Forget 173 pounds. It doesn’t matter.”
Kiper on Austin’s impact with the Jets:
“He’s a phenomenal player. I think Tavon is going to have a heck of a career. He is a touchdown-maker, he is a scoreboard-changer. … This is a player that can work all over the field, is almost impossible to keep covered and will even take handoffs. Think of Randall Cobb coming into the league, but with more polish as a receiver. They need this kind of player.”