After the St. Louis Rams traded up for the No. 8 pick and chose Tavon Austin, West Virginia’s dynamite tiny-mite vowed to show his appreciation with points and victories.
“They did give up a lot, but I’m definitely going to try to work my hardest to give out a lot,” Austin said. “I’m going to come in and work hard to do my part.”
Questions about whether a 5-foot-8 player like Austin can withstand the physical nature of the NFL didn’t stop St. Louis from making the move and dealing for Buffalo’s pick. He became the first skill-position player selected in the 2013 NFL draft and the first top-10 selection out of WVU since Adam Jones went to Tennessee in 2005.
“I’ll just keep fighting the critics off like I’ve been doing since I was young,” said the 174-pound Austin, who never missed a high school or college game due to injury. “That’s never going to go away. I would like to think I could get two inches, but I can’t. I’ll just keep on pushing.”
Of course, the proliferation of NFL passing offenses has stretched the field and allowed undersized slot receivers to flourish.
“Today’s pass-happy NFL really assists a player like Tavon Austin,” said ESPN’s Mel Kiper. “He’s a score-changer.”
“His highlight tape will take a while to get through,” added Jon Gruden.
Austin made 114 catches last season for the Mountaineers but was even more impressive maneuvering after the catch — or after the handoff, as he showed in an epic 344-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma.
After a second workout for the Rams last week in Morgantown, Austin felt the team was serious about drafting him. He said St. Louis coaches pledged to exploit his talents in the same ways West Virginia did — meaning he’ll get touches at running back, receiver and on special-teams.
“I had a feeling they liked me when I went up there for their visit, and I felt like I connected well with the coaches and the GM,” Austin said. “Me and the coaches just clicked. I’m just thankful for the opportunity they’re giving me.”
“(Austin’s) athletic skills are like none other. I love him with the ball in his hands. I love him tracking the football. He’s a route-runner and he understands concepts. I believe Sam Bradford is the luckiest man alive.” — Marshall Faulk
The Rams apparently weren’t dissuaded by Austin’s score on the Wonderlic test — a 7 out of 50 that reportedly was among the lowest in the draft class.
In order to climb from No. 16 to No. 8, St. Louis shipped Buffalo the No. 16, No. 46, No. 78, and No. 222 picks. The Rams, who also received the Bills’ third-round pick at No. 71 overall, reportedly sensed the Jets were targeting Austin with the ninth pick.
Now Rams fans will see what St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford — with 45 touchdowns and 34 interceptions in three pro seasons — can accomplish with a weapon like Austin, who’s so versatile he shouldn’t require long to acclimate to the NFL passing game.
For Austin, even a high-profile prep career at Baltimore Dunbar didn’t inflate his ego. He became a coach’s treasure at West Virginia, a durable superstar who proved as reliable in practice as he was on gamedays.
“I always had big dreams about getting to the league, but being the first skilled player drafted and going in the first round — I definitely didn’t expect this,” he said.
West Virginia’s first-rounder from last year, defensive end Bruce Irvin, shared some encouragement moments before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell opened the draft:
At No. 1, Kansas City selected Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, launching a draft that appears to be rich with offensive line talent.
Picking No. 2, Jacksonville selected another tackle, Texas A&M’s Luke Joekel.
Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan went to Miami at No. 3, a pick the Dolphins acquired from the Raiders.
Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson went to the Eagles at No. 4, before two edge rushers — BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah (Detroit) and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo (Browns) — filled the next two slots.
At No. 7, Arizona took North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper.
The NFL Network’s Marshall Faulk, a former Rams great, loved the acquisition by St. Louis.
“His athletic skills are like none other,” Faulk said. “I love him with the ball in his hands. I love him tracking the football. He’s a route-runner and he understands concepts.
“I believe Sam Bradford is the luckiest man alive.”
West Virginia’s history of first-round NFL picks:
2013: Tavon Austin, WR, pick No. 8 (Rams)
2012: Bruce Irvin, DE, pick No. 15 (Seahawks)
2005: Adam Jones, CB, pick No. 6 (Titans)
2000: Anthony Becht, TE, pick No. 27 (Jets)
1990: Renaldo Turnbull, DE, pick No. 14 (Saints)
1986: Brian Jozwiak, OT, pick No. 7 (Chiefs)
1966: Dick Leftridge, RB, pick No. 7 (Steelers)
1958: Chuck Howley, OG, pick No. 7 (Bears)
1956: Joe Marconi, FB, pick No. 6 (Rams)
1936: Joe Stydahar, OT, pick No. 6 (Bears)