Here’s your sizzle, Rams Nation. The price was steep for a team with multiple needs, but there was one offensive playmaker above all others in the 2013 draft: West Virginia’s Tavon Austin. And the Rams went up to get him Thursday night in Round 1 of the NFL draft.
Way up to No. 8 overall. The Rams gave Buffalo, which held that pick, their No. 16 overall pick, their second-round pick (No. 46), and their seventh-round pick (No. 222) for Austin. In addition, the Rams swapped third-round picks with the Bills moving up seven spots to No. 71 (with Buffalo getting the Rams’ No. 78).
Austin admitted he could never have imagined it.
“Definitely not,” Austin said, on a conference call with St. Louis reporters. “I always had big dreams. ... But being the first skill position player in the first round — all the critics with my size and everything — I definitely didn’t expect this. But I just have faith in myself, and my family did, and I’m just glad that happened.”
At 5-9, 174, Austin is a small package of gridiron playmaker. Some scouts have described him as a faster version of former Ram Az-Zahir Hakim.
As for those who question his size, Austin said, “I haven’t missed a game in eight years, and that’s high school and in college. I’m going to try to come into the league and take care of my body. Get down when I need to get down, and step out of bounds when I need to.”
But his production speaks for itself. Last season for West Virginia, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving, 643 yards rushing, and 978 yards on kickoff and punt returns.
All told, his 2,910 yards from scrimmage last season set school and Big 12 Conference records with a total that ranks fourth all-time in major-college football. Austin had 17 total touchdowns in 2012 — and at least one TD on kickoff returns, punt returns, rushing, and receiving.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Austin was timed as low as 4.27 seconds in the 40 and his “official” time was a still-sizzling 4.34.
When asked if he’d ever been run down by a defender, Austin paused for a second to think it over.
“Uh, I just can’t remember when somebody ran me down from behind,” adding that if it happened, it must have been someone that had an angle on him.
All offseason, the mantra at Rams Park has been: “We have to get faster and more explosive.”
And the number cited over and over again in the scouting department was 25 — as in the Rams finished 25th in the NFL in points scored last season.
Austin should help them score points, both as a return man and from scrimmage. It had been apparent for several weeks that Austin wouldn’t be there at No. 16. And as draft day approached, Austin’s stock seemed to skyrocket.
As the Rams worked the phones and worked their scenarios, they realized that the players they liked such as Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, Alabama offensive guard D.J. Fluker, and Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro wouldn’t be there at 16. They were in kind of a no-man’s land, so why not trade up?
The Rams later recouped some of those lost picks by trading out of the No. 22 spot with Atlanta. In exchange for their No. 22 pick, as well as a seventh-round pick the Rams were due in 2015 in the Greg Salas trade with New England last Sept. 1, the Rams got Atlanta’s first-round pick (No. 30), as well as the Falcons’ third- and sixth-round picks in this draft.
The Rams used that 30th pick on linebacker Alec Ogletree, who brings speed, athleticism and major baggage to St. Louis. Ogletree was suspended for the first four games of Georgia’s 2012 season because of a failed drug test. Then, shortly before the combine, Ogletree was arrested for a DUI.
Coach Jeff Fisher has never been adverse to taking risks with players, be it with the Rams or Tennessee — and the selection of Ogletree is no exception.
Not only did Austin come into St. Louis for a pre-draft visit, the Rams sent a delegation to West Virginia for a private workout just a week ago.
“When I went up there for the visit, I definitely connected well with all the coaches,” Austin said. “Coach Fisher and the GM (Les Snead) and everybody. And when they came back and watched me at my West Virginia workout, we definitely hit it off there, too.”
Austin is the first wide receiver taken in the first round by the Rams since the great Torry Holt in 1999.
“That’s a honor,” Austin said. “That’s a legend. I watched him when I was young. I’m going to come in and work hard to do my part. I’m going to come in and give 100 percent. The Rams did give up a lot.
“I’m gonna come in and play well (whether) it’s special teams, running back, or slot receiver. I’m going to come in with the right mindset and hopefully put some points on the board.”
Points on the board — that’s the point, after all.