Offseason surgeries have a way of stymieing an NFL player’s growth. That sort of impediment grows exponentially during a major regime change. Through four games of this young NFL season, that is the story of Tavon Austin.
While mostly an offensive laughingstock during the Jeff Fisher era, this new Rams club under rookie head coach Sean McVay is anything but. McVay is the one credited with Redskins’ QB Kirk Cousins’ growth as a signal caller. L.A. brought the 34-year-old in the hopes that he could mold 2016 #1 overall pick Jared Goff in the same manner.
At the quarter season mark, the Rams are 3-1 and have momentum going into a big home game against Seattle on Sunday. Their new-look offense is sizzling. Goff looks every bit the part. Running back Todd Gurley is having an MVP-type season, leading the team in both rushing and receiving yards. The much-maligned receiving corps under Jeff Fisher also seems to be rounding into form. Rookie Cooper Cupp has made some explosive plays in his young career thus far.
Austin missed almost the entire offseason due to wrist surgery while the Rams installed a new offense with their second-year quarterback. Austin has been more of a gadget player
Go to the Rams current stats. Go ahead, look for Tavon Austin’s receiving stats. Go way, way down the sheet. Then come back.
Surprising isn’t it? If you didn’t click the link, let me make it simple for you: 2 catches, 5 yards. He makes roughly $220K per game.
If you look purely at the numbers, the production as a receiver doesn’t add up to the cost. Not even close.
But Austin has never been just a receiver. Even Fisher, from time to time, found different ways to get Austin the ball: bubble screens, jet sweeps, etc. McVay has incorporated some of that into his offense for Austin. He’s also took a page from Dana Holgorsen’s playbook during the 2014 game vs. Oklahoma. That is, lining Austin up at running back at times.
Go back and look at the stats. Look at the rushing numbers. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Austin has the second-most carries on the team at 14. Good for 5.8 yards a pop. Still not a lot of touches for Austin, but you know what it does? It takes some of the focus off of Gurley. The potentiality of Austin getting the ball out of the backfield is something that places defenses on notice.
“I think he [Austin] gives you the ability to do some different things, so you do want to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands. I think when you look at some of the things that he’s done over the course of his career, he’s been special and dynamic with his ability to, whether it’s the (end) arounds, whether it’s lining up in the home position, these are things he’s done before.”
With Austin and Gurley on the field at the same time, Goff often has the option of which player to give the ball. As the season wears on, and Gurley’s touches add up, Austin’s role will be more valuable.
When you have two playmakers involved on any given play on any given Sunday, that could spell trouble for opposing teams and lead to great things for Austin, Gurley, and Co.