It was an exciting weekend in Indianapolis with the NFL Combine underway. Already, this year’s combine should be remembered as groundbreaking in terms physical evolution of the game.
More than anything, speed has been prevalent at the combine.
The 6’5", 306-pound Terron Armstead ran a 4.65 forty, which was the best ever for an offensive lineman. The receiver class also broke onto the scene early, with Tavon Austin and Marquise Goodwin putting down blazing 4.25 forties.
This weekend’s events provided a lot of interesting fodder leading up to the NFL draft, and we’re still not done here in Indianapolis.
Now, the San Francisco 49ers are entering this draft with needs, which are ideally filled in the early rounds. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh are expected to be looking at wide receivers, defensive linemen and defensive backs early.
With the draft picks San Francisco possesses, I stand firm that they should make waves in Round 1 by trading up. The Niners would not even have to get within the top-15 to open a lot of doors. They could trade between the 19-24 spots and be looking at top-tier players at a lot of positions of need.
And with a trade for Alex Smith "effectively complete," there should be virtually no limitations in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Tavon Austin's 40 looked effortless. Just a calm, chill 4.25 in the park. Kinda like he plays.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 24, 2013
Acquiring a Difference-Maker
With the departure of Ted Ginn Jr. and Randy Moss, the 49ers have a clear need at wide receiver, particularly someone that can contribute on special teams. For this reason, the team has already been connected to receivers Josh Cribbs and Percy Harvin.
However, both of these players have their pitfalls: Cribbs has been riding a decline while Harvin would demand a substantial salary. This could point the 49ers in the direction of the draft to fill such a need.
With the top-end speed, quick-cut ability and overall versatility, Tavon Austin is a game-changer.
I think there is a good chance San Francisco falls in love with this kid. He is a true dual-threat, which is something the 49ers value immensely. Under Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, the Niners have acquired a number of multifaceted athletes, which is exactly what Austin is.
And now that the 49ers have found their quarterback, it is time to surround him with ultra-athletic playmakers. Austin can immediately step in and not only fill a role, but expand this offense. This offensive unit employs a lot of options, particularly out of the backfield.
With the potential departure of Delanie Walker, the 49ers would be able to utilize Austin as a sidecar option in this offense. He is similar to Randall Cobb in that he can line up anywhere and remain a threat. Austin is also dangerous from the slot, but has the ability to get behind defenders from X and Z as well.
He also has to become interesting to a team that relies on misdirection. In San Francisco's high-volume attack, he would have plenty of opportunities to use his game-breaking speed. The sleight of hand in the backfield would allow Austin to get a step on the defense before he turns on the burners. Having Kaepernick, James and Austin in the same backfield would be a mismatch nightmare.
So, outside his potential as a starting WR opposite Michael Crabtree, he would add a dimension to the offense and special teams, significantly upgrading the read-option and return game. And with that world class speed, the 49ers would land their highly coveted deep threat.
The threat Austin can provide would immediately change the way defenses game plan for the 49ers. And after all, isn't that what you want out of the first round; an impact player?
If you're knocking on Tavon Austin, remember this line: "If Russell Wilson was two inches taller he'd be a top 10 pick"— Will Brinson (@willbrinson) February 24, 2013
At 5’8", 174 pounds, all of the questions about Austin pertain to his size, or lack thereof. NFL teams, and especially fans, tend to gravitate toward the big-bodied Calvin Johnson prototype. The Niners have reportedly "grilled" Cal receiver Keenan Allen, a first-round prospect who stands tall at 6'3."
However, that could just as easily be a smokescreen by this savvy personnel department.
Moreover, I equate the size argument to Jim Harbaugh’s perspective on a quarterback’s throwing motion; essentially it does not matter. Each player is unique and comfortable in their style, and if they can play, they can play.
Not to mention, with nearly 5,000 career yards, rushing and receiving, Austin has certainly found a way to be productive with his body-type. He is as proven as any other prospect in the draft, and even believes he is the best overall player on the board.
"[Dana Holgorsen] always preaching get from point A to point B as fast as you can. You have to learn how to set up (the guy covering you)," Austin said at the combine. "I’ve been a little guy my whole life. I’m a little guy, but I play big."
Tavon Austin and the 49ers
The 49ers are looking for players that fit their system.
Toward the end of the season, Niners Nation’s Tre Faaborg convincingly argued that the 49ers are building a spread offense. The personnel changes coupled with the evolution of the system have certainly changed the course of this offense for the better.
For the sake of the 49ers-Austin argument, it is interesting to note that WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen has helped groom key figures in San Francisco’s offense.
Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator for Texas Tech when Michael Crabtree played there, then moved on to Oklahoma State and coached Kendall Hunter, both players the 49ers drafted and have used extensively since Jim Harbaugh arrived.
Tre also noted the additions of Colin Kaepernick and LaMichael James, providing further proof that San Francisco is evolving into a spread-type attack.
For those reasons, Austin is the ultimate weapon and makes sense for this team. That is what he played in during his time in the NCAA, and it is the system that is best suited to optimize his particular skill set.
And for those that believe the Niners should positively use their first rounder on a defenseman: know that this draft class is particularly deep in the trenches and on the backend. A safety like Jonathan Cyprien or a defensive lineman like Kawann Short could be acquired after Day 1.
Tavon Austin and the 49ers could be a match made in heaven.