I’ll admit that I’m incredibly biased towards Tavon Austin, since he’s the best player to come out of WVU, my alma mater, in the last 15 years.

The electrifying stuff I saw on the field from 2009 to 2012 has largely been absent in an underwhelming NFL campaign. For starters, I think he was drafted too high, which put unrealistic expectations on his shoulders. Second, he became stuck on a crappy Jeff Fisher team, with coordinators who didn’t know how to use him properly. Third, I think he got lost in the shuffle and slid down the depth chart after Sean McVay came aboard to right the ship.

To complicate the matter, Austin was given a contract in 2016 that he never deserved, which snowballed the (correct) opinion that he wasn’t performing like a top-10 draft pick. Wrap all of that into a package and the wide-ranging thought is that he’s a mediocre-to-average NFL player. I wouldn’t go that far; I just think he ran into the perfect storm of “misfortune” while not doing enough to help himself along the way.

So the Rams are cutting ties with Tavon, likely releasing him from a bloated, 4 year, $42 million dollar contract, since no one is going to trade for that anyway:

Austin played primarily as a receiver at WVU but also ran the ball a lot and returned punts and kicks, basically a wide-ranging utility guy who never really settled into one NFL role. He had a little bit of Wes Welker in him coming out of college, small and shifty with speed to burn and a change of direction that left Big East and Big 12 defenders in the dust (and Clemson, too, in the 2012 Orange Bowl). You’ve seen flashes in the pro game, but just not at a consistent level.

This is what his career stats look like:

1,689 receiving yards and 1,238 rushing yards for 21 total touchdowns. Obviously he’s not Robert Woods in the passing game, nor is he Todd Gurley in the running game. He found himself buried on a top-three offensive team and fell into this sort of “tweener” NFL role.

But Austin is still only 26 years old and still has a lot to give, so hear me out:

  1. You move on from 35-year-old free agent Darren Sproles ($4 million salary this year)
  2. You also move on from 28-year-old free agent Kenjon Barner ($550k salary this year)
  3. Throw Austin a 1-2 million offer to be your punt returner, kick returner, and WR 3/4 (depending what you do with Torrey Smith)

The Eagles can do worse than that. A wide receiver corps of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Tavon Austin, and Mack Hollins is solid enough, especially considering that Smith was mostly underwhelming for the majority of the regular season. Austin isn’t a DeSean Jackson deep threat, but he’s got the speed to at least take the top off of a defense. Plus, the Birds are going to have Zach Ertz and Corey Clement (hopefully in a bigger role) catching passes next year, so we know it’s an offense that spreads the ball around and isn’t too reliant on anyone specifically.

On special teams, the Birds obviously need to improve in the return game, where Barner was a short term rental to cover for Sproles anyway.

Barner’s career return totals:

He only served as a full-time punt returner this year and really doesn’t have a ton of reps in either phase.

And Austin’s return totals:

Barner’s career YPR on punts is 8.6, while Austin is an 8.4, but Tavon has 3 career touchdowns with a lot more experience in this department. Yea, he’ll muff the occasional punt, but so will Barner, and one is a threat to take it to the house while the other really isn’t. Austin waved for a fair catch once this season and Barner did it 19 times, a ratio that’s hard to compare in totality since Pharoh Cooper was the main guy for LA this season, but if you watch the games, you know Austin is more likely to catch the punt and try to make something happen.

The Birds are set at running back with Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, but if you move on from LeGarrette Blount, Austin can carry the ball as well.

He ran it a career-high 59 times behind Gurley this season for 270 yards and a touchdown. That’s okay. You don’t need much after Gurley. Malcolm Brown had similar stats to what Austin put up.

In college, there was a game against Oklahoma where he ran it 21 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns:

More than anything I can give you statistically, it’s really about the eye test with Austin. He’s got so much to give from a playmaking perspective, like this:

And this:


And this – a variation of the Agholor jet sweep that Austin abused into infinity at WVU under Dana Holgorsen:

There ya go.

I try to stay away from the homer thing, and I understand that Mountaineers are usually NFL busts. Geno Smith? Kevin White? Robert Sands?

But Austin has much more talent than all of those guys. I honestly do think he fell into a bad situation in Saint Louis, tried too hard to prove himself, and ended up overdoing it instead of playing his game. I also think that Jeff Fisher is a shit coach who hired shit coordinators, and would have liked to see what Sean McVay could have done with Tavon had he not inherited an untenable contract by the prior regime. In that vein of thought, I really think Doug Pederson and Mike Groh could work wonders with Austin and find a suitable role.

If you move on from Kenjon Barner and Darren Sproles and maybe Torrey Smith, and replace them with one guy in the 1-3 million range, I think you can do much, much worse than Tavon Austin.