Carroll County Times

NFL combine: Baltimore native, WVU WR Austin 'a TD waiting to happen'

INDIANAPOLIS - The same skills that Tavon Austin flashed so often during a record-setting career at Baltimore's Dunbar High School have made him into one of the most sought-after players in this year's NFL draft.

The breakaway speed. The elusiveness. And the ability, as described by ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper, to "change the scoreboard."

Austin moved from running back to wide receiver prior to his freshman season at West Virginia. And during the past four years, he developed into one of the country's most dangerous and exciting weapons, tormenting opposing teams in a variety of ways - as a receiver, as a situational running back and on special teams as both a kick and punt returner.

Many expect him to be the same type of multi-dimensional weapon at the NFL level, in the same mold as Minnesota Vikings star Percy Harvin.

"Tavon, to me, is a guy who you have to think about in the late first [round]," Kiper said of the diminutive but electrifying 5-foot-8, 174-pound Austin. "He's just too dynamic. He is a true playmaker. The only thing that works against him is [his size], but this is a football player. I saw that in high school. He was kind of a man among boys there. And at West Virginia, he didn't miss a beat there - a dynamic return man, incredibly fast, incredibly explosive.

"He's a touchdown waiting to happen. So if you need a slot receiver, if you need a return man, if you need a guy who's going to change that scoreboard, he would be the kind of guy to look at."

Austin finished his West Virginia career with 288 career catches, 35 offensive touchdowns and five more touchdowns on special teams.

He led the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in yards per scrimmage as a junior in 2011 and ranked second in the category as a senior last season.

As a senior, he had 114 catches for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, 72 carries for an additional 643 yards and six scores and, on special teams, returned both a kick and a punt for touchdowns.

He posted an average of 223.9 all-purpose yards per game and produced at least one offensive play of 35 yards or longer in 10 of West Virginia's first 12 games.

Against then-12th-ranked Oklahoma in November, Austin compiled 572 all-purpose yards, the second-most for a single game in NCAA history. He had 344 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, 82 yards on four catches and 146 yards on eight kick returns.

"He is a very explosive football player," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said of Austin. "It's amazing that for his size, and I don't know his official size yet, but what he does from a return standpoint, what he did from a receiver standpoint and what he did in that Oklahoma game from a running back standpoint. He's a pretty unique football player."

Austin's projected as a likely mid-to-late first round selection in April's draft. The Detroit Lions, the St. Louis Rams, the Vikings, the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens are among several teams that have been linked to Austin in mock drafts leading up to the NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis.

Said Austin: "A lot of teams are looking for that type of player to do multiple things on the field, and I think I'm that guy. ... I think I'm the best all-around player in the draft."

Austin said he's been training with renowned speed coach Tom Shaw in Orlando in preparation for the combine and that he's run the 40-yard dash in as fast as 4.29 seconds in recent weeks, a time that would have tied for the fastest at last year's NFL Scouting Combine.

Wide receivers will go through on-field workouts in Indianapolis Sunday.

"I've set my goals high [for the combine]," Austin said. "If I come away and get 225 [pounds] 15 times [on the bench press], I'll feel like I got a check mark on that. And as far as the 40, anything 4.3 or lower than that and I'll feel like I did [well]."

Austin graduated from Dunbar High School in 2009. He owns Maryland state records for career points (790), career touchdowns (123), total offensive yards for a career (9,258) and career rushing yards (7,962).

He led Dunbar to three consecutive Class 1A state championships. And as a senior, he rushed for 2,660 yards and 34 touchdowns while averaging more than 12 yards per carry.

Austin said he grew up a fan of his hometown Ravens as well as of the Patriots.

He was asked Friday how special it would be for him if he was selected by the Ravens in April.

"I've seen a couple mock drafts that have me going to the Baltimore Ravens," Austin said with a smile. "And if it happens like that, it'll be a blessing. But I'd like to go anywhere that calls my name."