Rams trade up to get WVU wideout Tavon Austin
By John Harris
Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013, 9:54 p.m.
At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, West Virginia's Tavon Austin played as big as anyone in college football.
Austin, the nation's leader in all-purpose yards, was selected by the St. Louis Rams Thursday night with the eighth overall pick in the NFL Draft.
“I haven't missed a game in eight years. I'm just going to try to come in the league and take care of my body and do the same thing – get down when I need to get down, and step out of bounds when I need to,” Austin said.
The price for Austin was steep. In addition to exchanging first-round picks with Buffalo, St. Louis, which had the No. 16 pick, gave the Bills second and seventh round selections and exchanged third-round choices.
“They did give up a lot, but I'm definitely going to work my hardest to give out a lot,” said Austin, the first receiver selected by St. Louis in the first round since Torry Holt in 1999. “A lot of teams were showing me a lot of interest, but the Rams actually came back a couple days before the draft and wanted me to work out for them. So I definitely knew that they had a large interest in me.”
Austin's stock improved from a potential first-rounder to a Top 10 selection after he ran a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouring Combine in February.
Austin is WVU's career leader in receptions, receiving yards and all-purpose yards. He led the nation in all-purpose yards as a senior (2,910) - Barry Sanders and Chris Johnson are two of only three players in FBS history to gain more all-purpose yards in a season than Austin.
With the Rams, Austin is expected to play slot receiver and return kicks. He will take over the role vacated by Danny Amendola, who signed with New England as a free agent.
“It's not surprising to me to see Tavon climb the charts,” said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen, who attended the NFL Draft in New York City with Austin and quarterback Geno Smith. “He fits that profile — a dynamic slot guy you can move around and get him the ball in a variety of ways.
“He's the type of kid, the more you're around him, the more time you spend with him, the more you fall in love with him and want him on your football team.”
The opposite turned out to be true for Smith, who threw for 4,205 yards, 42 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 2012.
Smith, once projected as the top overall pick, fell out of the Top 10 as teams focused on his leadership, passing mechanics and performance in bad weather. He was not chosen in the first round.
Smith tweeted his critics earlier in the week, thanking them for motivating him as he prepares to enter the NFL:
“Just want to thank all those so-called experts who say I can't be an NFL quarterback. Thursday will be a special day but the work has only begun.”
Florida State's E.J. Manuel was the lone quarterback selected in the first round, going to the Bills at No. 16.
Damon Cogdell, a former WVU linebacker who coached Smith at Miramar High School in suburban Miami, joined Smith in New York City for the draft. Cogdell said he understands Smith's frustration regarding media reports about him falling in the draft.
“With all the critics, it's like putting gasoline on the fire,” said Cogdell, who also coached WVU receiver Stedman Bailey - who's also expected to be drafted in the early rounds - in high school. “Like he's telling everybody, it's making the chip on his shoulder get bigger.
“Geno's going to be up there with the best of them — (Robert Griffin III), Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning,” Cogdell said. “He knows the potential he has, and that makes him even more confident.”
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