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Austin says he is most versatile player in draft

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 1:12 p.m.
Tribune-Review
West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin (1) hurdles Baylor Bears cornerback Josh Wilson (21) after a catch at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. on September 29, 2012. West Virginia opened their inaugural Big 12 Conference game by defeating Baylor, 70-63. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

INDIANAPOLIS — There is no unmistakable top-of-the-board player in the NFL Draft.

West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin thinks there should be one.

Tavon Austin.

“I think I'm the best all-around player in this draft,” Austin said.

Geno Smith is at the top among the available quarterbacks, a place that often guarantees a high draft slot and a high salary. He doesn't disagree he belongs there, even if Matt Barkley of Southern Cal ends up being drafted ahead of him.

“I'm athletic. I'm a very smart guy,” Smith said. “I understand defense. I have a good knowledge of the game. I also put the work in necessary to be good.”

It's obvious neither of West Virginia's two anticipated first-round draft picks lack a quality that NFL coaches are seeking as they throw questions, a plethora of tests and a series of speed, agility and strength drills at 333 college players during the most-watched pre-job evaluation in the country: the NFL Scouting Combine.

The weekend offers an opportunity for players to move up in the April draft — as Austin hopes to do — or, perhaps, to move down, something Smith wants to avoid.

There are questions about various qualities of Smith's game, including his ability to adjust if a targeted receiver is covered, but he said he welcomes the opportunity to readjust some thinking.

“I don't feel any pressure,” Smith said. “I'm totally confident in my abilities. I'm not cocky or trying to say I'm this all-around player right now, because I have my areas where I need to grow. But I do feel like I have a great, tremendous skill set, and I have the opportunity to showcase that.”

Smith met with a few teams Friday and will start the testing phase of the combine Saturday.

Austin might be the most dynamic wide receiver-kick returner available but, at 5-foot-8, there are questions about his size and durability. He is projected to go in the first round, but he first must convince teams they aren't taking a risk by drafting an undersized player who could be one hard hit away from a lengthy layoff.

“I'm a little guy, but I play big,” he said.

He also runs fast, returns kicks and accumulates yardage in a big way.

“If we all lined up and ran, I think I'd come up out on top,” he said. “But I'm not really a 40-(yard dash) type of guy. I'm a game type of guy.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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