Tavon Austin was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, a selection the Buffalo Bills held entering the draft but traded it to the Los Angeles Rams during the draft who moved up for the West Virginia product. Eight years later, Austin finds himself a member of the Bills, anyway.
After signing a one-year contract with Buffalo, Austin is now on his fourth team in as many seasons and fifth team since entering the NFL. Austin spent his first five seasons with the Rams, collecting 2,927 yards from scrimmage and 24 total touchdowns including returns. While he made his share of flashy plays that showcased the explosive playmaking ability that inspired the Rams to trade into the top-10 to secure him. Needless to say, Austin didn’t meet the expectations of such a high pick.
After leaving the Rams after the 2017 season, Austin spent two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, one with the Green Bay Packers and last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the four seasons since leaving the Rams, Austin has only collected a total of 673 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns.
So, how can Austin make an impact for the Bills? Let’s examine.
Depth at Wide Receiver
A scan through the Bills’ offensive weapons doesn’t lead to concerns – Buffalo has a deep and talented group of playmakers around star quarterback Josh Allen. That said, an argument can be made that Buffalo is lacking true outside receivers behind Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis with Jamison Crowder, Isaiah McKenzie and Khalil Shakir better suited for playing in the slot.
While Austin’s diminutive frame suggests he’s a slot-only type player, that’s far from the case. Austin has almost evenly split his time in the NFL between the slot and out wide. Austin adds to Buffalo’s depth at outside receiver while also providing another option to work from the slot.
No team can have enough speed and with the addition of Austin, the Bills got faster. Clocking a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, Austin has top end speed.
While Buffalo wasn’t slow offensively in 2021, the 2022 Bills are scheduled to have notably more speed at their disposal. Running back James Cook drastically improves the Bills speed at running back while tight end O.J. Howard now pairs with Dawson Knox to provide Buffalo with arguably the most explosive tight end pairing in the NFL.
The Bills offensive line is notably more athletic than in 2021. Buffalo’s Week One starting offensive line in 2021 consisted of Dion Dawkins, Jon Feliciano, Mitch Morse, Cody Ford and Daryl Williams whose average RAS (relative athleticism score) equaled 6.08 out of 10. The Bills 2022 unit is expected to be Dawkins, Rodger Saffold, Morse, Ryan Bates and Spencer Brown whose average RAS is 9.31.
At wide receiver, Austin combines with 2022 draft pick Khalil Shakir to make Buffalo’s receiving corps even more explosive.
General Manager Brandon Beane has added notable speed to the Bills offense and that continued with the addition of Austin.
Austin certainly adds more depth at receiver and increases the Bills’ speed on offense, but the area he is likely to make the greatest impact is as the punt returner where the race is currently wide open.
After Andre Roberts left in free agency following the 2020 season, the Bills tried to make it work with McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson as the punt returner but both failed in 2021. Late in the season, the Bills put star safety Micah Hyde in at punt returner to ease the concern of either McKenzie or Stevenson making another mistake and potentially costing Buffalo’s offense a possession.
For his NFL career, Austin has 194 punt returns to go with 89 fair catches. He is by far Buffalo’s most experienced option. Unfortunately, Austin hasn’t proven to be immune to the same mistakes McKenzie and Stevenson made but does have considerably more experience.
For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the Bills cannot afford costly mistakes in the return game and Austin presents meaningful competition to get the position right.