Thoughtful coverage for thinking fans.
Quick. What was the biggest problem with the Jets offense in 2012?
If you said quarterback you’re not seeing the full picture. The answer is playmakers.
Who on the team last year was a threat to go the distance each time he touched the ball? In between injuries and not understanding the offense, Joe McKnight was as close as the Jets got to having that type of guy. In reality there were no players of that ilk on the active roster. Santonio Holmes was injured for much of the year, and none of the underwhelming set of running backs or receivers who remained had that special quality. Mark Sanchez may have been throwing too often to the wrong jersey or fumbling the ball as the rush approached, but his receivers were not getting separation. That made his throwing windows small – the death knell for an inaccurate quarterback. How do you fix this? It starts right in the first round of the draft with West Virginia wide receiver/running back Tavon Austin.
Austin is a Swiss army knife. For a team that needs a dynamic running back, receiver and punt returner, why draft or sign three players when one is all you need? In 2012, Austin had 114 receptions for 1289 yards and 12 TDs. He also amassed 643 yards on the ground at nearly nine yards per carry with three more TDs, and returned two kicks (one punt and one kickoff) for scores. Austin runs a 4.34 40-yard dash as well as a 4.01 20-yard shuttle. He is not just straight line fast, he is shifty and can cut on a dime. Upon reviewing his work, three plays stood out as emblematic of the value that Tavon Austin brings to the table.
The first play is from his 2012 game versus Oklahoma: It’s a 1st and 10 from West Virginia’s own nine-yard line and Austin lines up wide left opposite cornerback Joe Powell. He runs a fly pattern right by Powell as if he was standing still, and hauls in a 41-yard reception to midfield. His pure straight-line speed made the corner no match for Austin, especially without safety help. Imagine a Trips set for the Jets with Holmes, Kerley & Austin. In this scenario, Holmes would run a slant while Kerley breaks to the flat which leaves Austin isolated one-on-one for a wheel route or a hitch and go. Would you want to be the defender in that scenario? The chances are, it would be a mismatch.
The second play is from the same game. It’s 2nd and 6 from West Virginia’s 26-yard line and from a single back set, Austin takes a simple off-tackle run and bounces it to the sidelines. From there he jukes through the second line of defense and fires up the rockets to complete the 74 yard run. This was not a gimmick play. There was no motion in from the wide receiver position -it was merely a basic off-tackle run. In this game Austin rushed 21 times for 344 yards. The yardage total is amazing, but what stands out is that he was able to carry the ball 21 times, and then the following week 14 more. He will never be a bell cow back, but Austin would certainly hold his own in a tandem. The benefits of having Austin in the backfield are that not only is he a threat as a ball-carrier but – if he runs a route instead – he will get a free release with a chance to build up a head of steam. And all of this is not to mention the danger he poses in any and all types of screen passes.
The final play comes from a 2012 game versus TCU. The game is tied at 24 with 3 minutes remaining. TCU punts it to Austin at the West Virginia 25. Austin darts upfield, makes one cut to the outside and is gone for the go-ahead touchdown. What stands out is that he doesn’t dance around and go east and west; instead his first move is upfield with a sharp cut to the outside followed by speed coupled with elusiveness get him to the end zone. The good kick returners that the Jets have had recently – Leon Washington, Brad Smith and Joe McKnight – all did the same thing. They went straight up the field made a cut according to the blocking and took off from there. Austin would be an immediate upgrade from Jeremy Kerley as a punt returner because he is fearless. He will not lead the league in fair catches.
What is Tavon Austin’s value to the Jets? Okay, other than Leon Washington, name me another legitimate game breaker the Jets have had in recent years. I’ll wait. Brad Smith was one-dimensional in the offense, Joe McKnight is too inconsistent and Holmes is a playmaker, but he is not a home run hitter like Austin. A player like this makes everyone around him better because of the attention he commands from the defense. On every single play the defense needs to know where he is and to key in on him, thereby allowing his teammates much more favorable match-ups.
Where to draft him? Well, the league-wide presumption is that Tampa Bay is going to fold like a cheap suit and, in exchange for Darrelle Revis, they will hand over their first round pick along with a second rounder. This would see the Jets holding the 9th and 13th pick in this year’s draft and, in this scenario, it seems likely that the team would draft an outside linebacker (pick one from Mingo, Ansah or Jordan), and then draft Austin with the 13th selection. This would free up the second round pick that has been earmarked by many for the selection of a running back so that instead it could be used on a safety such as Matt Elam of Florida or a guard like Larry Warford of Kentucky.
If the 13th pick is not acquired from the Buccaneers, there would be an option to trade down and choose Austin around the 15th pick. There are OLBs to be had in the second round like Corey Lemonier of Auburn or Jamie Collins of Southern Mississippi and so – even if the Revis trade fails to materialize and the Jets are stuck with pick number nine – Austin still makes the most sense considering his potential to be a special talent.
What would your draft strategy be? Would you be happy to trade down and take Austin? You can make your voice heard by letting us know your opinion in the comments section below.