Tavon Austin’s reputation precedes him in Morgantown.
The former WVU wide receiver peppers his college’s record books, leading the program in receiving and kick return yards while sitting top-6 in overall touchdowns. His senior season highlight tape is still one of the most-viewed college football reels in the history of YouTube, racking up 21.5 million views (and counting.).
However, Austin’s career hasn’t quite lived up to the hype of his first-round selection in 2013. In nine years in the NFL, he has gained 3600 yards from scrimmage — that’s just 81 percent of what he compiled in his four-year Mountaineer career. Most of those yards came in his five-year stint with the Rams, but injuries stunted his possible production and he found himself signing a series of short-term deals.
When his most recent contract with the Jaguars concluded, he didn’t know if he would suit up again. As he said, he was “on that couch” waiting for a call. At the beginning of June, he got that call from Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane, and on the second of the month, he became a Bill.
“Me and my daughter had some bonding time for the most part, but it gets a little — I ain’t trying to get on [that couch] a lot of times, but I’m glad I’m here now,” Austin said. “Usually they come and get me around the middle of camp, so it would make it a little harder for me, but Coach [Sean McDermott brought] me in in the middle of OTAs so I love that too.”
Oddly, his professional career comes full circle. Austin was selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Rams — but just hours before, that pick belonged to Buffalo, who traded it to St. Louis on draft day.
“I kind of just found that out not too long ago,” Austin said. “So, you know, it was a long time coming for me and the Bills.”
Austin arrives in Orchard Park without the moxie of a first-round selection. The Bills’ depth chart is crowded already with 11 receivers on the roster, many of whom are smaller and quicker than the typical NFL pass-catcher. They even have a proven Tavon Austin prototype in Isaiah McKenzie — an elusive 5-8 wide receiver that can take snaps at running back.
According to Beane, adding Austin is “just adding depth and competition” to the group. For Austin, though, it’s a challenge to show he can still compete.
“If you look at it, regardless of these last four years, I’m still standing,” Austin said. “Even if I wasn’t in the top four receivers and wasn’t playing, I was the fifth one. I knew I still had it, it just wasn’t my time, and it’s okay.”
Beane seemed confident in the veteran as well.
“Tavon’s 32, I know he ran a 4.2…when he came out, which was why he was drafted so high. You’re going, ‘Alright, what’s he look like right now?'” Beane said. “I’ll tell you what, in his workout, he really showed good speed and burst, that he’s still got it.”
Austin got off to a good start at minicamp, reportedly scoring three touchdowns in his first practice with his new team.
The Bills bring an additional test for the nine-year NFL veteran: learning a new and complicated offense. Designed by offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and built around Josh Allen, a dynamic and unique quarterback, Austin says the scheme provides Buffalo “a lot of options” which he likes. He has only been at it for a week, but he says he is working on learning it and getting comfortable with it.
One might think that it is similar to the explosive air raid offense in which he thrived at West Virginia — but he says they are not comparable.
“This ain’t nothing to compare, no,” Austin said. “I love that offense…but this one right here, I feel like if I learn it and get moving, I feel like I would like this one too.”
Ultimately for Austin, 2023 is about finding himself and regaining that fire he played with to earn his first-round pick. He obviously wants to help the Bills win a Super Bowl, but he also wants to get back to having a “Tay Austin season.”
“I had took some tough injuries back with the Rams and it kind of turned my career a little bit,” Austin said. “I feel like a lot of people forgot about Tavon Austin.”