The Combine is easy to love and hate. When the events kick off tomorrow, I’ll watch if I happen to be near a picture box of some kind because it’s football-related viewing, and I’ve only advanced to step five of the offseason detox program. All of the cold winter days lie ahead.
But what’s utterly maddening is that if a player is a few tenths of a second slower than expected when he runs the 40-yard dash, he could fall a significant distance down draft boards, which especially applies to positions where speed is emphasized (any pass catcher, and any defensive back). It’s a tumble based on two attempts at running in a straight line, and not on the football skill associated with that speed.
This is why the Combine is only meaningful if it’s viewed as one evaluation tool among many during draft season, with the others being Pro Days, the individual team workouts, and most importantly, the players’ tape. On its own, the Combine is useless.
You’ll ignore that warning this weekend and beyond as players both impress and suck at the Combine, but it was a necessary yearly disclaimer before I present you with something like this…
Tavon Austin is hoping to run “anything under a 4.4″ in the 40. Says he’s clocked a 4.29 before. #mercy
— Will Brinson (@willbrinson) February 22, 2013
Alright, so Tavon Austin — the West Virginia wide receiver who’s currently viewed as a borderline first-round pick — is really fast. This is not shocking, but that top-end time will cause saliva to drip if he can repeat it this weekend.
That’s because the best ever Combine 40 time is Chris Johnson’s 4.24 that he posted back in 2008. Behind him there’s a tie for second between Jacoby Ford and DeMarcus Van Dyke, who were both clocked at 4.28. So if Austin duplicates his personal best, he’ll be the third fastest runner at the Combine. Ever.
A time like that would be more than enough to silence the anti-Combine rant above, as it’s been widely speculated that if he runs anything below a 4.4, Austin will solidify his spot in the first round. Projections are currently scattered, with both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay excluding Austin from their first-round mock drafts.
He’s small (5’9″) with short-area quickness, which is why he models his game after Wes Welker, and he’ll be an ideal slot option. But with spread-option creativity growing in the NFL, another comparison may be more appropriate: Randall Cobb.
Austin saw limited snaps as a running back in college, receiving 109 carries over his four-year career at West Virginia. However, 72 of those rushing attempts came in his senior year, which led to 643 yards on the ground at a pace of 8.9 per carry.
He’s that versatile, and he has the kind of elusiveness in open space that mirrors the movements of a punt returner, with his ability to find and exploit running lanes. His lack of size will generate enough hesitancy to make Austin a late first rounder at best, putting him in ideal territory to be a Patriot, where he’d land with a team that could need another Welker to replace their old Welker.
Hey Tavon, how do you compare to the rest of the wide receivers in this draft, or hell, everyone in this draft?
I think I am the all around best player in the draft.
Oh. OK then.