GREEN BAY, Wis. – A first-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2013, Tavon Austin never lived up to expectations.
“I’ve had nine quarterbacks in (seven) years,” Austin said on Wednesday, a day after signing with the Green Bay Packers.
Austin’s math and memory are correct. In five seasons with the Rams, he watched eight quarterbacks start games. None of them will be confused with Aaron Rodgers. The list: Sam Bradford and Kellen Clemens in 2013, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill in 2014, Nick Coles and Case Keenum in 2015, Keenum and Jared Goff in 2016, and Goff and Sean Mannion in 2017.
From there, Austin spent two seasons with Dallas. At least he had Dak Prescott at quarterback in 2018 and 2019.
It wasn’t just the guys slinging the rock. Including his new boss, Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur with the Rams in 2017, Austin had six offensive coordinators.
“I’ve never really been in a steady place,” Austin said.
Who knows if Austin will find stability in Green Bay or if this simply will be a failed five-plus game rental. Despite world-class speed, he’s averaged only 9.3 yards per catch in his seven seasons and he hasn’t taken a punt back for a touchdown since 2015.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had Tavon,” LaFleur said, “but somebody that I’ve always held in high regard. He’s very explosive. I love the way he works and just the energy he brings all the time. We’ve got to get him acclimated to what we’re doing and how we call things. There is a little bit of a difference between what we call things here and what we did when we were together in L.A. and, certainly, he’s had a couple stops since then. But somebody that we’re very excited about being in the building.”
Perhaps their one year together will provide insight into their reunion. According to Pro Football Focus, Austin’s 228 offensive snaps that season were split between slot (94), running back (69) and wide receiver (64). While he caught 13 passes for an unthinkably miniscule 47 yards, he carried the ball 59 times for 270 yards.
“I’m an athlete. I’m a true running back at heart, to be honest,” Austin said. “That’s what I played my whole life. I ran into some tough times coming through, and I feel like a lot of people just wasn’t believing in me and they’re not believing in my skill-set, but it hasn’t left. I was lining up back in the I formation, in the dot, running downhill, running inside zone, running a whole bunch of downhill toward these linebackers, and I had success doing it. I just hope the coaches give me an opportunity to show who I am deep inside. I’m just glad I’m in this great situation and I’m just trying to show him that I am still a player that I am from back then.”
At the 2013 Scouting Combine, Austin ran his 40 in 4.34 seconds. He says he’s still got the speed. He measured 5-foot-8 1/2. That makes him the Packers’ shortest receiver since Aubrey Matthews in 1988 and 1989.
Austin signed with San Francisco in mid-August but was put on injured reserve on Sept. 3 with a knee injury. On Oct. 28, the 49ers released him with an injury settlement. He said he’s been healthy for a few weeks. He arrived in Green Bay last week for the requisite COVID-19 testing, worked out and signed with a championship contender.
The eighth pick of the 2013 draft, the 30-year-old Austin’s resume suggests he is more name than game. He’s a speed receiver who has not been a deep threat. As a returner, he averaged merely 5.0 yards per punt return the past three seasons.
“I was a fan of Tavon’s in college,” Rodgers said. “I remember watching him, just how electric he was. I think that had this offense really been going during that time, I think he really would have found a sticking spot for a long time being a guy who can do so many things – giving him fly sweeps and getting him in action stuff, getting him on the edge. So, it’s nice having him. He’s happy to be here, happy to be on a winning team, I’m sure, and excited about finding a niche. I firmly believe it doesn’t matter if it’s Tavon or somebody else, you know, when you can find roles for certain guys, offense, defense, special teams and you have guys that embrace those roles, you really empower them to get more. So, hopefully, we can find a specific role for him and get him going as soon as possible.”
Tyler Ervin was one of those guys who blossomed when given a role. Ervin, who has missed the last two games with injured ribs, provided a jolt to the special teams last year despite his limited resume. Maybe Austin, reunited with LaFleur and connected with Rodgers, can restart his career.
“You’ve always got to have a chip on your shoulder,” Austin said. “No. 1, I’m a small player, so I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder my whole life. But now it’s to the point I don’t got nothing to prove but to myself, because I know I can do it. At the end of the day, like, I’ve been knowing I can do this stuff. I know I can do it. Itt’s just a time of me getting comfortable and somebody believing in me. That’s all it really is. And when you get into the right system and everybody believe in you and you get comfortable, I feel like you’re going to have success.”