By Bob Evans
As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, the Cincinnati Bengals have positioned themselves to add as many as three starters in the first two rounds. Thanks to the Carson Palmer trade, the Bengals own the No. 37 overall pick in the second round on top of No. 21 in round one and No. 53 in round two.
Owning three picks in the first two rounds puts the Bengals in a very unique situation. One that could allow them to draft the best player available and add another weapon to their offense in the first round, because they will be able to address other areas of need with two picks in the second round.
The “best player available” to satisfy their offense’s need for another weapon when the Bengals step to the podium could very well end up being West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin—a player who is shooting up draft boards after an excellent 2012 season coupled with an outstanding performance at the combine.
Wide receiver is obviously not a major area of need for the Bengals, as they have one of the best in the NFL in A.J. Green as their No. 1 receiver. But after falling to the Texans two consecutive years in the opening round of the playoffs, the lack of a secondary option to Green has been prevalent in both losses.
In this year’s playoffs, quarterback Andy Dalton was held to just 127 yards and an interception. His top receiver was Green (five receptions and 80 yards) with Marvin Jones hauling in three receptions for 34 yards as his secondary option. Dalton and the Bengals suffered a similar fate the prior year, as Dalton threw for 257 yards and three interceptions, with Green leading the way with five receptions for 47 yards.
After Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals’ third leading receiver was Andrew Hawkins—an offseason free agent acquisition who came out of nowhere to haul in 51 passes for 533 yards and four touchdowns. While Hawkins provided help to Green and Gresham, he does not have the game-breaking ability of Austin.
At West Virginia, the 5’8” and 174-pound bottle of lightning put up monster numbers his final two seasons in Morgantown. As a junior in 2011, Austin hauled in 101 receptions for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns and had two kickoff returns for touchdowns. As a senior in 2012, Austin grabbed 114 passes for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns while also returning a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.
If those numbers are not eye-popping enough for you, Austin also was a major factor in the run game in 2012. He rushed for 643 yards on 72 attempts for three touchdowns in various jet sweep, end-around and other formations.
The major knock on Austin when it comes to his NFL game is his size, as he lacks the frame to line up on the outside. However, thanks to his elite acceleration and 4.31 40-yard dash speed he blows by nearly every defender—no matter where he is lined up.
One scout during the combine said he was a combination of Wes Welker and Percy Harvin, and if that is the case he would be a welcome addition to the Bengals’ emerging offense.
Certainly there are more pressing needs on the roster, but grabbing a player who can open up even more opportunities for Dalton and Green in the Bengals offense would be a luxury they can afford this year. And with the skill set Austin has, he and Green could quickly emerge was one of the top wide receiving duos in the NFL.
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