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Tavon Austin review.

Tavon Austin: taller than Harry Potter, shorter than Captain Jack Sparrow.

Tavon Austin: taller than Harry Potter, shorter than Captain Jack Sparrow.

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I’m a dinosaur.  I know.  I believe in great offensive lines and dominating front fours and 4-3 defenses.  I’m not prepared to refute Vince Lombardi’s quote, “Football is a running game …” from 50 years ago.

Screen Shot 2013-04-06 at 1.03.29 PM

The time is right for faster, smaller o-linemen running more sweeps. What’s old becomes new again.  Circle of life.

I think trends come and go.. West Coast Offense yields 3-4 defenses yield vertical passing routes yield ‘attacking’ defenses yield ‘read option pistol sets.’

There’s no right offense or defense; there is only right planning.

When I look at the greatest coaches, they break into two categories:  innovators (Paul Brown, Bill Walsh) and executors (Chuck Noll, Bill Parcells) and sometimes both (Belichick).

Your best bet in terms of addressing football system trends is to find an innovative coach committed to maniacal execution of fundamentals.  Your worst best is to follow (and by definition, be late on) the trends.

Click to find how to run fast like me.

The is all prelude to:  Settle the Eff Down with respect to newfangled offenses and also the new fangled personnel manning them.

Specifically, settle down on Tavon Austin.  He is not a sixth overall pick.

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But Kanick:  PLAYMAKER!!!!!

“Oh give it up Kanick.  You’re such a slave to moneyball type metrics.  Darren Sproles!  Don’t care what his height is:  he makes plays!”  

–representative synopsis of counter-points to Kanick’s expressions of skepticism

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Let’s think about it for a moment.  Tavon Austin is 5’8″.  That’s short for anyone.  Don’t believe me?  Go post a match.com profile with your height as 5’8″ and see how it goes.

tavon-combine

Click to enlarge.

But ok, there have been short wide receivers, some good ones.  How does Austin compare to some notable sub-six-feet-tall WRs?

  • Steve Smith, 5’9″/184, 74th, 4.41 40, 38.5 vert, __?__ arms;
  • Wes Welker, 5’9″/195, undrafted, 4.65, 30″, __?__ arms;
  • Santana Moss, 5’10″/181, 16th, 4.31, 42″, __?__ arms;
  • DeSean Jackson, 5’10″/178, 49th, 4.35, 34.5″, 31″ arms;
  • Percy Harvin, 5’11″/192, 22nd, 4.41, 37.5″, 31.5″ arms;
  • Ted Ginn, 6’0″/180, 9th, 4.28, 34.5″, 31″ arms;
  • Jerrel Jernigan, 5’9″/185, 83rd, 4.46, 37.5″, 32″ arms;
  • Jacoby Ford, 5’9″/186, 108th, 4.28, 33.5″, 30.5″ arms.

Tavon Austin, 5’8″/174, 4.34,* 32″ vertical, 30″ arms.

The data show that you can find a short guy like Santana Moss drafted in the first round.  Not at 6th overall, mind you, but first round.  Of course Moss is taller, faster, and jumps ten inches higher.

I recall a couple years ago watching Jacoby Ford tear up the combine.  I remember because Abe Elam was raving on twitter about Ford (and I wondered whether our front office was wise enough to talk to current players about prospects they may be familiar with).  Al Davis got a ration of crap for taking him in the 4th round, but he turned out to be a pretty productive player… when not injured.

Let me add this:  Steve Smith is my favorite WR of the last decade.  No greater baller in the last ten years.  He’s a short guy.  Got it done.  Of course, he *is* taller and he *does* jump quite a bit higher.  And he also was drafted in the THIRD ROUND.

Third round for Steve Smith.  Fourth round for Jacoby Ford.  Because that’s where guys this size go.

All I’m saying is, you want this guy?  Fine:  third round (and I don’t like it).

But please stop with the 6th overall talk.

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Holgo sez: bring me in to design the Weeds-to-Austin show.

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Review the tape Kanick.  You can’t measure heart.

Below are some Tavon highlights.  Is he fast?  Indeed.  Slippery?  Yes.  Elusive.  Mmm-hmm.

Kanick stipulates:

Tavon Austin was a great tool in the spreadiest of spread offenses with the number one QB in the draft throwing to him and underrated Steadman Bailey requiring attention opposite him while playing in the Arena Football League of college football.

And molto rispetto for the kickoff return capability of Tavon Austin… however in today’s NFL this skill is as relevant as his drop-kicking.

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How does that translate to the NFL?  How does our version of ‘tiny fast guy’ do against NFL-sized cornerbacks in offenses that are not designed by Dana Holgorsen?

Fortunately we have tape on this.

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Screen Shot 2013-04-06 at 1.15.51 PM

Click to enlarge.

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Travis Benjamin:  longer, stronger, just as fast.

Last year’s fourth round pick as measurables better than Austin.

I say again:  better.

Austin, 5’8″/174, 4.34,* 32″ vert, 30″ arms, 12 bench reps.
Benjamin, 5’10″/172, 4.35, 38″ vert, 32″ arms, 14 bench reps.

So how does this fast little guy do in a non-Holgorsen offense against non Big 12 defenses?

Here’s some short fast WR action from last year doing short, fast WR things:  slants, end-arounds, deep routes.

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End-arounds?  We’ve got an end-around guy.

Release at the line?  Do you think a DRC-sized CB who is six inches taller than Austin will really have a greater problem press-covering Austin than Benjamin?  Because go and watch that tape again and how DRC uses his bulk to shade Benjamin to the sideline.  There will only be more of this in store for Austin.

Hard to imagine how an equally fast but shorter guy who jumps worse would fare any better when needing high-point the in order to make catches in the new vertical game that Chud is contemplating.

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Most brilliant MIT Sloan guy that Bill Simmons ever met?
You’re needed in the war room.

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Analytics?  Analytics?  Anyone?  Is there a statistician in the house?

I did a quick search at PFT for WRs, 68″ and shorter who have started 80 64 games. (We should get five four seasons of starts out of a #6 overall, amirite?)  We’ll search all WRs going back to 1921.  Here is the result:

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 6.56.00 AM

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Maybe that was asking too much.  Let’s cut it back to 48 games started:

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 6.58.47 AM

Sports analytics: cute logo or meaningful tool?

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There were 147 5’8″ and shorter WRs drafted since 1921.

  • 94 started at least one game.
  • 14 started at least 16 games.
  • Tim Dwight is the most productive of this group.
  • Dwight was drafted 4th round (114th).

Is there an MIT Sloan Sports Analytics fellow in the house?  We need some analytics, stat!

Seriously though:  is analytics just a trending flavor for the Browns or are they really using it?  Because if they’re using it, they should not have had Austin in for so much as a combine interview.

Okay. Here’s the 5’8″ guy who worked out.

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Wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t allow that there has been a notable 5’8″ player.  Hall of Famer.  Taken third overall.  Definitely a statisical outlier who paid off.  Barry David Sanders was 5’8″.  Thirty pounds heavier than Austin and running back.  But still, he’s the guy you’d want to hang your hat on if you’re 100% on the Tavon Austin train.

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And yet the voice of the fan remains:

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 12.07.09 AM

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Ok fine.  The fans have spoken.

But if you keep an open mind here’s another undersized playmaking option to look at in the first round.

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Thank you to Reboot for prompting this post via the conversation started this morning, here.

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* The 40 time for Austin is 4.34.  It is NOT 4.28.  That time was originally reported during the live combine coverage but it was from a handheld watch.  Why this number showed up in Grossi’s report is anyone’s guess.


15 Comments

  1. Daniel says:

    Need to counterpoint just a little here. Preface: I do not think there is any way Austin should go in the first half of the first round. 100%. That said, I will attempt to offset some of your deep research presented.

    You search for players who are 5’4″ and 5’8″. I’m going to call out some selection bias here (this is what the metric analytic guys will tell you). What is the difference for an inside receiver to be 5’8″ or 5’9″, right?

    So at 5’9″ the list jumps to 19 WR with 48 starts with a total of 28 pro bowls between them and 10 all pros. Hmm. Does 1″ make that big of a difference? Let’s expand it to 5’10”.

    So now there are 51 players, with 40+ pro bowls and 12 all pros.

    I went in to this thinking the newer rules have opened the game up with less hitting over the middle, making it easier for little guys to thrive…but on this 5’10” list we have Mark Clayton and Duper, Gary Clark, Harold Jackson, at least 2 of the Run ‘n Gun Oilers guys and others.

    Point is, making an imaginary line at 5’8″ or 5’9″ or 5’10” etc. is detrimental.

    Measurables are not the end all be all of the football world. Just because Benjamin’s measurables are similar to Austin’s, does not mean they are the same player, or even necessarily a similar player. I think Benjamin was rated a 4th round receiver (or thereabouts, but certainly not a 1st rounder) whereas I think it is likely Austin should/could be a first rounder.

    My one (unscientific) caveat for all this – if you have 2 starting 5’8″ WRs, I think you should avoid a third. Just like I think if you have a starting sub-6’ CB in today’s NFL, you should avoid having a second, if possible.

    (Just for funsies, I also ran your scenario for 6’4″ or taller, and came up with only 31 players to start 48 games. 10 All Pros, 30 some odd pro bowls.)

    • jimkanicki says:

      ive got no prob being called on the filter shenanigans usually. but in this case: it’s real. he really is shorter than anyone ever considered at WR this high. but what we’re really looking at (and i think i should emphasized this more) is catching radius. obviously there’s no catching radius metric dating back to 1921 that i can access so we’re using height here.

      not only is he short, he also has short arms and his vertical is abysmal. i mean, i thought my theory would fall down when i saw santana moss at 16th overall. but moss’ vertical is 42″ .. that’s athletic as hell. moss’ 40 was 4.31==better than austin.

      “does 1″ make a difference?”
      we’re not talking about one inch when we’re talking about catching radius. just using benjamin for comparison: 2″ more height + 2″ x2 arm length + 6″ more vertical = 12″ more catching radius and YES, i think that makes a difference.

      in all honesty, my stats and analysis simply fit my gut feeling which is this: we’re being sold a bill of goods. every tv analyst-expert out there is trumpeting austin’s ‘in space’ skills for the ‘new nfl.’ hey. analysts. the new nfl is still not the big 12. there is no baylor for austin’s team to score 70 points on while giving up 63.

      my horseshit detector has been going off left and right for the last month so i had to write this piece.

      • Daniel says:

        Duly noted, and I have seen you mention wingspan etc. previously. My original intent at looking at this was to compare to the inside slot guys…but then I got distracted by the short quality outside guys.

        Back to my original thinking – if Wes Welker is worth 2 second round picks (in his prime), Amendola worth $6MM AAV with $10MM guaranteed – what are they worth if they have Percy Harvin speed and quickness?

        Again, I don’t think anyone should be spending a top 15 draft pick on a guy who should never be an outside/#1 WR, but nothing wrong with picking him if you intend to spread the field and have him in a high usage Welker-style role, especially when you add world class speed and quickness to the equation.

        I think the historical comparisons are a little off, especially size wise, because receivers were not protected over the middle like they are now. You can send 180 pound guys on short slants and crosses because they cannot be smeared by the Ronnie Lotts of the world like they used to. And this is the “new NFL” that is being referred to.

  2. tmoore94 says:

    A player like Tavon Austin is exactly why the Browns need analytic guys around. You can’t judge a player only against himself or his draft class, you need to be able to see how similar players have done historically – or at least in recent history as the game evolves.

    Having that extra tool and extra piece of information when evaluating and drafting players can make the difference between having a successful draft and a weekend crapfest (if only such tools were around in 2009 …).

    Hopefully the Browns are moving toward identifying a clear system on offense and defense. Because once they do that, it will help them use all the tools to identify the players that best fit that system.

    In summary, Yea analytics!

  3. Gary Collins says:

    No way Tom cruise is 5’7″. I stood 6 inches away from him at the mirage in Vegas after Siegfried and Roy and he’s 5’3″ at best. My wife was right there, she’s 5’7″, wears flats in the casino, and had a solid 3 inches on him.

  4. zarathustra says:

    If there is one rule I have for the draft it is never draft a receiver in the top ten unless he is an athletic freak playmaker like calvin or andre johnson. Moreover drafting receivers high is a luxury the browns certainly can’t afford at this point. However, as someone who was adamantly anti-blackmon last year–for many of the reasons you are anti-tavon–I have to say that I think tavon is going to be awesome at the next level and if we trade down you have to consider him. Not just a slot receiver–though that isa really important position nowadays–he can line up in the backfield–the browns desperately need a change of pace back. Size is definitely a concern, but I think he can be a percy harvin and that absolutely makes him a worthwhile first round pick.

    • zarathustra says:

      My preferences: 1. Milliner 2. Trade down 3. Jones 4. Jordan 5. Ziggy

      • zarathustra says:

        Brain fart. Not jones, but warmack

        • jpftribe says:

          I share your sentiments here. I am leery of trading down though. If you can get a 2nd round pick, no brainer. High 3rd, maybe. Should be safeties available then.

          Last year. Heckert gave up a 4,5 and 7 to move up one spot to No 3. I wouldn’t slide down for more 4th round picks unless you think Dysert is still goingto be there, and I bet he won’t.

          Milliner, Warmack or Cooper will be there at No 6. I’d like to see any of them in an orange helmet this year.

    • jimkanicki says:

      I did a quick search for WRs 68″ and shorter who have started 80 games. (i mean we should get 5 seasons of starts out of a #6 overall, right?) we’ll search all WRs going back to 1921.

      For combined seasons, from 1920 to 2010, played WR, requiring Height = 80, sorted by descending Approximate Value.

      cutting it back to 36 games started:
      Rk Player From To Draft Tm Lg Ht Wt BMI G GS Yrs PB AP1 AV
      1 Leo Lewis 1981 1991 MIN NFL 5-8 170 25.8 129 49 10 0 0 28
      2 Stephen Baker 1987 1992 3-83 NYG NFL 5-8 160 24.3 90 52 6 0 0 27

      there were 147 5’8″ and shorter WRs drafted since 1921.
      94 started at least one game.
      14 started at least 16 games.
      tim dwight is the most productive of this group.
      dwight was drafted 4th round (114th).

      mother of god, is there an mit sloan fellow in the house? we need some analytics, stat!

      • BilliardsBum says:

        No thanks to undersized receivers and cornerbacks. I am hoping that signing Nelson makes WR a moot point this draft, and picking Austin anywhere in the 1st round would be one of my nightmare scenarios; a QB would be the other. I am still hoping that we grab Jordon at 6, or that someone wants a LT at 6 really really badly.

  5. I don’t think it’s physically possible for any player to be smaller than Travis Benjamin.

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