"There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction." Winston Churchill said that.
The change for the St. Louis Rams began in the offseason when they jettisoned receiver Danny Amendola and long-time franchise running back Steven Jackson.
The first step in the right direction was hiring ex-Titan Jeff Fisher as head coach, and the second was moving up eight spots in the 2013 NFL Draft to select West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin with the eighth overall pick.
There is little doubt that Austin will be one of the best and most explosive players in WVU history. In 2012 alone he had 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 14 touchdowns and 72 rushes for 643 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In a single game against Oklahoma he rushed for 344 yards on just 21 carries with a combined total of 572 yards.
There are few players in the NFL today who possess the absurd natural physical talent that Austin has, and even fewer defensive backs that can match his speed, quickness and Usain Bolt-like acceleration. He has an instinctive natural ability to locate the nearest open space which he is quick to take advantage of with his elite speed (4.3, 40-yard time) and superb field vision.
Austin will be joining a Rams team that hasn't had a bona fide 1,000-yard receiver since 2007 when Torry Holt had 1,189 yards, and has been considered one of the worst receiving groups in the NFL for several seasons.
In addition to Austin, the Rams added Stedman Bailey, another WVU receiver in the third round, to join an already young and inexperienced group led by second year players Chris Givens and Brian Quick and third year player Austin Pettis.
Austins' quick transition to the NFL will be aided by fourth year quarterback Sam Bradford who was the first overall pick in 2010, and after three very pedestrian seasons appears to be ready to take a huge leap forward.
In the first eight games last season Bradford completed only 43.3 percent of his red zone passes for four touchdowns, two interceptions and an anemic quarterback rating of 62.5 percent which ranked 25th among active quarterbacks. In comparison, the last eight weeks he completed 67 percent of his red zone passes for nine touchdowns and only one interception elevating him into the top ten in the rankings.
Bradford has the arm strength, accuracy and intelligence to be a top 15 quarterback and according to Austin they've already built some chemistry together in the offseason. "He looked for me a lot at practice," Austin said. "He definitely believes in me and I definitely feel good about myself. I definitely believe he got a lot of trust in me and I got trust in him."
The departure of Amendola left a gaping hole which will be more than successfully filled by Austin. Bradford looked for Amendola early and often to keep the chains moving with quick, short-to-medium passes, but as good a receiver as Amendola is, Austin is by far the more physically talented.
Last season Amendola had 63 receptions in only 11 games and if Austin can stay healthy and Bradford does his part he could convservatively push 70-80 receptions and five to eight touchdowns.
The Rams' offense is an Air Coryell play action hybrid, but don't let that intimidate you. Air Coryell is the name given to the offensive system and philosophy developed by former San Diego Chargers coach Don Coryell that utilizes deep and mid-range passing.
This offense was among the greatest passing offenses in NFL history and is tailor made for Austins' skill set. Although Austin has the ability to go deep, he is more suited for short to mid-range receptions where he can then use his speed and open field moves to beat the defender for big chunks of yardage.
Austin will play a much more significant role than Amendola was capable of and upon his arrival was asked to learn three different receiver positions. “We’re going to try to get the ball to him as often as we can, however we do that,” Fisher said. “He’s very talented. We drafted him because he’s got receiver skills, run skills, return skills. We think we can use him in all those areas."
General manager Kevin Demoff hinted they will spread the ball around ala the Saints', but with unproven and less talented receivers around him, Austin should emerge as the focal point of the offense and make an instant impact for the Rams' and your fantasy team.
With training camps underway, Austins' ADP (average draft position) is 7.07, but after one Austin-esque reception and sprint from about 30 yards for a touchdown in the pre-season, it will quickly jump into the fifth round, or quite possibly, the fourth round, in 12 team drafts.
Conclusion: Austin's value is higher in PPR (point-per-reception) formats, but if you play in a standard league don't let that scare you, he will put up numbers regardless. The Rams' need a threat who can score from anywhere on the field which is Austins game. His coaches believe he has the mental capacity, a.k.a. maturity, to be the center piece of this offense, which is a huge endorsement for a rookie. Grab him and don't look back.