”[Tavon Austin] will be our punt returner and he’s a threat every time he touches the ball. The other thing we didn’t know is what a leader, how really focused he is and intense he is as a professional football player. Boy, he brings something to the table there.”
During his first three seasons with the Rams, Tavon Austin proved a dynamic punt returner. The 5-foot-8 speedster, the eighth pick in the 2013 draft, scored three touchdowns on returns.
But after Austin struggled to break free in 2016, his problems mounted this season. He has muffed multiple kicks, including two in last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, one of which went for a turnover.
“We’re going to give Tavon a break from [punt returns],” coach Sean McVay said this week.
Austin has had fumbling problems during his career on punt returns, and we’re not just talking about a few fumbles. Over Austin’s five seasons, he has an astounding 17 punt return fumbles. That’s offset by an 8.6 career average on returns and three touchdowns, but still, it’s a risk putting him back there.
The Cowboys do plan to utilize him as a pass receiver.
“What we didn’t know is that this guy could play outside receiver,” Jones said. “In our makeup this year, to get those defenses to back off the line of scrimmage so that Zeke [Ezekiel Elliott] can have some room to operate, in order to get them off, we’re going to do it with speed.”
What’s interesting about all this is that the place that Austin has actually excelled in the NFL over his career is running the ball out of the backfield. On 184 attempts he’s averaged 6.7 yards per carry. That’s outstanding.
Regardless, let’s hope Austin’s punt return fumbling issues are behind him.