I just want to say again that I love the Tavon Austin trade. They needed speed and I think he will work for this team.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 29, 2018
The hype was real, and many believed he could be the dynamic piece Dallas was missing on their offense. The former first-round pick had spent the first five seasons of his NFL career with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams.
Despite never living up to the potential that the Rams believed he had when they selected him with the eighth overall pick, Austin still occasionally flashed his rare combination of speed and play-making ability. When in college at West Virginia University, Austin was one of the most dominant college players of all time. If you have never seen his college mixtape, check out this clip below and you can see just how dominant he was at WVU.
Tavon Austin was a cheat code at West Virginia! pic.twitter.com/OGFMadBKsb— No Huddle College Football (@NoHuddle_CFB) January 29, 2019
While with the Rams, the speedy playmaker was used in a variety of ways. He started off his career as a RB/WR and in his rookie season (2013) caught 40 passes for 418 yards and ran the ball nine times for 151 yards. Austin had his best year-to-date of his NFL career in 2015 when he caught 52 passes for 473 yards, ran the ball 52 times for 434 yards, and recorded 10 total touchdowns.
The Rams used Austin in a variety of ways. Here is a video of him from 2015 showing off his speed on a simple running play.
Here is another clip from 2015 showing how just getting the ball into Austin’s hands on a simple screen pass can turn into something big down the field.
In May of 2018, after acquiring Austin in the draft just two weeks before, Stephen Jones said that Dallas planned to use him as a “web back” and would like to get him the ball “a dozen to two dozen” times per game.
“I think we can get him the ball — I don’t want to speak for Jason, but I think we can get him the ball a dozen, twenty, two dozen times a game. And then you throw the return game on top of it and I think it’s somebody we can really utilize,” said Jones.
Getting him the ball that much was never going to happen, but all the excitement and expectations actually showed in results in 2018 training camp. Dallas used Austin in a variety of ways, including this nifty end-around trick play shown below.
Austin figured to have a decently large role in the Cowboys’ 2018 offense, but once the regular season started, Dallas seemed to have no plan to get him involved in the game. In the first seven games of the season, Austin touched the ball just 14 times. So from training camp, we went from a dozen to two dozen times a game to just 14 times in the first seven games of the season. There had to be a happy medium between those two figures that we never saw.
When Dallas put the ball in Austin’s hands, good things sometimes happened. He had an outstanding 64-yard touchdown reception in the second game of the season against the New York Giants and followed it up with a shovel pass touchdown in the next game at Seattle.
After the third game of the season, Austin’s impact and opportunities dropped off before suffering a groin injury in Week Six that would keep him out until the final week of the regular season. On the season he appeared in just 10.69% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps.
Overall, the Cowboys did not even come close to using Austin to the ability they could in their offense, and it will be up to first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to use him more effectively in 2019. Plays like simple screen passes, jet sweeps, and end-arounds can get the ball into Austin’s hands quickly and give him the ability to make something electric happen. In his six-year NFL career, when Austin has over 100 total yards in a game his team has never lost.
Inside The Pylon did a fantastic piece on what Kellen Moore’s offense in Dallas will likely look like, and this quote if true could benefit Austin greatly.
The Cowboys’ offensive system will not be identical to Boise State’s or Washington’s with Moore as the offensive coordinator, but I do expect a lot of their core principles to be incorporated into the game plan. Different formations, motion, play action, reduced WR splits, and fewer mirrored concepts will keep the defense off-balance and guessing.
All of this offensive variety would be a great way to get Austin involved in the offense. Dallas has hardly ever used it in the past few seasons under former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, but using 21 personnel with Austin and Ezekiel Elliott on the field at the same time would be very challenging for defenses to stop.
There are many ways to use Tavon Austin’s ability on a football field, and it is up to Kellen Moore to do this more effectively than the Dallas offensive staff did in 2018.