Week 7 Cheat Sheet: Too early to declare Rams rookie Tavon Austin a bust?
By Peter SchragerFoxSports
We’re six weeks into the NFL season, which is far too early to start grading the 2013 draft just yet. Truthfully, I like to take one or two full years before grading draft classes, but in the knee-jerk Twitter-ized world of draft punditry, grades are demanded from us the day a player is selected, let alone 700 days later. That’s how it works. You roll with those punches and those wounds live — large and in plan sight — online forever.
I’m the not-so-proud owner of one of the singlehanded worst draft day grades in NFL Draft history. I gave the Seahawks’ 2012 draft — one that netted Seattle stars Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, and oh, a guy named Russell Wilson — a “D”. Word for word, I said on the Saturday night of that year’s draft weekend, “They’ve got Matt Flynn. Why did they need to take a 5-10 quarterback in the third round? I don’t get it and I’m not sure GM John Schneider does either.”
So, yes, I was wrong there. Very wrong. Grossly wrong. And yes, I’d like two years to fully evaluate this year’s draft class. But I simply don’t have that luxury. Fans want answers and they want them now, and six weeks into this season, I’m already looking like a fool on one first-round selection from April. My big draft day screwup for the 2013 draft? So far, it looks like I got a little too excited over the eighth overall pick.
The Rams traded up in the first round to draft diminutive wideout Tavon Austin out of West Virginia. Though others had their doubts about Austin’s size (listed at 5-foot-8, but could be closer to 5-foot-6), I thought this was the very best pick of the first round. I loved St. Louis’ aggressiveness, getting in front of the Jets (who I’m told wanted Austin at ninth overall) and getting the biggest playmaker in college football from a season ago.
Through six weeks, Austin’s been invisible. Nothing. Zilch. He has had drops, he’s gone backwards on punt returns, and in last Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans, though completely healthy, he played just four offensive snaps. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt have made more of an impact on the 2013 St. Louis Rams than Tavon Austin.
Sniffing around, it seems as though there are a few ways we can take this.
The first is the least fun: the rational one. Maybe Austin’s still finding his place in the Rams’ offense. He’s still just 22 years old, we’re just six games into the season, and there’s still plenty of football left to be played. Booooring.
The next route we can take is the accusatory one. More fun, yes, and great for talking heads and message boards, but maybe not the right one. In this instance, the easy guy to blame is Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Long a frustration to Jets fans looking for a less traditional ho-hum offense, Schottenheimer is now in St, Louis, calling the plays for a Rams offense that looks eerily similar to the Jets one he left behind. The big difference? The Jets never had a Darren Sproles/Percy Harvin-esque player in their offense.
Schottenheimer’s not exactly viewed as Mike Martz or Chip Kelly when it comes to offensive ingenuity, but when you’ve got a guy as dynamic as Austin, you’d like to think there’s a way you can incorporate him.
"It's just the way the game went," coach Jeff Fisher said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We didn't have a whole lot of plays, didn't have a lot of opportunities on offense."
I suppose. But even still — four snaps? Really? It’s not like Decker, Welker, and Demaryius Thomas are atop of him on the depth chart.
The third way to go is the one that seems the most knee-jerky and reactionary: Blame the player. And yes, in this instance, it’s fair to say that some of the blame could go to the rookie, Austin. Consider this: On his 28 touches this season, Austin has averaged just 6.03 yards. More damning, perhaps, is the fact that he has seven drops when compared to his 24 catches. Perhaps Austin hasn’t picked up the offense. Maybe he’s not ready for the big leagues. If that's the case, it’s as much a black eye on the Rams’ front office as it is on Austin. After all, he didn’t draft himself eighth overall.
I went goo-goo, ga-ga over this pick. The selections of Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree in the first round had me doing flips and giving the Rams an A+ in April.
Once again, I could look like the fool. Only this time, I won’t be alone.
This Week’s Peter Schrager Podcast: Great stuff from FOXSports.com’s newest hire, the dashing Jimmy Traina. Fresh off a two-block walk from the Sports Illustrated offices, Jimmy and I discussed the birth of “Hot Clicks”, his daily column on SI.com, and what he hopes to do at FOXSports.com when he starts next week. We also had Armen Keteyian, the investigative reporter from CBS, on to discuss big-time college football and his upcoming Nick Saban piece on “60 Minutes”. One of the two guests discussed Eric Decker’s sex life. It wasn’t Armen. Download here.
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: The Broncos now have scored 265 points this season, most in NFL history through a team’s first six games. Which team held the previous record through six weeks?
Now, on to the picks.
Week 6 Record: 8-7
Overall Season Record: 51-41
Seattle (5-1) at Arizona (3-3): The scheduling gods were none too kind to the Cardinals this year, giving them the 49ers and Seahawks back-to-back weeks with just four days in between. Arizona’s banged up on the defensive side of the ball, and Marshawn Lynch didn’t practice on Tuesday. Expect an old-fashioned slugfest. I like the Cardinals in an upset. Remember, the Cards beat the Seahawks here last year, too.
The Pick: Cardinals 23, Seahawks 20
MetLife Update: The Seahawks won 34-22.
Tampa Bay (0-5) at Atlanta (1-4): I’ve picked the Bucs to win every game so far this season. They’re 0-5. I’ll stop picking the Bucs to win every game.
The Pick: Falcons 27, Buccaneers 17
Cincinnati (4-2) at Detroit (4-2): A.J. Green vs. Calvin Johnson. Ndamukong Suh vs. Geno Atkins. There’s some cool stuff here. And Joseph Fauria’s three touchdowns and three boy band-inspired celebratory dances may have stolen the headlines this week, but I was impressed with backup receiver Kris Durham’s eight-reception day in last week’s win over Cleveland. Durham, amazingly enough, was Matt Stafford’s college roommate at Georgia. He has to know all about his quarterback, including his sleeping habits, whether he cleans up after he eats cereal in the morning, and what his AOL Instant Messenger Away Message was. Yes, that was an AIM reference.
The Pick: Lions 27, Bengals 16
Buffalo (2-4) at Miami (3-2): How about the Bills’ rookie class? QB EJ Manuel is a bona fide starter and face of the franchise, Robert Woods is a go-to receiver, Marquise Goodwin is a legitimate deep threat, and Kiko Alonso could be the best Bills linebacker in more than a decade. Not bad. The Dolphins have had a week to prepare and lick their wounds after that bad Ravens loss, though. I’m taking them.
The Pick: Dolphins 20, Bills 16
New England (5-1) at New York Jets (3-3): If the Yahoo! Sports report is accurate, the Patriots will be without defensive leader Jerod Mayo for the rest of the season. If history has shown us anything, the Patriots will find a way to adjust and win 11 games. That includes this one.
The Pick: Patriots 21, Jets 9
Dallas (3-3) at Philadelphia (3-3): Though it was all about Chip Kelly’s offense this summer, it’s the Cowboys who actually have the most points in the NFC through six weeks. Foles, Vick, it doesn’t matter. Without LB DeMarcus Ware in the Cowboys' lineup, I’m going with Philly.
The Pick: Eagles 34, Cowboys 24
Chicago (4-2) at Washington (1-4): The Redskins are in the dreaded “Must Win” mode. At home, I think RG3 will find a way and save the season … at least for now. It doesn’t get any easier for Washington. The 'Skins head to Denver next weekend.
The Pick: Redskins 27, Bears 23
St. Louis (3-3) at Carolina (2-3): The Rams defense came alive in Houston last weekend and showed they can perform outside of St. Louis. The Panthers have Cam Newton. I’m all in on that dude. I’ve been all in since the very start. Games like this are the ones he needs to win to be put in that Wilson, Luck, Kaepernick conversation. He will.
The Pick: Panthers 31, Rams 23
San Diego (3-3) at Jacksonville (0-6): I need another Jimmy Johnson pregame speech for the Jaguars. Heck, I need another Jimmy Johnson speech for everything I do in my daily routine. Brushing my teeth, riding the subway, avoiding my friends’ “Who should I start in fantasy football this week” texts — I want Jimmy to pump me up for every last one of them. Whatta ya say, Coach?
The Pick: Chargers 30, Jaguars 20
San Francisco (4-2) at Tennessee (3-3): Hello, Vernon Davis! The tight end broke out in last Sunday’s win over Arizona, hauling in more than 170 receiving yards in the first half alone. The 49ers are winners of three straight games. Let’s make it four.
The Pick: 49ers 24, Titans 21
Cleveland (3-3) at Green Bay (3-2): The Packers showed me something against the Ravens last week. Going on the road, losing Randall Cobb and James Jones early on, and winning without Clay Matthews is almost more impressive than putting up 40 points in Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers, a lot like Tom Brady, just goes to work with what he has. He’ll find a way against Cleveland.
The Pick: Packers 31, Browns 26
Houston (2-4) at Kansas City (6-0): It’s tough watching QB Matt Schaub and the Texans crumble in such epic fashion. And now they’re without him, going against a red-hot Chiefs team, in front of a stadium that just broke the all-time sound record, and doing so in front of a nationally televised audience? When it rains, it pours.
The Pick: Chiefs 30, Texans 17
Baltimore (3-3) at Pittsburgh (1-4): How far down are the Ravens and Steelers that their game isn’t even the premier CBS game in the 4 o’clock slate? I shed a tear for this rivalry if that scheduling is a sign of anything. The greatest matchup of the past decade could have one last fight in it. The two teams play Sunday and Thanksgiving. Expect nothing less than the usual hate-fest. I’m taking the Steelers in this one, but it’ll be decided by a field goal. It always is.
The Pick: Steelers 16, Ravens 13
Denver (6-0) at Indianapolis (4-2): Whether he likes Andrew Luck or not, Jim Irsay needs to thank Peyton Manning for that beautiful new stadium of his. Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James are going to be in the house for this one, and so will an angry, motivated and touched Manning. I’ll take that guy, no matter the stadium, no matter the opponent. Blowout, too.
The Pick: Broncos 38, Colts 23
New York Giants (0-6) at Vikings (1-4): Remember the day you got back from your best vacation and went into work the next morning? That’s how watching this game will feel coming off of Colts-Broncos. Two disappointing teams, bad quarterback play and agitated fans. Great. Adrian Peterson will go bonkers on that Giants rush defense.
The Pick: Vikings 34, Giants 23
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week: The 2000 Rams, not to be mistaken with the 1999 “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams, scored 262 points through the first six weeks of the season.