Under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, the St. Louis Rams refuse to stay put on draft day.
The Rams got help for quarterback Sam Bradford, trading up eight spots with Buffalo and taking speedy West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin with the eighth overall selection Thursday night. They surrendered two picks in that deal and got two back from the Atlanta Falcons when they traded down eight spots, to No. 30, out of their second first-round pick.
Austin was among the fastest players at the combine with an official 40-yard dash time of 4.34 seconds, and with gaudy statistics to match that made him the first skill position player taken. His 2,910 all-purpose yards as a senior were fourth-most in NCAA history and he totaled 17 touchdowns last season, including one each on punt and kickoff returns.
Despite a lack of size, the 5-8, 172-pound Austin didn’t miss a game in high school or college. His survival plan for the NFL was simple: ”Get down when I need to get down. Step out of bounds when I need to.”
When Snead telephoned with the news, it was no surprise. Austin got positive signals during his visit to St. Louis and when the Rams came to Morgantown, W. Va., for a private visit just before the draft.
At the Rams’ pre-draft news conference, Fisher said he had no problem taking a shorter player at wide receiver because the 6-4 Bradford would be able to find him.
”Me and the coaches just clicked,” Austin said. ”I had a good feeling just off the vibe they were giving. It was all smiles and everything when I was there.”
The Rams have been active on both draft days under Fisher and Snead. Last year, they traded the second overall pick to the Redskins for a batch of premium picks, including the 22nd overall pick this year. The Bills also got the Rams’ second- and seventh-round picks in the deal and the two teams swapped third-round picks.
In their second deal, the Rams got the Falcons’ 30th overall pick plus Atlanta’s third- and sixth-round selections.
Austin was considered the best overall wide receiver in the draft. He was an all-purpose threat at West Virginia, topping 100 receptions his junior and senior seasons with 20 touchdowns, averaging 8.9 yards on 72 carries last year and totaling four kickoff returns for touchdown.
Austin holds school records with 7,286 all-purpose yards and 288 receptions. He anticipates getting used all over the field just as in college after Rams coaches discussed roles in the backfield and return game.
”So, they definitely have a plan for me,” Austin said.
Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, but the Rams had taken defensive linemen in the first round four of the previous six years.
Wide receiver has been a position of need for several seasons for St. Louis, who hadn’t taken one in the first round since taking Torry Holt in the first round in 1999, the year the Rams won their lone Super Bowl. The Rams needed one more than ever heading into draft day after Danny Amendola left in free agency, leaving them with a crop of youngsters led by Chris Givens, a fourth-rounder last season.
Last year, the Rams got a starting defensive tackle in Michael Brockers with the 14th overall pick and impact cornerback Janoris Jenkins was among their three second-rounders.