Miles Austin will certainly go down as one of the more interesting Cowboys careers of this era. For instance, he was one of those 2006 camp bodies (along with Sam Hurd) that were featured in the stories that July and August for being the puppies that new veteran signee Terrell Owens had spent time with ushering along. Owens was thought of at that time (and for most of his career) as too hot to handle by many NFL people, and therefore, it seemed one of his ways to demonstrate how wrong everyone was about him and how delightful he really was as a human showed itself as he would work with undrafted free agents in his position group to show them the way.
Then, Austin tried to help win a playoff game in that rookie year of 2006 as he famously returned a kick while watching himself on the screen in Seattle to see if anyone was catching him from behind. From there, a few quieter seasons of special teams and depth at receiver where in 2007 and 2008 he had 18 catches combined and was still joined at the hip as a "depth/special teams" guy. He actually had 3 Touchdowns in the first 5 games in 2008, before the Cowboys moved heaven and earth to trade for Roy Williams, making one wonder how things might have been different if they stayed with Austin, saved those picks and money, and played it out from there.
In 2009, after a series of unfortunate events (Owens cut, Roy Williams injured, Sam Hurd coming off a rough outing in Denver), Austin had a breakout game in Kansas City that most of us will never forget. 10 catches for 250 yards and the winning Touchdown in overtime. In that 2009 playoff season, Austin went crazy as a guy who started the year as surplus, but by the end had 4 games of 139 yards or more, 1,320 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He also needed a contract.
So, with the cap-less 2010 season in front of them, the Cowboys gave Austin a 7-year/$54m deal with his entire 2010 guaranteed salary of $17m. He had 3 monster games in early 2010 to continue his run of form, but from the time Tony Romo broke his collarbone in 2010 until the Cowboys released Austin in March of 2014, the two had never regained that level of excellence. This period would be best remembered for the two not connecting on that fateful "ball lost in the lights" 2011 moment against the Giants, for numerous hamstring incidents that kept Miles from ever looking right, and finally the odd moment against Green Bay late where Romo looked for Austin on an ill-advised decision that Sam Shields intercepted while Miles was open for a touchdown with a better throw.
This is clearly a weird way to profile Devin Street, but I thought it bears dissecting to see how Austin was under-utilized, disregarded, then over-compensated, before returning to rather average production for his final 3 seasons here. In other words, the Cowboys, because of depth issues on their roster and exceptional timing on Austin’s part, paid Austin between $35m and $40m for what amounted to 1 dynamite season (The final 10 weeks of 2009 and the first 6 weeks of 2010).
So, in 2013 and 2014, the Cowboys knew that they had to get deeper and younger (and cheaper). Dwayne Harris is now their oldest receiver at 26, and Dez the oldest regular at 25. Baylor’s Terrance Williams was selected in Round 3 in 2013 as a #3 who would replace Austin to be the #2 in year 2. That meant for the 2014 season, they needed another WR to be their #3. And that led them to Devin Street in Round 5.
Just watching them below, I can squint and see Miles Austin:
Street was the 22nd wide receiver taken in this draft in a year where 33 were taken. Sources have told many of us in the media that the Cowboys had him graded as a 3rd round talent on their board, so they got a bit antsy when the 5th round was happening and he was still there – partly because there was a fair amount of noise at pick #119 when they took Anthony Hitchens to grab Street there. However, the arguments for Hitchens won the day (defense, special teams) and the Cowboys knew that with several more draft-able receivers still available, they might get the one they wanted later.
What they didn’t know is that Street could make it to them in Round 5. And they weren’t about to take chances once he fell to #146. That is where they sent #158 and #229 to Detroit to go get their guy, who was the all-time leading receiver at Pittsburgh, which knows a thing or two about passing the ball around over the years.
Street is an interesting study to say the least. He is tall and lanky, measuring just a shade below 6’3 and a sandwich below 200 lbs. He has proper speed, but would not be considered a burner. In fact, amazingly, James Hanna still has the fastest 40 time of any of Romo’s targets at 4.48. But, Williams, Dez Bryant, Street, and Dwayne Harris all measured between 4.51 and 4.55 (Cole Beasley did not attend the combine).
I watched quite a bit of his college action and it is clear what the Cowboys are seeing. They want a slot option who is not Beasley, and in this particular draft, there are very few slot receivers who are more accomplished than Street. Yet, he is anything but a prototypical slot in that he is very tall and able to compete as much like a tight end in that he can win passes in the air more than with elite quickness. This, of course, means that a big target takes lots of big hits, so his ability to get back up will be tested on Sundays. Here is Street (below) on the wrong end of a kill shot that is somewhat famous in the .gif community.
He is also very strong at winning balls that need to be won. I like his ability to go up in traffic and come down with a ball, and the best part about his game as a slot receiver is also his ability to go deep a ton. To call him a slot is deceiving, because with Beasley that means that they are only going to run him on routes less than 10 yards. Street is not this at all. He is running deep routes more than short at Pitt, with deep outs, go’s, and post routes that start inside the numbers, as well as your normal allotment of slants, outs, and hooks that we get from the inside receivers traditionally.
I know the Cowboys want him to be another outside option as well, but that remains to be seen as Pitt used him sparingly in that capacity. Basically, to be an ideal outside receiver in the NFL, you had better be able to get off the line against press coverage, and honestly, that looks like Street’s number one area of question. Already, discussions of "getting him in the strength program" have been tossed about in the press briefings to improve his abilities when he is not given the free release that we often see from slot receivers.
He runs very strong routes and looks like he can be a multi-faceted receiver who will grow into a strong pro. If he really is all that we think, we will be wondering how he fell through to the 5th round. Generally, receivers that fall this far in the draft have some major warts, but there doesn’t seem to be much not to like about him and honestly, he does look like a young Miles Austin in many respects. Not all of the tools are the same, but their abilities allow them to plug Street in a similar spot that Miles would play when he was healthy in the last few years.
In 2014, it is difficult to figure out what the Cowboys plan on being their ideal personnel grouping, but we know that "11 personnel" will always be the 3rd down/2-minute warning look, and they use that more than any other grouping. Talk "12 personnel" all you want, but on 3rd and 10 against nickel or dime, you are never going to prefer tight ends to receivers who can stress secondaries and isolate weak links.
Street will no doubt be brought along slowly, but when it comes to picks that you can’t believe you had a chance to grab in the 5th Round, Street absolutely looks like a kid to be high on. And as a human, it sure seems like everyone who knows him speaks very highly of the type of guy he is and how his teammates regard him as a leader of men.
I always target a player or two that I am particularly optimistic about heading into camp, and I really think this is my guy in 2014 and a player we will be hearing from for several years to come. Now it is up to him to prove he belongs.