NEPD Editor: James Christensen
Wes Welker plays an immense role in the Patriots offense. If he leaves this off-season due to ongoing contract issues – Welker is currently playing on a one year franchise tender – Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement.
West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin certainly passes the eye test as a talented weapon, but would he fit into the Patriots scheme?
ROUTE RUNNING AND CONCEPTS
Welker runs a steady diet of “pivot” routes (pictured) – a quick step to the inside followed by an out cut – a staple of the “Air Raid” offense that former Welker coach Mike Leach and current Austin coach Dana Holgorsen employ.
Both receivers also run the “stick” route, which is more of a 6-8 yard out in New England, but a 5-6 yard curl in West Virginia.
Both Austin and Welker make these simple route work so well by being able to accelerate and make extra yards after the catch.
One of Austin’s favorite routes is the “wheel” route – see Shane Vereen’s touchdown from Week 12 against the Jets for an example. Austin can run it from the slot or the backfield with equal precision.
Welker and Austin both have the ability to run precise routes when covered tightly to create separation, but they can also round the corner off to keep their speed when the situation calls for it.
Air Raid offenses (read more here) require mastery of a smaller set of concepts than the Patriots run, but the framework is there for Austin to succeed in Josh McDaniels’ offense.
Wes Welker doesn’t run the ball very often anymore (zero carries in 2012), but his counterpart Julian Edelman sees the ball on an end-around or reverse every once in a while (four carries in 2012).
With Tavon Austin in the fold, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels might be more prone to use receivers in the run game – as New England did with Aaron Hernandez during the playoffs in 2011.
Austin is electric with the ball in his hands, capable of taking simple jet sweeps or outside zone plays to the house with ease. I’m not much of a statistics guy, but a 10.6 average on 49 carries (famously including 344 rushing yards against Oklahoma) certainly makes you take notice.
Tavon Austin measures in at 5’7″ and 175 pound, although I’m sure those figures could change after the NFL Combine this February. While those figures are certainly eye-catching for the wrong reasons, I don’t think they are cause for much concern.
Welker is 5’9″ and 190 pounds soaking wet and has been able to shake off numerous hits throughout his career. Both he and Austin are adept at not getting clobbered – maximizing yardage without subjecting their body to too much risk.
Other than Brandon Lloyd and Matthew Slater, the Patriots don’t have any true receivers under contract for the 2013 NFL season.
If either Wes Welker or Julian Edelman isn’t re-signed, Tavon Austin would be a natural fit to keep the Patriots offense singing. He is currently our first round pick for the Patriots in our latest 2013 NFL Mock Draft.
One wildcard that could play a factor is the health of Jeff Demps, who has placed on injured reserve this pre-season. If he is healthy, he has a lot of the kick return and running game skills that Austin has as well.