Wide receiver Tavon Austin is signing a deal that will send him to camp in Buffalo where he’ll attempt to make the Bills’ roster this season, according to a tweet from Mike Garafolo of NFL Network. Austin has had trouble finding success since his time with the Rams and will attempt to jumpstart his career by filling the No. 2 or 3 wide receiver role on his sixth NFL team.
The former top-ten pick out of West Virginia has had one of the more puzzling careers in the NFL. Widely known for having one of the best high school highlight reels of all time, Austin tore up the field during his four years at West Virginia. His senior season displayed his true potential as a triple-threat: receiving, rushing, and returning. In 2012, the Mountaineers receiver caught 114 balls for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, rushed 72 times for 643 yards and 3 touchdowns, and averaged 11.0 yards per punt return and 25.4 yards per kickoff return, housing a return of each variety for a touchdown along the way.
Austin had trouble establishing himself as a receiver in the league, but demonstrated his elite elusiveness as a return man, being named a Pro Bowl alternate as a returner in his sophomore season. In the third year of his rookie contract with the Rams, Austin started to find the rhythm from his college days, becoming the first player since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score at least five receiving touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns, and a punt return touchdown in a single season.
The Rams gave Austin a four-year, $42MM extension before his fourth season. That season saw Austin record a career-high in receiving yards, but also saw his rushing and returning statistics diminish a bit. A frustrating first year under head coach Sean McVay the next year saw Austin’s usage plummet. Despite appearing in every game, and starting in nine of them, Austin saw a then-career-low 22 targets, catching 13 passes for 47 yards. His usage disappeared in the run and return game, as well.
In 2018, Austin was traded to the Cowboys in their attempts to replace former slot receiver Cole Beasley. In two seasons in Dallas, Austin caught 21 balls for 317 yards and 3 touchdowns. He signed in 2020 to join the 49ers, but was placed on injured reserve just prior to the season and released in October of that year. The Packers picked him up in December, but he gave very little in the way of on-field contributions. Last season saw Austin’s best season since his time with the Rams, as he played 13 games for the Jaguars, catching 24 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown.
In Buffalo, Austin will attempt to replace Beasley for a second time. The Bills are down their second- and third-best receivers (in terms of receiving yards) from last year, with Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders both hitting the free agent market. Besides tight end Dawson Knox, this leaves the receiver cupboard in Buffalo fairly bare with Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, and Isaiah McKenzie being the only returning receivers with at least 10 targets from last year. The team also signed Jamison Crowder from the Jets in free agency and drafted Boise State receiver Khalil Shakir in the fifth round of the Draft.
It will be interesting to see how the Bills plan on utilizing Austin if he makes the 53-man roster, as McKenzie and receiver Marquez Stevenson currently serve as the team’s return men, with McKenzie playing a very similar role to what Austin did early in his career. Regardless, it looks like Austin will be getting another chance, this time in an offense that saw success last year for two veteran receivers over 32-years-old with a lot of the same on-field tendencies as Austin.