Receiver-returner Tavon Austin of West Virginia has dynamic speed. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
For a little guy, West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin is making big waves with NFL draft analysts.
At just 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds, Austin is a coveted playmaker who has great, game-breaking speed (4.32 in the 40). He had 114 receptions this past season for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also returned a punt 76 yards for a score and took a kickoff 100 yards for another touchdown.
He is, writes the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows, “perhaps the most electric and exciting prospect in this year’s draft.”
Austin is considered not only a certain first-round pick, but a player with top-10 talent who should be long gone before the 49ers make their first pick at No. 31.
Yet the 49ers definitely are interested in Austin. It’s been reported he’ll be meeting with the Niners before the draft on April 25. Barrows also reports Austin will meet with the Patriots, Bengals and Dolphins, among others.
Yet because of the 49ers’ wealth of draft choices, GM Trent Baalke could afford to package multiple picks to move up high in the first round to take an impact player such as Austin or defensive lineman Star Lotulelei of Utah (should his stock drop), reports Daniel Jeremiah, an analyst for NFL.com.
Jeremiah lists the 49ers as one of three teams most likely to move up in the first round, along with the Dolphins and Vikings.
“The 49ers are right on the doorstep of winning a championship,” he wrote. “Despite some key losses in free agency, they still possess one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. And they have an astounding 14 selections in the upcoming draft. There is no way 14 rookies will be able to make this roster.”
So, trading picks to move up in the draft for an “impact player” or using those picks to garner selections in future years is a likely scenario for San Francisco, he writes.
Barrows believes Austin would be worth pursuing both for short-term and long-term benefits, noting that receivers Kyle Williams, Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham are signed only through 2013, and neither starting wideout, Michael Crabtree or Boldin, is known for field-stretching speed. Austin would provide that element, as well as be a dangerous return man.
Then again, the 49ers could sit back and use their top picks to replenish their roster in several areas. Todd McShay’s latest mock draft for ESPN.com has the 49ers using their 31st overall pick in the first round for defensive tackle John Jenkins of Georgia and their two second-round picks for Stanford tight end Zach Ertz (No. 34 overall) and Florida International safety John Cyprien (No. 61). Those additions would each address needs created by the departures of defensive linemen Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois, tight end Delanie Walker and safety Dashon Goldson.
It’s a win-win for the 49ers either way, but adding Austin to a Pistol offense with Colin Kaepernick, Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Co. could be exciting.
“The San Francisco 49ers didn’t solve their speed problem at wide receiver when they traded for Anquan Boldin,” wrote NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal. “They added one of the slowest wideouts in the NFL and lost an athletic tight end in Delanie Walker, who wanted a chance to start and went to the Tennessee Titans.
“The 49ers’ offense is dynamic, but it still lacks players who can turn a 10-yard gain into a 50-yard touchdown. That’s why it would be so delicious if they selected West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin.”