A two-time 1,000-yard receiver within the Memphis Tigers’ offense, Calvin Austin III is the next prospect to rise in pre-draft circles that donned the blue and gray. Following in the footsteps of Kenneth Gainwell, Darrell Henderson, Antonio Gibson, and Tony Pollard, Austin’s versatility and electric playmaking ability have scouts once again drooling over an offensive playmaker out of Memphis.
Built in the mold of Rondale Moore out of Purdue last spring, don’t label Austin as a “gadget” wideout. While he’s capable of taking the rock the distance on every touch, what makes Austin so unique, even in a high-caliber wideout class, is his knack to succeed in every facet as Memphis’ top target. Whether he’s schemed a touch behind the LOS or 40 yards downfield on a nine-ball, Austin’s ability—at a tick over 5-foot-9—to run every route and compete at the catch point while handling the burden of an aerial attack on his shoulders has introduced him as one of the class’ most exciting perimeter prospects.
A former walk-on in 2017, Austin is more than just a heartwarming story to become familiar with as the pre-draft circuit kicks off. His seven-catch, 121-yard performance against projected first-rounder Sauce Gardner, Coby Bryant, and the Cincinnati defense last fall is a prime example of such. But this is 2021, and comparing his game to last fall doesn’t do him justice.
Austin, who will compete in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, initially began his rise in 2019 when he was placed on scholarship from then-head coach Mike Norvell midway through the season. After Damonte Coxie opted out two games into the 2020 season, he became the No. 1 receiver and began a program-record streak of five consecutive games with at least 100 receiving yards.
Constant improvement has been the name of the game for the often-overlooked offensive weapon. A senior campaign that saw him total more than 1,100 yards receiving on nearly 16 yards a pop, you can’t teach speed—of any player in the upcoming draft, Austin could represent the cream of the crop in that category.
An impact weapon X in all facets, it’s hard to find someone with negative reviews surrounding his tape. Looking back to last year’s draft, raw speed, as always, became a hot commodity, which ultimately led to the Los Angeles Rams reaching to take the 4.3-speed Tutu Atwell in the second round. For Austin, who’s received a strong day-two grade from The Draft Network’s Joe Marino, a similar draft arc could be seen for this high-octane pass-catcher comparing his burst to the former Louisville standout. Drastically different as pass-catchers, Austin will enter testing with 20-some pounds on Atwell out of school. That frame combined with an NFL game that prioritizes positional versatility could see Austin come off the board much higher than anyone projects.
With supply comes demand, and a quick glimpse around the eligible pool of receiver prospects spits out Austin as a true one-of-one talent who has the necessary traits to not just compete, but play a significant role within a franchise’s offense from the onset of his professional tenure.
A two-time AAC selection and one of just three unanimous first-team honorees this fall, Austin is the next former track star to turn his spikes in for cleats. Following in the background of NFL speedsters of the present in Tyreek Hill, D.K. Metcalf, and further back with names like Bob Hayes and Rocket Ismail, put the ball in Austin’s hands and let him do the rest. As coordinators across football look to “keep up with the Joneses” with scoreboards resembling video-game-like totals across the league, teams desiring talents with a knack for finding paydirt has become an overbearing necessity every offseason.
There’s a need for speed around football, and Austin could be the first off the lot.
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