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Calvin Austin III DN
NFL Draft

Calvin Austin III: NFL Draft Prospect Interview

  • Justin Melo
  • February 23, 2022
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Few receivers dominated the Senior Bowl like Memphis' Calvin Austin III did. A dynamic and electric playmaker, opposing defensive backs struggled to keep up with Austin's quick-twitch moments off the line of scrimmage. Austin undeniably boosted his draft stock with several terrific and consistent showings in Mobile. Austin continues to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in exciting fashion. One of the most prolific receivers in school history, Austin rewrote Memphis' history books by racking up more than 2,500 receiving yards and an astounding 22 touchdowns throughout his time as a Tiger. Austin routinely displayed his rare combination of explosiveness and vertical ability on what felt like a weekly basis. A Memphis, Tennessee native, Austin cemented his legacy as a local legend that will be fondly membered for decades to come. Austin recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his experience at the Senior Bowl, why opposing defensive backs struggle to match his movements in coverage, his favorite route to run, playing a starring role in Memphis' offense, how he attacks bigger defensive backs, and so much more. JM: You were born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. You attended Harding Academy in Memphis and then decided to stay local by attending The University of Memphis. You must have enjoyed playing in front of family and friends on a weekly basis. CAIII: I was a Memphis fan growing up. Having the opportunity to come to Memphis and play football was something I always dreamed of. Playing close to home meant everything to me. My mom, dad, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, and my friends from high school would attend almost every game. It made the whole experience that much more special for me. When I look back on it now, it gave me a different level of appreciation for the entire collegiate experience. I played football in front of the people who mattered most to me in elementary school, high school, and college. It’s rare for an athlete to receive such an opportunity. To do that on a bigger stage in college at the school I always dreamed about attending, it’s something that I can’t even fully express to you. It sounds cliche, but it really was a dream come true for me. JM: And what a special experience it was. You broke a ton of school records throughout your time as a Tiger. You finished your collegiate career as the program’s second all-time leader in receiving touchdowns (22), fourth in receiving yards (2,541), and fifth in receptions (156) while posting two of the program’s top-five single-game receiving yards performances, both of which occurred in 2021. What did it mean to rewrite Memphis’ record books? CAIII: It meant a lot. It added to the whole experience. When I first arrived at Memphis, I’d be lying to you if I said I had goals to rewrite the record books. Don’t get me wrong, I had individual goals heading into each season but none of them centered around breaking records. I would always hear about the records I broke either after a game or after the season. I never went into a game aware of what the records were and how close I was to breaking them or whatever. It’s always been crazy to think about. I grew up watching some of our players that are in our record books. For me to now rank in first place in some of those categories, it’s really just a testament to God and the hard work that I put in throughout the process. JM: You’ll forever be remembered as a Memphis legend. You continued to open eyes at this year’s Senior Bowl, where you were one of the most exciting playmakers in attendance. What was that experience like? CAIII: That was a great experience. I went in there with the mindset that I was going to showcase what I’m capable of, and that’s just playing good football and running dynamic routes. The whole experience was excellent. It gave me an opportunity to be around so many great athletes. I met new people and spent time with NFL scouts and coaches. It was so much fun. I went out there and showed what I could do in front of a lot of watchful eyes. I know that some people consider me a “sleeper” or whatever you would call it due to my size. I went out there and proved that I could compete with anybody. That was the goal and I believe I achieved that. JM: You did just that. You did a lot to quiet the “undersized” concerns in Mobile. How do you typically respond to the undersized label? CAIII: It’s honestly just funny to me. I just respond by working hard. It adds fuel to the fire and gives me extra motivation. I’ve always trusted in the process and in God’s plan for me. I’ve been undersized my entire life. It’s nothing new to me. I don’t feel any way about it. I don’t pay attention to it when I hear that. When I go out there, I don’t think about my size. It’s the furthest thing from my mind. I just think about how I’m going to defeat the cornerback lined up across from me. They’re about to get handled (laughs). I don’t worry about it. When somebody says something about my size, I just tell them to turn the film on. I rather let my play do the talking. I think size is one of my advantages. I’m constantly learning how to use it to my advantage while improving my route-running ability. My size has never held me back from anything, and it certainly won’t now. JM: We love that answer. We had a lot of fun watching you battle against opposing defensive backs throughout the practices and we saw that your size didn’t hinder you at all. Who were some of your favorite cornerbacks to compete against? CAIII: They had a lot of great defensive backs out there. Tariq Woolen from UTSA is a longer and taller guy. I played against him during the season so I was very familiar with him and his skill set. Competing against him again was a lot of fun. Alontae Taylor from Tennessee was another guy that stood out to me. He’s going to be a good cornerback. He’s quick on his feet. I had fun competing against all of the defensive backs in attendance. JM: Opposing cornerbacks have a difficult time getting their hands on you at the line of scrimmage. And if they don’t, they’re in trouble. If you’re even, you’re leavin’. We saw that in Mobile. What are some things you can do to tip the scale in your favor both pre and post-snap? CAIII: I’m always paying attention to the cornerback’s leverage pre-snap. I pride myself on my knowledge of the game and my willingness to continue to learn and improve. That’s a big thing for me and I stand on that. I love learning about defensive back play and how I can manipulate my routes. I pay attention to leverage and how my man lines up pre-snap. Is he gonna play things soft or is he aggressive? From there on out, I’m now in control of the route. I just have to decide if I’m going to use my suddenness and quickness off the line of scrimmage, or if I’m gonna be patient, go vertical, and then snap it off. It’s really all about how I can manipulate the route. I’m constantly working on my breaks and releases. I trust in my work ethic and my plan of attack. I like to maintain control throughout the rep. JM: That brings me to my next point. You possess a variety of release packages in your toolbox. It makes you an especially difficult assignment in coverage. How did you develop that aspect of your game? CAIII: I watch a lot of film and football. It comes down to that. I love watching film on all types of receivers from Davante Adams to smaller receivers like Cole Beasley. I watch all kinds of receivers. I like to get different looks and a well-rounded feel for every type of receiver. If I see something I like, I try to implement some of that into my game. One of my receivers coaches, coach John Simon, taught me a lot about football and releases in general. He taught me how to be patient and how to use my speed and quickness to set things up. I used to be a guy that went with 100% speed off the line of scrimmage all the time. Coach Simon taught me how to manipulate my routes in order to take control of the rep. That’s when I really started to successfully use my speed and quickness to my advantage. JM: It pops on tape consistently. You’re such an electric route-runner. Do you have a favorite route to run? CAIII: I would probably say a slant because I can run a slant in a variety of ways. Once I catch the ball, that’s one of those plays where if I catch it on the run and I beat the cornerback off the line, that’s one that can go for a touchdown after the catch. That’s why I would probably go with a slant. Of course, I love a good go-ball as well (laughs). A slant and a vertical go-ball would definitely be my go-to’s. JM: You’re also extremely elusive with the ball in your hands. It’s one of the reasons you singled out a slant route as one of your favorites. How do you create opportunities for yourself after the catch? CAIII: I grew up playing football in the backyard. I have a ton of older cousins that I used to play with growing up. I’ve always loved getting the ball in my hands and attempting to juke a defender. I’ve been doing that since I was in the backyard with my family. I’ve always practiced my ability to stop on a dime. Everybody was older and bigger than me. Once I got the ball in my hands, I always had to use my speed and quickness to my advantage. Once I get the ball in my hands, that’s really when the show begins. Once I get it, I start paying attention to whoever’s around me and how I can make them miss in the open field. If I make that first man miss, I might take it to the house. JM: You also carried such a heavy workload in Memphis’ offense in 2021. You were the go-to guy on most downs. You received so many targets and you turned those opportunities into high-level production. How did playing a starring role in that offense help prepare you for the next level? CAIII: I would say that I’m used to playing in big moments. I’m a guy that can help carry a receiver room. I’ve had every experience. In 2019, I was the fourth or fifth option on my team. I would come into the game as a deep threat or as a gadget-type player. I really played every role imaginable throughout my time at Memphis. I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. It helped me stay ready for the moment. I can play any role for an offense. If you need me to soak up a ton of targets in our offense, I’m used to that, and I’m able and ready to run every route in the route tree. If you need me to play a specific role, I’m able to do that as well. JM: So many special playmakers have come through Memphis as of late, and you’re undeniably next in line. We’ve seen guys like Antonio Gibson, Anthony Miller, Darrell Henderson Jr., and Kenneth Gainwell suit up for the Tigers in recent years, just to name a few. What is it about the Memphis program that allows it to consistently develop such exciting prospects? CAIII: It’s a place that preaches hard work. Once you arrive on campus, you quickly realize that it’s a very competitive atmosphere. The cream of the crop will rise to the top at Memphis. Once you get there, you realize that you’re around so many great playmakers and athletes. You have to be consistent. You have to be willing to put in the work. All of those great players you listed, that’s one thing that separated them from everyone else at Memphis. You can ask anybody at the program about those guys and they’ll tell you about how hard they worked first and foremost. That’s what separates the Memphis program and it’s why we continue to develop playmakers.  JM: It’s evident. Do you approach a bigger cornerback in coverage differently than you do one that’s more similar to you in size? If so, what are the differences? CAIII: With bigger corners, they want to stay within their lane and use their length to their advantage. I like to move them off their spot and put them in a position where they’re forced to chase me as opposed to staying square. It goes back to being in control like I said earlier. I have to make sure I’m more quick and sudden within my movements. I may not be as patient with a taller guy because I don’t want them to get their hands on me. I like making sure that I move them off their spot and take them out of their comfort zone. That gives me control of the route. JM: That’s a terrific explanation. You were a dynamic kick and punt returner in high school, and you returned two punts for touchdowns at Memphis. What do you enjoy about playing special teams? CAIII: I’ve always enjoyed playing special teams. It’s another opportunity for me to get the ball in my hands. I thrive in space and it gives me another chance to score a touchdown and change the outcome of the game. Playing special teams is a lot of fun. I returned kicks and punts in 2019 and that was a great way for me to get on the field. I played defensive back in high school so I understand how to tackle as well. That allows me to play on the hands team. I’m tough to block as well. It’s still football at the end of the day. It’s another part of the game I love to play so much. JM: That’s a great point. I’ve really appreciated your time today. This conversation is a perfect example of why you’re one of the most exciting game-breaking talents in the 2022 NFL Draft. What kind of impact is Calvin Austin III going to make at the next level? CAIII: I’m going to come in and be a great teammate. I’m going to learn the entire playbook in a timely manner. I can play multiple positions on offense and special teams. When I get on the field, I’m going to be an impactful player that helps our team win games. I love the game of football. I’m gonna let that role come to me naturally through hard work and dedication. Whatever I do, I want to be known as a hard worker and a guy that’s a playmaker at the end of the day. That’s just me. That’s what I want to be known as.

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Justin Melo