WVU's Tavon Austin poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Rams with the eighth pick of the NFL draft.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- On a night when Geno Smith got more air time than anyone - but for all the wrong reasons - it was Tavon Austin who had to keep himself from crying.His tears, though, would have been of joy.Austin, the electric little West Virginia wide receiver whose rising draft stock never seemed to slow, was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the eighth pick of Thursday night's draft in New York.And afterward he was able to laugh about how his family reacted to it.
"They cried. They cried like babies,'' Austin said. "I told them I wasn't going to cry and I'm still strong right now. So everything's good.''Indeed, things couldn't have gone much better for Austin. In an early part of the first round of the draft that was dominated by offensive and defensive linemen, the 5-foot-8, 174-pound receiver and kick returner was the first skill position player taken.Not only that, the Rams traded away four draft picks in order to move up and take him."It means a lot,'' Austin said. "It means they wanted me. I kind of had a feeling they wanted me.''On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, was Smith. Generally regarded as the top quarterback in the draft, West Virginia's all-time passing leader was passed over with every pick in the first round. Even the only team that took a quarterback, Buffalo, passed on Smith in favor of Florida State's E.J. Manuel.ESPN and the NFL Network, both televising the draft, showed Smith sitting at his table at Radio City Music Hall time and time again through the night.If Smith needed consolation, though, perhaps he got it from Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, now an MVP and Super Bowl-winning quarterback, was expected to go at the top of the draft's first round, but fell to the 24th pick instead."Hang in there Geno,'' Rodgers tweeted. "Good things come to those who wait.''Austin, though, didn't have to wait long. Nor was he surprised at where he went."I definitely had a feeling they liked me,'' Austin said of the Rams, for whom he worked out recently. "Me and the coaches just clicked.''St. Louis had a need for a slot receiver and kick returner and paid a rather heavy price to get it. In order to move up eight spots in the first-round order, from No. 16 to No. 8, the Rams gave up first-, second-, third- and seventh-round picks.
The Rams' need arises from the loss of Danny Amendola, who left as a free agent and signed with New England just after the Patriots lost Wes Welker to Denver.Oddly, all three of those players - Austin, Amendola and Welker - are small receivers who played in college for Dana Holgorsen, Austin at WVU and the others when Holgorsen was an assistant at Texas Tech.Austin gives the Rams essentially what they had with Amendola, but with more speed. Last season at WVU he led the nation in all-purpose yards - 1,289 receiving, 643 rushing and 978 on returns. He was 6 yards short of an all-time NCAA record with 572 all-purpose yards in a game against Oklahoma."They've talked to me about special teams, running back and slot receiver,'' Austin said. "So they definitely have plans for me.''Austin was asked Thursday night what he would bring to St. Louis. He wasn't boastful."I'm going to work hard, that's number one. I'm not going to be a distraction,'' Austin said. "I'm going to come in and play where the team needs me, whether it's special teams, running back or whatever. I'm going to come in with the right mindset.''
As the No. 8 pick, Austin became the highest-drafted Mountaineer since Pacman Jones went No. 6 to Tennessee in 2006. Including Jones, only six other former WVU players were ever drafted higher than Austin. Dick Leftridge (No. 3) in 1966 is the highest-drafted Mountaineer ever, followed by Jones, Joe Marconi (1956) and Joe Stydahar (1936) all at No. 6 and Brian Jozwiak (1986) and Chuck Howley (1958) as No. 7 choices.Austin is by far the highest-drafted wide receiver in school history, 20 spots ahead of where Reggie Rembert was picked in 1990.The second and third rounds of the draft are tonight. Then on Saturday the final four rounds will be conducted.Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Aaron Rodgers' draft position. Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.