Friday, April 12, 2013

Making The Case For Tavon Austin And Stedman Bailey In The 2013 NFL Draft

photo by J. Meric/Getty Images
by Jayden Matthews

When the news broke Wednesday that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed a $2.5 million one-year tender with the New England Patriots, it divided a nation. Sanders is a restricted free agent and if the Steelers decide to not match the Patriots offer, then they would receive their 3rd-round pick in the 2013 draft. It has not been determined yet what the Steelers are going to do, but the uproar from fans on social media has been divided. Some fans say let him go and take the pick, while others are clamoring for the the Steelers to match the offer saying that otherwise this will kill the team. There have been rumblings that the Steelers are not taking care of their franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, by first letting wide receiver Mike Wallace walk, and now by only tendering Manny at his original draft round instead of using the high-round tender like they did last season with Wallace. But, the one question asked often and loudly is 'how do you replace their production?' Well, I am here to enlighten because that's what I do.

Can the production of Wallace and Manny be replaced? It's a good question because, in their time with the Steelers, these two receivers accounted for a total of 5,332 yards and 37 touchdowns, with Wallace accounting for 32 of those in his four years. So again can it be replaced? You bet your sweet backside it can be. Both the speed that Wallace brought and the overall production and skills from both he and Manny.

The Steelers were most likely going to draft a wide receiver this April, but if they do not match the Patriots offer to Manny, then they most likely will need to draft two, and there are several options for the Steelers to look at in this draft. There is Robert Woods from USC who could be taken in the third round and Keenan Allen from the University of Cal. Woods is a Wallace clone and should be available in the second or third round. And after a poor performance at his Pro Day, Allen could be possibly fall to the second round and would be a “steel” at that point. But there is a tandem that stands out to me who, like Wallace and Manny, have also played together for three years, but whose production is off the charts. They are the real deal - TDs, speed, route-running ability, can play in the slot or outside, good hands, running the ball and punt/kick returning.

That two-headed monster is none other than Tavon Austin (aka Tavon Awesome) and Stedman Bailey (aka STUDman Bailey) out of West Virginia. This tandem was responsible for 6,631 receiving yards and 70 TDs, and for 7,675 and 76 TDs from scrimmage in the three years they played together.

A lot of people knock Austin for his size...fine, let them. Because if you think that this kid can’t change a game in a hurry, then you are fooling yourself. If he isn’t changing games for the Black and Gold on Sundays next season, he will for some other team. Austin is also a great kick and punt returner (and with AB being the No. 1 WR now the Steelers need a guy like that). He returned 97 kicks for 2,407 yards for a 24.8 yard average and four TDs, and 34 punts for 433 yards for a 12.7 average and one TD in his four years. He also had 1,031 rushing yards and six career rushing TDs to his credit. Yes, he can the ball too. Don’t believe me? Go take a look at his highlights. Hell, watch the highlights from the game against Oklahoma alone. The Big 12 is known for its defenses, but Austin made them look mediocre at best that night. And as Fox Sports analyst Charles Davis said, they had no answer for the “Awesome One.” -

Austin himself accounted for 572 total yards, including 344 rushing yards, and 2 TDs against Oklahoma, and Bailey accounted for 205 receiving yards and 4 TDs. So again, the production of Wallace and Manny can’t be replaced? Um...yeah, it can. So if Manny does leave, then the Steelers will need players like these two that can help a team right away. The extra third-round pick would potentially allow them to get both players, and their familiarity with one another also means won’t have to learn to work together because they have been doing so for so long now. It would be a win-win situation.

Austin is projected to go in the first round, with several mocks having him going at No. 16 to the Rams. Even though they are are projected to take him, it does not mean they will. Jeff Fisher likes his tall receivers after all. He may go earlier, like possibly to the New York Jets with the 9th pick. But they are a hot mess on offense and in general, so who knows? The New Orleans Saints may take him with the 15th pick, which is also rumored, but if he is sitting there at No. 17 when the Steelers pick they absolutely should pull the trigger. With all the questions the Steelers now have on offense, and knowing that they always take the best player available, do the math. Some fans may not like that pick and will complain, but once Austin takes the field and does his thing, he will silence his critics.

Just imagine all that talent and then you throw Antonio Brown in there to boot. An offense that is pretty well dead-in-the-water and has Big Ben pulling his hair out, with those two would go from dead to deadly. If WVU QB Geno Smith could do all that damage with those two, just imagine the damage that Big Ben could do. (And that is by no means a knock on Geno, because I love me some Geno, but truth is truth.)

Even if they don’t nab Austin, I am still optimistic that they will take Bailey, who is projected as a late second-to-third rounder. It has also been said that he will transfer well from college to the pros. His numbers do not lie, and drops were rarely an issue. His style of play (both, actually) is in line with the style offensive coordinator Todd Haley has brought to Steelers offense, i.e. short passes that produce yards and control the clock - Bailey had over 300 yards and five TDs against Baylor from an array of catches lineups - and the occasional deep pass to keep the defense honest - he averaged 15.3 yards per reception in his three-year career. You get both with Bailey. -

Look, I know this is a bit of a pipe dream, especially with both of them. In the last 162 draft picks, approximately 20 years, the Steelers have drafted exactly two WVU players: running back Amos Zereoue and safety Ryan Mundy. But I am hoping that things line up and that this little dream can become a reality. Big Ben would be happy, Haley would be happy and some Steelers fans may not be happy at first, but they'd come around. But it would end the question once and for of whether or not Wallace and Manny can they be replaced.