The Green Bay Packers have reportedly signed wide receiver Tavon Austin, giving them a new option in the return game and, potentially, a much-needed injection of speed on offense.
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo first reported the news, which has since been confirmed by beat writer Tom Silverstein. Austin, a 5-foot-8, 179-pound receiver out of West Virginia, hasn’t played in an NFL game this season, but spent some time with the 49ers earlier this year. The eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Austin never found a huge role in the offense in career stops with the Rams or Cowboys, either, but has been a fairly reliable return threat throughout his career.
Presumably, that’s where he’ll get his early opportunities with the Packers. With Tyler Ervin ailing for much of the last month, the Packers have turned to a combination of Darrius Shepherd, Josh Jackson, and Malik Taylor to field kickoffs and punts. They’ve done little more than catch the ball, and sometimes haven’t even managed that.
Austin, meanwhile, boasts a career average of 7.9 yards on punt returns. He should at least stabilize the return game when he makes his way to the active roster — though that in itself is not a given. Austin’s first stop may be on the practice squad, and there’s no guarantee he’ll ever make it to the 53 man roster, especially if Ervin gets healthy.
It’s also possible that Austin could slot more fully into the Tyler Ervin role in Matt LaFleur’s offense. It’s easy to visualize the speedy if pint-sized Austin running a jet sweep motion across the formation, much as Ervin has done. Even if Ervin (or Austin) rarely gets the ball, the threat of the speed is often enough to move the defense.
In any case, Austin’s great timed speed (4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Combine) is a noteworthy attribute. Given the Packers’ consistent issues with speed in all phases of the game, adding a player who can move in a hurry could present some intriguing options — whether he ultimately plays a big role or not.