From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a receiver who dispelled some of his size concerns with supreme testing numbers at the 2022 NFL Draft Combine. This receiver posted back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons for the Memphis Tigers, a program that has produced a reasonable number of offensive draft picks in recent years. Current Steelers’ wide receiver Anthony Miller being one example. Former Steelers’ running back DeAngelo Williams being another, when looking back a bit further.
#4 Calvin Austin, WR, Memphis (R-Sr.) – 5076, 170 lbs.
Senior Bowl, Combine Invite
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Calvin Austin||5076/170||9 1/4||30||73|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Elite speed, acceleration, and explosion. Great foot speed. Starts and gets going rapidly, elite short-area acceleration/burst. Agile. Great COD. Difficult to get hold of in the open field. Very quick twitch. Great balance and body control (with and without the football). Able to outrun defenders, make defenders miss, and/or slip tackles.
— Can line up outside or in the slot. Most likely projects to spend the majority of his time in the slot at the NFL level (may be able to line up outside in specific cases – route running and releases suggest so – need to see how he’ll handle the physicality of the NFL outside, inside a better projection). Deep threat: able to stack fast. Can operate in all areas of the field. Fearless. Wins with nuance and quicks/speed. Loose hips. Deceptive
— Commonly run routes (some much more than others): gos, slants, hitches/stops, drags, crossers, outs, posts, corners, comebacks (hard to fully tell for game film without All-22 – didn’t seem comfortable running true comebacks at the Senior Bowl, wasn’t able to w/ correct turn toward the sideline. Iffy stop/curl breaks), hitch-now/bubble/tunnel/etc. screens. Can be effective on “now” “smoke” routes (similar type shown).
— Jitterbug-type route runner. Smooth cuts
— Ran some specialized slot routes (whips, double moves)
— Ran some double moves ^ (slant/post-corner–seen in the red zone, stutter-go)
— Great foundation of releases to work with and further enhance/refine. Shifty, uber-quick at the line. Good use of pace/tempo. Tough to stick hands on
— Understands route leverage and timing. Great body and head use to sell fakes/cuts. Hard cuts, stays balanced and methodical. Good hand usage in stems.
— Utilized in motion and given few designed touches (jet touch passes, into routes, etc.)
— RAC elite. Short-area quickness to reach top speed immediately. Maintains high-end speed: Able to catch passes on the run at or near full speed, without sacrificing said rate. Good open-field vision
— Great hands. Good in contested catch situations. Solid in jump ball situations. Great ball tracking, leaping and timing ability. Goes up to get it despite his size, good catch radius (for his size). Great body control (as noted at the top)
— Has some experience as a returner
— High football IQ in most all facets. Knows when and where to sit down in open spaces of zones
— Very willing, energetic blocker with good form
— Fiery, indefatigable competitor: seen on tape. Works hard for his teammates. Competitive spirit is evident on tape
— Small, lower tier below-average stature and build for the position. Can lose in battles of strength as a result, especially when matched up against defenders bigger in size
— Size-frame allows DBs to stick with him in his route stems and breaks. Can be moved, knocked off, or stunned/contained in his route stem/break.
— Constricted or disappeared by the sideline on occasion on vertical routes (forced out of bounds)
— Has the attributes to be successful in jump ball situations, but size will limit him in the NFL. Had balls knocked out of his hands when going up to get it in contested catch/jump ball situations
— Raw footwork and body control at times on intermediate-outside route breaks, can work on developing certain routes (curl and comeback specifically)
— Movement can be a bit “lurchy” at times. Seems to try and do/show too much on occasion. Noticeable in his route running on occasion, but also outside of that area as well
— Can be taken down quickly with the ball in his hands when he doesn’t have built up momentum to his advantage
— Size-frame limits him as a blocker when outmatched by build/length and physicality
— Takes some big hits/takedowns due to his size-frame
— 2021 Stats (12 games): 74 receptions, 1,149 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns. 1 rushing attempt, 69 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown.
— 2020 Stats (11 games): 63 receptions, 1,053 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns
— Career States (45 games): 156 receptions, 2,541 receiving yards, 22 receiving touchdowns. 8 rushing attempts, 169 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
— 15.5 yards per reception in 2021, 16.7 yards per reception in 2020, 18.5 yards per reception in 2019
— 2021 First-Team All-AAC
— 2020 First-Team All-AAC
— 2021 and 2020 Burlsworth Trophy Semifinalist
— Also ran track at Memphis
— Tiger 3.0 Club in 2017, 2019, and 2021
— 2021 receiving yardage total (1,149) ranks fifth on the program’s single-season list
— Finished his career second all-time in program history with 22 receiving touchdowns, fourth all-time with 2,541 receiving yards, and fifth all-time with 156 receptions
— Track and Football Star in high school
— 33.9% Target Rate Per Route in 2021, per SIS
Same as with my report on Wan’Dale Robinson, Calvin Austin is a compelling case study of a wide receiver prospect. Like Robinson, Calvin Austin stands at under 5’9”, also weighing less than 180 pounds.
Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Austin excelled as both a track and football star in high school. His dream was always to become a Memphis Tiger, which he achieved when he walked on the football team in 2017 (walked on the track and football teams – redshirted his freshman year of football).
With Austin’s tape, there’s a lot to like. He’s an athletic receiver with a good-to-great route running foundation, and the requisite testing numbers to verify. Austin can work all areas of the field. He plays bigger than his size and is a dynamic playmaker. Now let’s look at some clips.
First combination of clips comes from Austin’s best 2021 statistical performance in the yardage and touchdown categories. Against Arkansas State, Austin recorded 6 receptions for 239 yards and 3 touchdowns. Depicted here is two of those touchdowns.
First, Austin is at the bottom of the screen boundary side. He gives a quick outside stab then a slight squat of his frame and legs. This launches him into a speed release back inside after making the DB happy feet. Once Austin knows he’s out in front of the DB, he turns inside to get his eyes to the QB. The QB hits Austin in stride and he takes the slant to the house for a TD.
Second, Austin is at the top of the screen field side–in a somewhat reduced split. He utilizes an ephemeral whirlwind of arm pumps and a blur of feet off the line to entrance the DB, so that he can angle inside for the drag route. The defender does not follow him across the field. Austin maintains his movement and eventually receives a low target that he scoops into his chest, while stand-sliding around a diving tackle. Then, Austin turns on the burners to scoot through more tackle attempts and past would-be tacklers on his way into the end zone for a tone-setter in the 0-0 game, one in which Austin would provide several electrifying plays, as noted.
This clip comes from Memphis’ 2021 matchup with Houston. In it, Austin is at the bottom of the screen field side. He gives the soft-pressed defender with an inside shade, a hop inside with a crossover (basketball move) back outside so that he can burst up the outside. This release made the DB react with his left arm and feet, affording Austin the opening he needs to be first to get going vertically. Austin then shrinks and creates space between himself and the defender, so that the defender can’t get hands on as Austin continues upfield. Austin gets his head around and hand-fights with the defender until he stacks him. Great job to command the space and and secure positioning for when the ball dropps into him. When it does, he snatches it in the basket and gains some YAC before being clobbered from both sides by Houston DBs.
Here’s two more combined clips from the 2021 Arkansas State game. Austin is at the bottom of the screen boundary side in the first of the two. He gives a nice jab outside release to move the DB off his spot so that he can explode past his face inside. Then, Austin heads vertically before breaking even more inside on a slant/post depth (delayed slant). He hauls the pass in despite the defender being draped on his shoulders/arms like a cape.
In the second of the two, Austin is also at the bottom of the screen boundary side. With the DB in front of him employing a half-turn shuffle technique, Austin takes advantage of his blind spot by hiding in it, while varying his pace (and sort of lunge-stepping) in anticipation of the right moment to break. He again breaks at slant/post depth. Austin separates on the uncontested break because the DB isn’t able to visually assess it. Now uncovered for his QB–while the DB continues shuffling downfield, Austin goes up in the air with both hands at the high point and slightly bobbles, but then latches onto the football. He then turns and outscoots both tackle attempts on his way into the end zone.
Moving on, here are three more combined clips, Austin wins in contested catch situations.
First clip is from Memphis-Nicholls, 2021. Austin is out wide at the top of the screen field side. He sets up his break with drummer-like arm pumps in his release, then he instantaneously flashes inside. He positions himself on top of the DB on his angled path, and hops to secure the slant even though the DB jumps all over his back for a piggy-back ride.
Second comes from Memphis’ 2021 game vs. SMU. Austin is at the top of the screen boundary side. With a free release and the defense guarding deep in the 4th and 12 situation, Austin takes his time off the line to decipher how he wants to attack. He shows a little bit of an inside plant and a head fake when he reaches the 20-yard line (in an attempt to get a bite), then he gains steam vertically so that he comes parallel with the DB he engages as they reach the front of the end zone. Austin has his head around, and as the pass drops in he’s able to jump to catch it despite the physical engagement and resulting fight for positioning. The DB has a good hold of him and also manages to get his arm/hand in at the catch point. Austin reels it in however.
Third is another clip from the 2021 Houston game. Austin (bottom of the screen) fights through contact in his outside speed release, after an initial tempo slow play as the ball is snapped. He then makes his way down the sideline. His QB lofts him a pass, to which he is able to go up, high point it, and then spin away from the DB to secure and shield the football as he goes to the ground. Impressive ball skills (especially considering his size), body control, and awareness.
Next up we have a clip from Memphis’ 2021 game vs. Navy. Austin (top of the screen) receives a reverse flip from the running back, then he exhibits his juice and long speed to zag, then zoom through a path all the way for six. Austin didn’t have many carries in his career, but he did make do with the limited looks he was given. On 8 career rushing attempts, he had two carries of 83 and 69 yards, as well as 3 touchdowns. Efficient and explosive.
This amalgamation of clips illustrates some of Austin’s releases that I thought were noteworthy.
The first two come from Memphis’ 2021 game against Mississippi State. In both, Austin is at the top of the screen boundary side. In the first, the DB gives him a vicious jam to the face mask. However, Austin endures it and employs a hardy push/swipe technique with his outside left hand/arm, in order to shove the jam past him so that he can burst to the outside, and then up the sideline. In the second, he has learned and adapted to the situation. Knowing how the DB might defend him, Austin is mentally prepared. You can see that he’s aware and careful on the line; composed, and poised to strike like a Cobra, which is what he gets the chance to do when the DB attempts another jam. Austin foresees it this time, getting low with a matrix-type maneuver to dodge past it. Austin’s understanding and resilience is illustrated within the two clips of releases.
Third clip comes from the already mentioned Arkansas State game. The outcome of the play was not shown on the broadcast view (catch), but Austin’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed release stands out. Out wide boundary side, he sets into sprinting form and gets on his horse to giddy up.
The fourth clip is a release and route from Memphis’ 2021 matchup with UTSA. Austin sizes the defender up with some wiggle and gliding feet, then he plants with his right foot and breaks to the inside. Next, he uses his head as a weapon to sell a continued path, but suddenly he fantastically swivels from inside to outside, also then nudging off the defender’s contact. The route draws a penalty.
Clip #7 is also from the 2021 UTSA game. Here, Austin is in the slot. He gets moving off the line post-snap, only to slow up and nod inside as if running an in-breaker (slant or dig for example). Following, he snaps back vertically with increased velocity and ends up tracking the deep ball between the hashes for a catch and a score.
Finally, we have two more clips here.
The first is from the 2021 Mississippi State game. Austin is pressed on the line at the top of the screen. The defender magnetizes to him, holding the living crap out of him post-snap. This rep gives a glimpse into how life will be difficult for Austin in the NFL. His lack of size-frame will sometimes allow NFL DBs (especially those whose game is predicated on their length and physicality) to dictate his stems/breaks. He can be swallowed up, knocked off his path, rerouted, or eliminated from the play altogether. This is something I mentioned in Wan’Dale Robinson’s report as well. I think Austin is a better route runner, but both will face the same issue at times.
The second clip is from the UTSA game. Austin is at the top of the screen field side. He gets manhandled by a bigger and lankier defender when trying to block. He ends up walked backwards and then sent into the ground on his back, defensive pancake. Austin’s spark as a ball player is evident on tape (when blocking and in other areas), but as with the previous clip, defenders larger in size, as well as lankier, will make life tough on him in the run game. He was asked to do a lot of interesting work as a blocker for Memphis, and he often completed his assignment. But realistically, it wouldn’t be wise to rely on him as a blocking anchor in the NFL.
Calvin Austin reminds me of Jaelon Darden and Elijah Moore to a degree, two wide receivers whom I profiled for Steelers Depot last year. Skyy Moore may be the better comparison to Elijah (Skyy also resembles Golden Tate), especially with the Moore-Moore connection (Skyy is high in my rankings this year, just trailing the tip of the iceberg guys). I gave Elijah Moore a better grade than what I gave Austin this year (same goes for Skyy’s grade), and I think Elijah was the better prospect, but there are a lot of shared similarities in areas of their games–which is what I want to focus on with the comparisons (releases, route running, body movements, RAC, etc.). As for Darden, Austin received a higher round grade, but I feel that their evaluations were alike. Austin’s testing numbers exceeded (shared agility numbers) Darden’s results overall, however.
As I mentioned in the introduction, two WR prospects that will be oft-mentioned in the same breath this year are Wan’Dale Robinson and Calvin Austin, thanks to their size. Robinson is slightly taller and heavier at 5080, 178. I think Robinson’s RB skills in the open field are more apparent when it comes to juking defenders and staying on his feet to fight for extra yards, whereas I think Austin possesses superior long speed and route running as a receiver. That said, both receivers will indispensably need to persevere and overcome considerable roadblocks on their paths to becoming top-three contributors at the WR position for the NFL franchise that selects them. If not, they won’t be able to carve out a role as anything more than a gadget playmaker. I gave Austin a slightly higher grade as a result of his film and testing numbers. That + .1 compared to Robinson is suitable based on their current foundations as wide receivers.
Similar to Robinson, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Austin selected in the late third round in this year’s draft, considering the mostly uniform (in terms of potential – there are variations in why each prospect has potential) talent throughout the early stages of this class. While not the case for all of the WRs projected to slot in late round one to early round four, Austin’s testing numbers are working in his favor to help him be drafted sooner, rather than later.
Projection: Late Day Two-Early Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 7.7 – Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)
Games Watched: vs. Nicholls (2021), @ Arkansas State (2021), vs. Mississippi State (2021), vs. UTSA (2021), vs. Navy (2021), @ UCF (2021), vs. SMU (2021), @ Houston (2021)