Modern offenses thrive on big play threats, using scheme and spacing to unleash incredible athletes on the field. That’s leading team executives to scour the college ranks for skill position players — and receivers in particular — with rare speed.
Memphis wideout Calvin Austin III certainly doesn’t have the size to appeal to some evaluators — he’s just 5-foot-7, 170 pounds, but he brings blazing speed and cat-quickness to the field. Austin was relatively unknown during the 2021 collegiate season, but he began to make a buzz at the Senior Bowl. His raw speed pushed opposing corners to their limits, and made for some of the most impressive highlights of the practices.
That was sure to catch the eyes of the NFL scouts and executives in attendance. He built on that buzz with an impressive showing at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.
Has Austin boosted his draft stock enough to surprise those who are dismissing him because of his size?
Prospect: Calvin Austin III (4)
Games Watched: vs. SMU (2020), vs. Mississippi State (2021), vs. SMU (2021), vs. Houston (2021)
Red Flags: Ankle (2021)
Games Played: 36
Yards (YPC): 2,541 (16.3 per catch)
Yards (YPC): 169 (21.1 per carry)
Total Touchdowns (receiving/rushing): 25 (22 receiving, 3 rushing)
Games Played: 12
Yards (YPC): 1,145 (15.5 per catch)
Yards (YPC): 69 (69 per carry)
Total Touchdowns (receiving/rushing): 9 (8 receiving, 1 rushing)
Best: Speed, quickness, agility, explosiveness, competitive toughness
Worst: Size, route diversity
Projection: A number 2 or 3 receiver with big-play capability and some position versatility.
Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin III is an undersized receiver prospect but possesses rare, and explosive, athleticism for the position.
Austin is an exceptional athlete, with great long speed (4.32-second 40-yard dash), quickness (6.62-second 3-cone drill), and explosiveness (39-inch vertical). That combination of athletic traits forms the foundation for his game.
Austin played out of a variety of alignments in Memphis’ offense, lining up as an “X”, Flanker, and Slot receiver. He also showed potential as a punt returner on special teams. Austin is remarkably quick and explosive at the snap of the ball, wasting no time or motion in his release. He gets into his route very quickly against off or zone coverage, and uses his quickness well against man coverage. Austin favors a quick stutter-step against tight man coverage, forcing hesitation as in the cornerback as he (Austin) gets into his route.
Austin does a good job of pressing his stem vertically, constantly threatening the defense with his speed. He is able to force corners to flip their hips early, allowing him the freedom to work back to the ball on stick or come-back routes. Austin’s quickness also allows him to use fakes in the middle of his route to throw off defenders without losing any downfield momentum.
Austin does a good job of locating, tracking, and adjusting to the pass down the field. Likewise, his impressive leaping ability allows him to maximize his catch radius and high-point the ball. He is a natural hands catcher and is very competitive at the catch point. Austin doesn’t back down from bigger corners and consistently fights for the ball, and generally does a good job of securing it as he goes to the ground – helped by relatively large hands for his size.
But while Austin has the toolbox to be a dangerous route runner, the Memphis offense didn’t ask him to run a nuanced or varied route tree. He was largely asked to run stick (or comeback) routes or vertical routes, with little in between. He also dealt with inconsistent quarterback play, making good timing and precision in his routes difficult.
Most of the weaknesses in Austin’s game come down to his size. At 5-foot-7, 170 pounds, he is out-sized and out-muscled by most cornerbacks at the collegiate level and certainly at the NFL level. He can be outmuscled at the catch-point and can find it difficult to high-point the ball over taller, longer cornerbacks. Likewise, Austin is little more than a nuisance as a blocker.
Overall Grade: 6.7
Calvin Austin III projects best as a high-upside second or third receiver in a spread offense.
Austin has legitimately rare athleticism and the potential to be a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. However, his size might mean that teams will have to scheme ways to get the ball in his hands. Austin will likely need to be protected from man coverage against NFL cornerbacks, which could put some limits on how he is used.
For instance, Austin probably shouldn’t be asked to play the “X” receiver position on the line of scrimmage. While he was able to use his quickness to cross up collegiate corners, the technique, size, and athleticism of NFL corners could be too much – particularly early in his career.
That said, if teams are able to secure him free releases and get the ball in his hands in-stride with room to run, Austin is capable of making game-changing plays. There are few corners who can keep up with him down the field, or stay with him through a route. Austin could become even more dangerous if teams are able to develop his route running and make him a true technician at the position. He already does show some understanding of how to use his routes to his advantage. Austin flashes the ability to use his quickness and footwork to fake breaks while carrying his speed downfield, and he is also able to use his routes to create traffic for other players.
But while Austin is a small receiver and lacks play strength compared to his bigger peers, nobody should doubt his competitive toughness. Austin gives full effort on every play and routinely fights in contested situations – not to mention playing through an ankle injury against Houston on the way to a 5-catch, 103 yard performance.
He has upside as a punt returner as well, with 25 returns for 323 yards (12.9 per return) and two touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons.
Austin will likely fall below size thresholds for some teams, and others may view him as a “slot only” player. However, his rare athletic ability will likely get him drafted earlier than some may assume based on his size and (relatively) small-school pedigree.