It’s no secret that the Bears need a WR, but I would take it even further; they should enter the weekend with the goal of drafting two wideouts they think can contribute right away.
One of those has to be a bigger-bodied WR, which they are sorely missing right now, but my draft crush does not fit that bill.
In fact, Memphis WR Calvin Austin III comes in at the other end of the spectrum for WRs. He stands only 5’7″ and weighed in at the Combine at only 170 pounds. If you’re going to be that small, you need to be an athletic freak to make it at the NFL level, and Austin certainly fits the bill.
This is Austin’s Relative Athletic Score, or RAS, based on his Combine performance. RAS scales everything against historical players at your position from 0 (worst) to 10 (best). As I’ve already said, Austin is tiny, but he scores in the top 8% amongst WRs in literally every athletic testing metric (credit to Kent Lee Platte for RAS data), placing him in the top 6% overall in total athletic ability.
That athleticism certainly shows up when you watch Austin play. He’s both fast and quick, and his change of direction abilities are noticeable in tight spaces. This speed and acceleration lets Austin excel after the catch, as he had the 5th highest yards after the catch/catch mark of all WRs in the 2022 draft.
Austin is more than just a highlight reel. He produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in college. Quality of competition is always a concern for somebody who dominated at a small school like Memphis, but Austin did have some big games against the best teams, and defensive backs.
- 9 catches for 151 yards and 2 TD in 2020 against UCF, who had three defensive backs drafted that year.
- 7 catches for 121 yards in 2020 against Cincinnati, who had two defensive backs drafted that year and three more likely to be drafted this weekend.
- 9 catches for 105 yards and 2 TD in 2021 against Mississippi State and CB Martin Emerson, a likely day two pick this weekend
- 5 catches for 103 yards against Houston and CB Marcus Jones, a likely day two pick this weekend
It’s always good to see a small school player produce against legitimate NFL talent, and Austin has done just that multiple times when given the opportunity. He also showed out at the Senior Bowl, frequently being mentioned as the best route runner at the event and getting voted as the top WR on his team for the week.
For all of his positive traits, Austin’s lack of size is a real limiting factor to his NFL ceiling. He’s too small to be a team’s top WR, and his size likely also limits what he can realistically offer as a run blocker. Still, I think his combo of athleticism and route-running ability gives him a pretty solid floor, and he offers special teams value as a punt returner as well. Over his last two college seasons, he returned 25 punts, averaged 12.9 yards/return and scoring two TDs.
Like I mentioned at the top, the Bears need to make sure they land a big WR in the draft, so Austin couldn’t be the only investment they make at the position. But if he’s there in round three, I’d be thrilled if they take him. Austin’s skill set would pair really well with a big-bodied WR like George Pickens or Alec Pierce.
Austin is a true WR, so a Tarik Cohen comparison isn’t perfect here, but I think he would bring some of that ability to turn nothing into something that the Bears lost when Cohen got hurt.