The Buffalo Bills have an expansive group of wide receivers. The unit is a talented one, and while there is plenty of depth, the group isn’t quite as stacked as it was last season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—we were spoiled a bit, to be fair—but it does leave some questions.
The top four wideouts in the team’s rotation are pretty set, and one could argue that the fifth wideout is all but guaranteed, as well. However, the team does need to determine what they want to do with some other, more specialized positions—such as the kickoff returner and punt returner. Will it be a receiver? A running back? A defensive back? A designated punt-catcher?
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile a veteran wideout who could become that specialist the team needs.
Name: Tavon Austin
Height/Weight: 5’8” 185 lbs
Age: 31 (32 on 3/15/2023; the team website lists him as 32, but based on what I can find for his birthday, that is incorrect)
Experience/Draft: 10; selected in the first round (No. 8 overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams
College: West Virginia
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 6/2/2022
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Austin signed a one-year contract worth a total of $1.12 million for the season. Thanks to the veteran’s minimum exception, he’ll carry a cap hit of just $895,000 should he make the final roster. There are no guarantees listed in the contract.
2021 Recap: Austin spent the season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, appearing in 13 games and starting three. He played 35% of the offensive snaps for the Jaguars, making 24 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown. Those catch and yardage totals represented Austin’s highest totals since the 2016 season. Austin also returned two punts for three yards with Jacksonville.
Positional outlook: Austin profiles as a complement to Isaiah McKenzie, and he could also swap in as a reserve slot receiver for fellow veteran Jamison Crowder. Khalil Shakir should see time in the slot, too. Marquez Stevenson is sure to see reps as a punt and kick returner, as well, so those will be the main players in competition with Austin for a roster spot. Other wideouts include Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah Hodgins, Jake Kumerow, Tanner Gentry, and Neil Pau’u.
2022 Offseason: Austin is healthy and ready for training camp. He has participated in OTAs thus far.
2022 Season outlook: Austin finds himself in an intriguing battle. He obviously has athletic potential—he once was a high first-round draft choice, but that was a long time ago. Given that Buffalo wouldn’t need to rely on him for much more than returning punts and kicks or an occasional offensive snap, it’s possible that Austin could add value that otherwise doesn’t exist on the roster. At 31 years old, though, it’s also possible that he’d be keeping a younger player with more potential from contributing.
Given that Buffalo’s strength at wideout seems to be in the slot, with Austin, Crowder, Shakir, and McKenzie all legitimate options, it makes the ability to return kicks that much more important. I think that Buffalo’s top five wideouts are Diggs, Davis, Crowder, McKenzie, and Shakir, with Kumerow a good bet to be the sixth man given his special teams ability and his size, which allows him to line up outside if needed. The Bills could keep Austin as a seventh wideout and designated return man, but he’d have to have a phenomenal preseason.
Austin was chosen by the Rams with a pick traded from Buffalo (the Bills used the Rams’ first-round choice that year to draft EJ Manuel), so there’s a beautiful sort of symmetry in his playing for the Bills a decade later. It’ll take more than that to ensure he has a place on the roster, but he’s definitely a flier worth taking on an otherwise loaded roster.