The Buffalo Bills filled out their 90-man roster Thursday, signing former top-ten pick WR/PR Tavon Austin. The former eighth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has had flashes of brilliance during his near-decade in the league but has never quite lived up to the expectations that come as a first-round draft pick.
Austin has bounced around the league as of late following the first few years of his rookie deal with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams. He has also had some notable injuries worth examining further that could impact his ability to make the Bills’ roster in 2022.
Tavon Austin Injury History
2013 St. Louis Rams
Appeared in 13 games, missed the final three contests after suffering a left high-ankle sprain against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14. This was the result of getting caught from behind by LB Karlos Dansby during a long 56-yard run. He was later seen with a boot on the left leg during practices, confirming the side was injured.
Appeared in 15 games, suffered a right MCL sprain in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after getting rolled up on. He fortunately only missed one game due to the injury but wasn’t highly effective even once he returned.
Appeared in all 16 games, suffered a thigh injury on the injury report that was also reported as a hamstring in Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers. Austin did have the benefit of a bye week to get right before returning in Week 7 even with the questionable designation heading into the game against the Cleveland Browns.
2016 Los Angeles Rams
Appeared in 15 games, suffering a shoulder injury in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to Austin’s own Instagram and the reporting afterward, he suffered an injury to the right shoulder. Based on the fact he did not miss time but had to wear a sling after the injury suggests that he suffered an AC joint sprain, quite common among football players.
Austin also suffered a chest injury in Week 12 that had him listed as doubtful for the following week, of which he ultimately did not suit up.
Appeared in all 16 games but dealt with several smaller injuries that need to be highlighted. In the offseason, Austin required arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist to repair damaged ligaments. He did not appear on the injury report in 2016 due to a wrist injury, but it’s worth noting that he underwent surgery in early May. This suggests he tried to rehab it first before undergoing the procedure to fully correct the problem.
It’s not clear what ligament he damaged, but he was ready for training camp that season, signifying minor issues. Austin also suffered a hamstring strain early in the preseason that forced him to miss a majority of training camp.
Finally, he suffered a concussion against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. He was placed in the concussion protocol but was able to clear it in time for Week 4 due to the fact that the Week 3 contest was played on a Thursday night.
2018 Dallas Cowboys
Appeared in seven games. Austin dealt with injuries for most of the season starting off with a shoulder injury against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, not missing any time.
However, in Week 6 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he suffered a groin injury that forced him to miss the next nine games. Reports later clarified that he suffered a core muscle injury, also referred to as a sports hernia. This was confirmed by team owner and general manager Jerry Jones in a press conference that season.
He did receive several opinions on the injury and ultimately decided against surgery in order to try and help the team once the postseason began.
Looking back, one has to wonder if getting the surgery was ultimately the better option. He was targeted once in each playoff game for one reception and had five returns for 73 yards in the Wild Card game. Considering he has not had much postseason experience prior to that season with Dallas, I can at least understand why he wanted to try and be ready for the playoffs.
There are not any reports he required surgery in the offseason, suggesting that he was able to heal up with extended time off.
Appeared in 14 games. Austin suffered a concussion in Week 1 against the New York Giants that forced him out of the following two games.
2020 San Francisco 49ers/Green Bay Packers
Appeared in four games. Austin signed with the 49ers in the offseason and regrettably suffered a knee injury in the preseason, forcing him to injured reserve. He spent most of the season rehabbing the injury before receiving an injury settlement on October 27.
He was able to eventually sign with the Green Bay Packers in December of that season, appearing in four games, seeing five receptions for 20 yards along with several punt returns. He also appeared in two games in the playoffs, once again, only seeing time on special teams.
It’s not clear what knee he injured or what the exact injury was. He stated that he started feeling healthy about three weeks prior to signing with Green Bay, giving his injury timeline from late August to mid-November. Without further information, it is difficult to determine what the exact injury was that he dealt with.
2021 Jacksonville Jaguars
Appeared in 13 games. Austin missed the first three games of the season due to a quadriceps strain sustained in training camp. He initially made the 53-man roster before being placed on IR with the short-term IR rules in place, missing a minimum of three games.
He also dealt with a shoulder injury that possibly occurred in Week 11 against the San Francisco 49ers. Austin appeared on the injury report as a non-participant but he did not receive a gameday designation or miss any playing time.
Bills Injury Impact
Tavon Austin is a well-traveled athlete who relies on game-breaking speed. He has had several notable injuries that have possibly limited his true potential, missing 31 games over his career.
Looking back on his injury history, he has had his share of injuries with several causing him to miss considerable time. The concerning injuries are the core muscle injury in 2018 and the knee injury in 2020.
He appeared to fully recover from the core muscle injury without surgery and did not appear on the injury report the following seasons with the groin or even hamstring injuries. Even if he had undergone surgery, the return-to-play timelines are exceptional for core muscle repairs, further supporting that these injuries are not as debilitating or chronic as they once were.
As a PT, I would like to know more about the specifics of his knee injury with the 49ers. There were no reports of surgery or even how he injured it. He was eventually able to pass a physical for the Packers and Jaguars, but to miss that much time suggests that this was a moderate injury that could have possibly required an unreported surgery to get fully healthy.
He has also dealt with two concussions and wrist surgery, but those did not appear to have much of an impact on his abilities long-term.
Other than the knee injury, I don’t see that any of his injuries could have a big impact on his ability to make the team out of training camp. He could suffer another injury that is totally unrelated and he does have a history of soft tissue issues, but nothing consistent or problematic as we have seen with other players.
Overall, I appreciate the Bills’ for looking at someone with punt-return experience and speed to see what he has left in the tank. He has been referred to as a gadget player throughout his career and the Bills may want to see how they can fit him into the offense as a reserve WR and use him on special teams. Solidifying a punt returner after the inconsistencies of last season would only benefit the team in field-position battles.
Austin has a shot at making the roster for his special teams contributions with minor work in the offense. I think of a poor man’s Andre Roberts when I think about how he can fit onto the team. The Bills don’t lose anything bringing him in and if he can make a difference, then it only stands to create competition in the punt return game and make Buffalo better overall.