Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big 12 [Print without images]

Thursday, April 18, 2013
Fans tab Tavon Austin as next NFL star

By David Ubben

The NFL draft's first round is only a week away, but the Big 12 fans are clear on who they think will be the next NFL star from this year's batch of top-tier prospects from around the conference.

West Virginia's do-everything receiver Tavon Austin is way, way out in front of the rest of the field (not an unfamiliar place for the speedster, I will assure you) with an impressive 37 percent of the vote. That's more than double any other option on the fan vote.

I don't know if I expected it to be quite as emphatic, but I do agree that Austin will be the most successful of the group, but I'd narrowly put him ahead of Oklahoma's Lane Johnson.

Austin has the ability to get open in space and breakneck speed, and you can't teach that. Austin's speed wasn't just college speed. That, combined with his absurd change of direction, will allow him to have a major impact at the next level immediately. He just needs to find an NFL offense willing to get him touches.

I also don't buy much of the durability issues. He knows how to avoid big hits, whether that means getting down or getting out of bounds, and he doesn't need anyone to tell him his 175-pound frame can't take a beating every week. You don't go four years without missing a game (or a practice, according to WVU coach Dana Holgorsen) on accident.

Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro received 18 percent of the vote, just ahead of Johnson and Baylor WR Terrance Williams, who both checked in with 17 percent of the vote.

Ironically, the man projected as the league's highest pick -- West Virginia QB Geno Smith -- collected the fewest votes. He earned just 11 percent of the fan vote. I'd say the reason behind that is the poor correlation between college success and NFL success. There's not much reason to believe Smith won't turn out at the next level, but the truth is quarterbacks are as hit-or-miss from college to NFL as any position. There's a lot that goes into making the jump.

Getting the ball and making people miss? Not all that different, besides defenders being bigger, faster and smarter. I'm betting Austin makes the jump quite well. So are the fans.