"The Other Guys" is a series of articles focusing on sleeper candidates in the 2022 NFL Draft, and next up is Notre Dame WR Kevin Austin Jr. These articles will focus on prospects projecting to go in the fourth round or later. If you like the graphics and stats outlined here, be sure to check out the entire On Tap Sports Net FREE 2022 NFL Draft Guide for yourself. It includes scouting reports on 300-plus prospects, athletic testing, team profiles, trade calculators, advanced stats, and more!
Profiles already completed:
WR - Kevin Austin Jr. - Notre Dame
Kevin Austin Jr. grew up in South Florida. In high school, he played both ways (WR and DB), leading the team in all receiving stats his final three years. Austin ranked as the No. 14 WR recruit in the 2018 recruiting class. He had 35 offers, with Duke, Miami (FL), Notre Dame, and Tennessee as finalists. He chose Notre Dame, becoming the second highest ranked player in Notre Dame's recruiting class.
In 2018 as a true freshman, Austin Jr. played sparingly. He showed a few flashes before being left off the travel roster for the final two games of the season. Entering the 2019 season, Austin Jr. had a chance to enter the lineup after Myles Boykin left for the NFL. Instead of capitalizing on the opportunity, Austin Jr. served a year-long suspension. The team gave vague reasoning for the suspension, citing repeated violations of team rules.
"Austin was suspended as a sophomore - or, more accurately since the University would never confirm the suspension, he did not play at all in 2019."
Fast forward to 2020. Kevin Austin Jr. is back with the team. With Claypool gone for the NFL, Austin Jr. has a real shot at the top WR spot for the Irish. But Kevin falls on some hard luck as he breaks his foot in summer practices, requiring surgery. Because of the injury, he missed the first two games of the 2020 season. He rushed back from the foot surgery and managed to play in two games before re-injuring the same foot. Once again, he needed surgery to repair the issue.
Moving on to 2021, this has to be it. This has to be the year that all this potential finally boils over and explodes onto the college football scene. Kevin Austin Jr. has been in South Bend for three years, and has played in six games with six catches and 108 yards. It is time for that trend to change.
After an up-and-down first half of the 2021 season, Austin Jr. came on down the stretch. Over the final six games of the season, he put up 532 yards on 26 catches while hauling in 72% of his targets. Promising production indeed.
Kevin Austin Jr. Draft Profile
Kevin Austin Jr. is a freakish athlete. Standing 6-foot-2 and somewhere between 200-210 lbs, he absolutely has the build to play in the NFL. His athletic testing is green across the board, being above average in every measure except for hand size. Although, the physicals are not the reason he's falling down draft boards.
The issues with Kevin Austin Jr. come down to how raw he is as a prospect. Meaning that he has a lot to learn and a lot of work to put in to reach his potential. He dealt with drops, which should be a concern despite him cleaning it up in the second half of the year. While his size and athletic traits tell you that Austin Jr. should be a demon after the catch, it does not always show up on tape.
But the largest red flag here is his suspension and injury history, in addition to his lack of experience. While some might see it as a silver lining that he fought his way back from several setbacks, the setbacks themselves must be a flag nonetheless.
"Coaches say he's a bright kid, but maturity has been an issue since his freshman year."
- NFL Scout, per Dane Brugler's Draft Guide
Through the first seven games of 2021, Austin Jr. was catching targets at a clip of 48%. He had 356 yards on 22 receptions (16.2 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. He also had four drops on 46 targets. The production was a little underwhelming, despite posting solid yards per catch. Especially in Week 3 when he got shut out by Purdue's defense despite eight targets.
Something changed in the final seven games though. In the second half of the season, Kevin Austin Jr. posted a catch rate of 72%. He gained 532 yards (20.5 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Additionally, he only dropped one pass over the final seven games.
So What Changed?
Before we get too into this, I want to mention a couple of things:
- Opp DFEI Rk = Opponents Defense Fremeau Efficiency Index per Football Outsiders. DFEI represents the per-possession scoring advantage each defense would be expected to have on a neutral field against an average opponent.
- Opp DF+ Rk = Opponents Defensive Rating Rank using F+ Ratings per Football Outsiders. F+ ratings combine Brian Fremeau's FEI ratings with Bill Connelly's SP+ ratings in equal parts.
- % Tgts Cont= The percent of targets that were contested.
- QB Adj. Comp % = The quarterback's adjusted completion percentage when adjusting for drops and throw-aways, regardless of who the target is.
So, we see some explanation of the late-season surge here. Notre Dame faced a brutal slate of defenses in the first half of the season by both metrics used. Many of Kevin Austin Jr.'s targets were contested, and he was impacted by QB accuracy. But, we also see that Austin Jr. was used a little differently later in the year as his ADOT and target rate dropped.
It looks to me like he probably struggled more against top-tier defenses, but that also impacted QB play. Additionally, his usage was dialed down and a little more conservative as the season wore on. It helped his production. Less is more, so to say.
Whether it was the difficult defenses or not, we saw production carry forward to Notre Dame's bowl game against a top 10 defense in Oklahoma State. In that game, Austin Jr. caught six of 12 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown. But he failed to haul in any of his three contested catches.
Best Team Fits: Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts
Projected Draft Round: 5th Round (per Dane Brugler)