Memphis runs deep with Calvin Austin III.
Since he was young, Austin III had one dream, and that was to go to the University of Memphis. His father before him was a student, and for Austin III, he wanted to uphold that legacy by someday wearing the Memphis blue.
As a two-star athlete in high school, Austin III was a three-year member of the varsity squad at Harding Academy. On the football field, he led the Lions to three-straight TSSAA Division II-Class A state playoff appearances. Despite being a track star, football remained his first love.
For him, the choice was simple. He was going to the University of Memphis to play football, even if it meant becoming a walk-on. In the same way current Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Anthony Miller did before him, Austin III joined the Tigers football team as a preferred walk-on. This is where his journey began.
After redshirting his freshman year in 2017, Austin III played 11 games and registered 107 total scrimmage yards in his redshirt freshman year. On the track, Austin III qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 4x100m relay and set a school-record at the 2019 American Athletic Conference Championships. In his sophomore year, he registered 315 yards on 17 receptions with four touchdowns in 13 games played.
In his redshirt junior year, Austin III broke out in a big way with 63 receptions for 1,053 yards and 11 touchdowns. He led the conference in both receiving yards and touchdowns. For his efforts, he was a Burlsworth Trophy semifinalist. In his final year, he would increase his totals to 74 receptions for 1,149 and nine total touchdowns. In addition to being a Burlsworth Trophy semifinalist for a second straight year, he earned invites to the Reese's Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Bowl, and the NFL Scouting Combine.
As much as Austin III is defined by his speed, his fundamentals as a pure receiver are underrated. His ability to get open and make plays go beyond this dimension, as he carries and understanding on how to gain separation right from the line of scrimmage. What we saw on tape was someone who was more than a gadget-type play, rather a legitimate receiver that can be used in almost any situation.
The Detailed Route Runner
As much as Austin III is known for his elite-level speed, the details of his route running deserve an equal amount of attention. When watching Austin III tape, some of the subtleties in his routes are partly why he is able to get the type of separation he does against opposing defensive backs. In addition to planning his routes prior to his release, his ability to deceive defenders while stemming, explains why he was a difficult matchup.
In this sequence against the UTSA, Austin III is seen as the 'x' receiver on the left side, against the opposing Roadrunners' cornerback in press. When the ball is snapped, the cornerback will bail, giving Austin III a free release. As he stems inside, notice the double move he executes. He briefly sells the post route, then turns it into a "go" route after he reaches the top. The double move, in conjunction with his elite-level speed, gives him more than enough separation to make the reception and complete a 60-yard touchdown play.
Making Combat Catches
It is no secret that head coach Mike Tomlin loves receivers who can make combat catches. Despite his smaller frame, Austin III has shown, on many occasions, the ability to make catches when draped by opposing defensive backs. His success in this aspect is a combination of high-level ball skills and the desire to make plays.
In this instance against UCF, Austin III is seen positioned at 'x' on the right side against a Knights cornerback in press coverage. When the ball is snapped, Austin III releases inside and runs a "go" route, attacking the Knights cornerback's leverage inside. Once he gets deep enough, the Tigers quarterback throws a deep pass in his direction. While the ball is in the air, Austin III is completely draped and, at one point, held by the Knights' cornerback. Even while he is being pulled to the ground, he is still able to track the ball and make an impressive catch. Receptions like this one can turn around games.
Yards After Catch
In this sequence against Arkansas State, Austin III is seen positioned as the 'x' receiver on the left side. Instead of a vertical route, he executes a crossing route down the middle. After completing the catch, he evades several Red Wolves defenders and finds open space along the sidelines. Once he gains enough space, he accelerates and pulls away from everyone for the touchdown. This play not only is an example of his elite-level speed and acceleration, but also demonstrates his ability to secure the ball before turning upfield. Considering the numerous drops that have been committed by Steelers receivers in the last couple of seasons, having a receiver who can pay attention to this type of detail is a welcome addition.
In summary, Austin III succeeded in being a productive receiver regardless of his size. With all his physical gifts, he has the potential to become the type of game-breaking playmaker the Steelers need in order to be successful on offense this season. For Austin, fans should not be surprised if he blossoms into an integral part of the team's offense in a short period of time.