PITTSBURGH — Calvin Austin III measured in at the NFL Combine at 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds. A size outlier in NFL history, Austin’s size is not something that will be on his side in his NFL success. His 4.32 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical, and 11-foot-3 inch broad jump will be on his side, however, and he’s been able to use his athleticism, and his football intelligence to create explosive plays despite his size.
There is no getting around it, Austin is a freak athlete. The adage is often ‘if a guy can play, he can play’, but there are so many layers to that discussion. For a receiver, size will affect a player’s catch radius. That means the quarterback will have to be that much more accurate and the player better have good hands. Not only that, that player better create serious separation.
At his size, Austin needs to be able to play fast at all times. The Memphis product was a walk-on in college that has learned all about that. His routes, releases, eyes, footwork, it all has to be quick, deceptive, and right on point. So, Austin goes with a release known as the speed release that has worked for him so well over his college career.
The speed release is an art. Austin due to his burst and speed, comes right off the line to get up onto the toes of his opposing cornerbacks. While Austin does not use that against press coverage all that much, he does use it to destroy cornerbacks that are backed off of him to put the pressure on them immediately. Austin goes from the line of scrimmage to the cornerback in two steps if he plays it right. It is a release that has allowed Austin to break things open in his game.
“I’ve always had a good first step,” Austin said. “I ran track, I’ve worked on my speed, my quickness, and all of that stuff so that speed release is something that I bank on. I base all of my other releases on that. Once I got that one down, I figured out right away I could manipulate the other ones better.”
It is hard to find guys that are similar to his size, so Austin watches tape from NFL players of all sizes. From Tyreek Hill to Davante Adams to DK Metcalf, Austin has watched them all. The key for Austin is watching his own tape, and incorporating some basic strategies all of these elite receivers use into his game. He knows it is different because of his height, but Austin has a knack for tweaking things to make them his own.
“I’ll watch a whole bunch of guys,” Austin said. “I’ve watched everyone who is shorter and taller, heck, I watched my old highlights. I don’t really put myself into a category. Usually, it’s watching everybody.”
So, then, how does Austin create so many explosive plays? The Steelers drafted Austin because of his speed. Mike Tomlin admitted as much during the team’s rookie minicamp. As for every standout guy that is an outlier, Austin has a meticulous process for creating his on-brand explosive plays. In fact, it is a film study method that is not that of a rookie, but one of a seasoned veteran.
“So, first I look at the explosive plays they gave up,” Austin said. “I’m going to watch their feet, their hands, and where their eyes are. I’ll add all of those explosive plays up, find common things in those plays, and make sure I know to attack them that week. Then, I’ll sit down and form a plan on how to attack that cornerback. It’s all about the details. As we get into the pros, there will be even more detail-oriented studying from me. But watching those explosive plays gets you into the mindset of understanding what they are not good at. That preparation allows you to play that much faster.”
Austin wants to put it on for all the players his size. There are not many guys that are 5-foot-7 and successful in the NFL. However, Austin is not about proving people wrong but proving those who believe in him right. How does he continue to do that? It’s all by creating explosive plays with his rare speed.