Over the next month or so, we’ll be looking at each of the Jets’ draft picks and undrafted free agent signings in detail. We continue today with a breakdown of their final pick, Blessuan Austin.
The former Rutgers cornerback is listed at 6’1” and 198 pounds and was selected by the Jets in the sixth round. Austin was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection in 2016 after a season where he was second in the conference and eighth in the nation with 14 pass break-ups. However, he only played five games over the last two years due to injuries.
Austin is a local product who was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. He committed to Rutgers ahead of the 2015 season and saw plenty of action in his freshman year, recording 31 tackles, three passes and an interception although he didn’t make any starts.
His next season was easily his best as he moved into the starting line-up and racked up 43 tackles, 14 passes defensed and an interception.
However, his 2017 season ended prematurely due to a season-ending injury and then history repeated itself in the first game of his senior year. Over the two seasons, he had 15 tackles and two interceptions in five games.
Austin could have taken a redshirt year and returned to school, but opted to enter the draft instead. He was invited to the scouting combine but only did the bench press because he was still recovering from his injury. He did drills at his pro day, but was still not 100 percent and may not be in time for camp. The Jets selected Austin with the 196th overall pick in the sixth round.
Now let’s take a look at what Austin brings to the table, divided into categories.
As noted, Austin wasn’t healthy for his combine or pro day workouts. Even so, he was able to manage 15 bench press reps at the combine and a 35” broad jump and 123” vertical at his pro day. He only ran 4.65 but then reportedly ran 4.56 in a private workout closer to the draft.
As a high school recruit, he apparently ran a 4.4 40-yard dash and had a 40-inch vertical. He also ran a 3.83 three-cone drill. If that’s accurate, it’s extremely impressive because only seven combine participants since 1999 have bettered that, most of which have been good NFL players (including the likes of Champ Bailey, Deion Branch and Brandin Cooks).
Whether he still has that athleticism after his injury issues is another matter, but he still has excellent size and length, albeit with a slim build.
Austin has primarily played on the outside in college, with most of his reps over the last three seasons being at right cornerback. He played both sides as a freshman though.
In high school, Austin also played some free safety as well as also contributing on offense at quarterback and wide receiver.
Austin is a cornerback with good length that he uses well. Jamaal Westerman, a former Rutgers player, has compared Austin to his former Jets teammate Antonio Cromartie.
His athleticism is evident from his film as he moves fluidly, has the explosiveness to burst towards the ball for a disruption and can stay with his man deep or on a crossing routes.
At times Austin was initially beaten at the snap, but displayed excellent recovery speed, as shown on this play.
After his freshman year, where he got beaten for five touchdowns, his coverage numbers were extremely solid. Over the final two years, he gave up just six catches in 14 targets, with the longest play being only 24 yards.
In his only full season, Austin had tremendous production in terms of breaking up passes, as he was in the top 10 in the nation. However, he said himself that he wanted to turn more of those disruptions into interceptions. Over his last two seasons, he had two interceptions and one pass break-up in five games.
Austin ended up with four interceptions for Rutgers - one in each season - but shows on this play that he locates the ball early and tracks it well in the air.
His experience as a high school receiver should enable him to cash in on any chances he gets to intercept passes. He displays great hands on this play.
Austin is very impressive as a tackler, as he closes well and shows good technique. He has a knack of using his length to bring someone down around the ankles.
He improved his tackle efficiency during his time in college, having had nine of his 16 missed tackles in his first season. Interestingly only one of the seven missed tackles since his freshman year came while he was in coverage as he tended to miss them against the run.
Austin only missed one tackle in his five games over his last two years. However, he will need to avoid plays like this where he throws a shoulder rather than wrapping up his man.
He forced one fumble at Rutgers, but that was in his freshman year.
Austin was employed a lot in press coverage and generally does a good job, although there are a few things he needs to clean up technically. One is that after the jam, he will occasionally be a step late to follow his man, allowing early separation. The other, as shown on this play against Dante Pettis, is that quickness can prevent him from getting a clean jam.
Generally speaking, Austin will compete for balls well at the catch point, although on this play he was outmuscled and allowed his man to break away from him, then compounded the error by not being strong enough to prevent him from scoring.
When tackling he’s not necessarily a big hitter, as he usually focuses more on technique.
Austin is a willing run defender who has made plenty of stops against the run during his career, including three tackles for loss.
On this play he shows good range in pursuit and makes a solid tackle, although as noted above he did miss some tackles against the run.
Since he played on the outside, Austin rarely blitzed in college, but was credited with two quarterback sacks. However, he did run blitz from time to time when there was no receiver on his side of the field.
Austin hasn’t been used that much on special teams with the vice role on punts being his primary contribution. He’s seen limited action as a gunner and on punt coverage.
Austin had some good contributions on special teams including a tackle after a botched snap on a field goal. He also had two special teams tackles in 2016, showing some potential in punt coverage.
He had one special teams penalty in 2017, when he was called for a face mask penalty on a punt.
On Austin’s film there were a few examples of him getting caught out in traffic on wide receiver screens, including one where he didn’t anticipate the slot receiver blocking down on him.
However, he shows good instincts against the run and in zone coverage and on this play, he anticipates and reads the play early, giving him time to get off the block and make a stop.
Austin obviously has a lot of toughness to overcome the injuries he’s had to get to this point and his coaches have said he has a short memory in terms of letting mistakes affect him. He was also starting to show maturity and leadership over the past few years and has no off-field concerns.
He is an extremely confident player, as evidenced by his recent comments that he wants to become the best ever to play the position or to emulate his idol Richard Sherman.
He’s been a disciplined player on the field with only five defensive penalties in his career, three of which were in 2016. He was called for defensive holding on his only penalty over his last two seasons.
Injuries are a major red flag for Austin, as he suffered a torn ACL in 2017 and then re-injured it in 2018.
Had it not been for the injuries he was headed towards being an excellent prospect. NFL.com’s Chad Reuter said he would have been a day two pick and ESPN’s Mel Kiper had him ranked as the fourth best senior cornerback heading into the 2019 season.
Austin is regarded as a player who can play in multiple systems and his profile meets the criteria for the sort of cornerback Gregg Williams likes to find a role for.
Initially, though, he might have to spend time on the PUP list and it seems most likely he’ll be someone the Jets expected to contribute more next year.
This is a high-risk pick due to the injuries Austin has had, which could prevent him from ever realizing his potential or create durability issues once he becomes a contributor.
However, from his film, you can see why the Jets made this pick. Austin is very impressive and, if not for the injury issues, would be the sort of prospect the fanbase should be very optimistic about.
These days, it’s not unprecedented for NFL players to overcome those kinds of issues in their past, so this pick has a chance of being an excellent coup for the Jets. Austin definitely has the potential to become a starting cornerback at the NFL level if he can get healthy and hasn’t lost a step.
Whether he can be the best ever to play his position is another matter, but Austin is talented enough that the sky’s the limit for him if he remains healthy. However, as we have seen so far from Jeremy Clark, there’s no guarantee such a player will realize his potential once he’s able to get on the field.