Although he measures in at less than 5’9,
Heading into this year’s NFL Draft, Austin’s electrifying combination of speed, athleticism and production had every NFL team raving about his potential as a NFL-caliber game breaker.
And while Austin was plenty deserving of all of those plaudits, one of his West Virginia teammates was lurking in the shadows with numbers that in some categories actually trumped those of his teammate.
If Austin’s numbers were reminiscent of a video game console, Bailey’s were something straight out of an arcade.
So when the Rams found themselves on the clock ready to make the 30th pick in the third round, No. 90 overall, they paid no mind to the fact that they’d already landed Austin and wasted little time taking the opportunity to double down on Mountaineer wideouts.
“I think you have to look at it from this standpoint: We had them on the board based on their grades, not based on what school they attended,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “(Bailey) was up there. He was high and it was a great opportunity for us. The staff has already gotten several calls from clubs that were a little disappointed that were right behind us – that’s usually the case. He’s a great young man and is very, very talented. Both of them (Bailey and WR Tavon Austin) had outstanding workouts.”
To Fisher, Rams general manager Les Snead and their respective staffs, Bailey was far from a secret. They were well aware of his exploits and had invited him to St. Louis for a pre-draft visit.
What Clemens and Davis didn’t know was that the other receiver they’d be throwing to was also well-regarded and quite talented in his own right.
By the time the respective workouts were finished, Clemens and Davis couldn’t help but gush about what they’d seen from Bailey.
“I think that going to that private workout, hearing what our quarterback said about this kid, I think ESPN or whoever said he’s got some of the best hands in the draft,” Snead said. “That’s kind of what’s been reported. But to hear the quarterback say, ‘This guy is 5’11, whatever, but it’s like throwing to a 6-foot-3 guy. He goes up and gets the ball.’ So I think that private workout really helped solidify that pick for us.”
For his part, Bailey said he got positive feedback from the Rams upon completion of the workout though it was hard to get a read on anything during the process. That’s because there were some people not involved in the workout milling about and Fisher had done his best to maintain a poker face, at one point even asking the quarterbacks to stop smiling so much.
As the third round drew near to a close, Bailey had an idea that he was going to be in play for the Rams and when they came on the clock and called his name, he couldn’t have been happier about the chance to reunite with Austin in St. Louis.
“Throughout this whole time as I was sitting there waiting, he was texting me and telling me to keep my head up and don’t get discouraged,” Bailey said. “And here I am reuniting back up with Tavon. It’s a beautiful thing.”
The beautiful thing for the Rams is that Bailey’s ability certainly stands on its own aside from Austin’s work.
In fact, Bailey used his junior season at West Virginia to make the case that he was one of the nation’s best receivers. In 2012, Bailey was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best wideout, racking up 114 receptions for 1,622 yards and an astounding 25 touchdowns, all of which were good for school season records.
For his three-year playing career (he took a redshirt as a freshman in 2009); Bailey posted 3,218 yards on 210 catches with 41 touchdowns. For those keeping score that means Bailey scored a touchdown on nearly 20 percent of his receptions.
Listed at around 5’11, Bailey has a wing span of 73 ¼ inches and a 37-inch vertical jump that allows him to play much bigger than his size. When Fisher watched him on tape, he saw a player who could do a little bit of everything.
“(He has) the playmaking ability,” Fisher said. “He has run after catch ability as well. When you look at the tape you automatically go look for No. 1 and No. 3 is overlooked, but (No.) 3 ends up making catches all over the field. Circus catches in the end zone, elevated contested catches.”
In many ways, Bailey and Austin complement each other perfectly on the field. Both are capable of moving all over the place but in different ways. While Austin can line up in the backfield or in the slot or as a returner, Bailey can play all three receiver spots, do a little return work and even excel as a gunner on special teams where he had 19 tackles in his West Virginia career.
Asked how he and Austin differ, Bailey said that while both are dynamic, they do bring different looks to the table.
“You can use Tavon quite a (few) different ways,” Bailey said. “That’s what makes him such a dynamic player. You can line him up in the backfield. You can put him the slot, kick return, punt return. He does all of that extremely well. I’m more of a receiver that can line up on the outside. I can get in the slot and work. I’m definitely a guy that can get on special teams. We’re both hardworking guys that pretty much have our own ways of playing.”
Named after Oprah Winfrey’s longtime boyfriend, Stedman Graham, Bailey figures to work into the mix along with the Rams other receivers immediately as well as the potential to step in and help on special teams right away.
Already, Bailey has reached out to former Rams great Torry Holt via Twitter as a potential mentor and talked with Rams quarterback
In terms of scheme fit, Bailey said he spent time with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer on his visit to St. Louis and said he saw some things that were similar to what he did at West Virginia.
As for making his own name with the Rams, Bailey said though he and Austin love to compete and have a history of posting some mind-numbing statistics, their main objective is winning.
“We’re not selfish at all,” Bailey said. “If anything we’re going to help and motivate each other to just continue to work hard and do all we can to bring a Super Bowl to St. Louis.”