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Key Rams for 2015: Wide receiver Tavon Austin

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Before the St. Louis Rams report for training camp next week, we're taking a look at five players returning to the team who will need to provide more if the team is going to be a playoff contender in 2015.

We begin with wide receiver/returner Tavon Austin.

Why more is needed: After trading up to No. 8 overall in the 2013 NFL draft, the Rams had hoped Austin would inject a dose of major playmaking ability into a stagnant offense. While there has been an occasional glimpse of that in the two years since, those moments have been too few and far between. In fact, through two seasons, Austin has proved most adept as a punt returner, which isn't a bad thing but for the fact that the Rams used so much draft capital to get him. By his own admission, Austin struggled to adapt to an NFL playbook in his first season and then again a bit last season. In the spring, Austin acknowledged that he's heard the whispers referring to him as a bust and intends to attempt to prove his naysayers wrong. The Rams offense figures to center on the run in 2015, which seemingly would deemphasize Austin, but both he and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. have insisted that he'll be more involved despite the run-heavy approach. In an ideal world, Austin would serve as an electric complement to that meat-and-potatoes scheme, capable of hitting the occasional home run after the running game offers a series of singles. What's more, the Rams will have a decision to make on Austin's fifth-year option for 2017 after the season. As it stands, the fifth-year option on first-rounders at Austin's level is upward of $10 million, an annual price tag far above what the Rams have received so far from Austin.

What the Rams need from him: Expecting Austin to turn into a Calvin Johnson type of wideout posting 100 catches and 1,400 yards with 10 touchdowns is expecting far too much. But Austin's speed, change of direction and ability to make defenders miss could make him an ideal piece to give defenses a different look. The Rams don't need him to light up the league with video game numbers (though they'd be more than happy to have him do it). They do need him to be a more reliable threat in the passing game and find a way to keep defenses honest so that they can't simply load up to stop the run every down. Something in the range of 50 to 60 catches with 700 to 800 receiving yards to go with another 300 to 400 rushing yards and a total of seven to 10 touchdowns would go a long way toward helping ignite a Rams offense that needs an explosive element.

Outlook: There are many unknown variables when it comes to projecting how Austin will fare. Will Cignetti be able to deliver the touches he's promised? When Austin gets those touches, will they be in a position where he can do real damage with them? Will Austin himself be able to make the necessary improvements to take the next step? And that doesn't even include the moving parts around him on the offensive line and at quarterback and running back. Quarterback Nick Foles should be an upgrade capable of helping Austin enjoy more success, but it's still fair to wonder if he's a square peg in a round hole. The guess here is that Austin will take a step forward and offer more to the offense in 2015, but it still won't be enough to justify the expense of exercising that fifth-year option.