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March 27, 2013
Beep, beep! 49ers set up visit with speedy wideout Tavon Austin

Perhaps the most electric and exciting prospect in this year's draft will visit the 49ers.

West Virginia wideout Tavon Austin, who scored 12 receiving touchdowns last year and ran his 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds, is scheduled to meet with the 49ers next month, according to a league source. Austin also has visits lined up with the Patriots, Bengals and Dolphins among others.

At 174 pounds, Austin is one of the smallest players in the draft, and any team that takes him must decide whether he can be an every-down type of player. The ultra-confident Austin, however, noted at last month's scouting combine that he never missed any games with the Mountaineers and that he played running back extensively as well. He ran the ball 72 times for 643 yards last year in West Virginia's wide-open offense, and he scored three touchdowns on the ground. In that way, he'd be yet another formidable weapon for Colin Kaepernick in the 49ers' variable offensive system.

For the 49ers, Austin has added attraction on special teams. The team's punt returner the last three seasons, Ted Ginn, is now with the Panthers while his backup on punts, Kyle Williams, is recovering from a torn ACL. Williams tweeted Tuesday that he's resumed running, a signal that he will be available for the start of the season but not a guarantee he'll be at full strength.

Austin, meanwhile, has handled 48 punts in the last two seasons, including a 76-yard touchdown return in 2012. He also was the team's kick returner over that span and scored three touchdowns, including a pair of 100-yard returns.

Austin is considered a sure first-round selection. He's been compared to former first-round pick Percy Harvin, and many believe he will not get past the Vikings - they have the 23rd and 25th selections - who traded Harvin to the Seahawks earlier this month. The 49ers have the 31st overall pick but have enough draft capital to maneuver higher into the first round and target the player of their choice.

Last year, they used their first-round draft pick on an undersized wideout, A.J. Jenkins, and their second-round pick on a small running back, LaMichael James. It would be a mild surprise if they took another undersized receiver like Austin this year.

Then again, three of their current wideouts - Williams, Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham - are signed only through the 2013 season, and their top two players at the position, Michael Crabtree and Boldin, are not known for their deep speed. There also is no clear-cut choice to be the team's punt returner, especially at the beginning of the season when Williams still might be recovering from his knee injury.

Another possible target to keep in mind, 6-8 defensive end Margus Hunt of SMU. The 49ers were on hand today for Hunt's pro day, and they had a formal interview with him last month at the combine in Indianapolis. The team has been checking out potential defensive end s for their 3-4 scheme in free agency, and Hunt could be a fit for them either at pick 31 or pick 34.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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