Blessuan Austin: Why NFL Draft sleeper from Rutgers could be NY Giants' lottery ticket
Blessuan Austin was unnerved by all the poking and prodding of his twice surgically-repaired left knee.
He did not know many of the doctors, nor what the reports would be, but after all the work the former Rutgers star cornerback had put into his recovery, he arrived at the NFL's Scouting Combine earlier this month hoping for validation.
"I wasn't scared, really, and the process out there was smooth for me," Austin told NorthJersey.com and USA TODAY NETWORK. "I take pride in my body and the work that I've done, when the medicals came, I couldn't wait for the doctors to put their hands on my knee, to see how good it felt. I had a couple of doctors say they could tell how far along I was and how hard I was working in my rehab, that's how good the knee felt.
"I wasn't expecting bad news at all, he added. "I was expecting to impress with just how far I've come, that's what happened, and now I'm here, very close to being all the way back, and I can't wait to show everyone."
Austin's comeback has certainly been a story of perseverance. He's in the last phase of his rehabilitation on the road to the NFL Draft, overcoming consecutive knee surgeries that derailed his final two seasons at Rutgers.
Projected by some to be the top senior cornerback in the Class of 2019 late last summer, Austin is now hoping to make good to deliver on that promise if and when a team gives him the chance to prove not only that he can regain his form, but best it.
Could that opportunity be with the New York Giants, who met with Austin at Rutgers Pro Day last month? The Queens native grew up rooting for Big Blue, and there's another connection: the 6-foot-1, 198-pounder was coached by Giants assistant defensive backs coach Henry Baker with the Scarlet Knights, so there is familiarity here.
The Giants have 12 picks, so there could be potential to take some chances on talented players who normally wouldn't be available later in the draft if not for their medical history. The Cowboys reaped the benefits of their gamble with linebacker Jaylon Smith. Same for the Eagles and cornerback Sidney Jones.
GIANTS MOCK DRAFT: Projecting all 7 rounds for Big Blue
Austin may very well represent a Day 3 lottery ticket for the Giants, who may have an edge on the medical front as well, considering their team doctors were among those at Hospital for Special Surgery who performed Austin's procedure.
No one should have a better read of where Austin is, just how far he has come and how healthy he will be going forward.
"The Giants are my team, they've been my team since I was really young, so that's been pretty cool to sit down with them and talk," Austin said. "And with Coach Baker, it's crazy how things work out, you never know where your coach in college is going to be in the future. I'm excited to see how this all plays out."
Austin had 14 passes defensed as a sophomore and quickly emerged as a prospect to watch, but tore his ACL as a junior. He worked all the way back last season, only to re-injure the same knee in what turned out to be his final college game.
He was invited to the combine, but watched the rest of his position participate in on-field drills, the smart play considering where he was in his recovery.
"What made it hard is seeing other guys out there at my position, running around and doing drill work, and thinking to myself, knowing that, the way I'm wired as a competitor, if I'm out there watching other guys playing ball, I want to show scouts, 'Hey, I'm either as good as what you think is good or I'm even better,' so that's the toughest part," Austin said. "But I watched from the sideline, and I took mental notes of who looked good, who I had to look better than in the drill work when that time would come."
Austin did some on-field work at his Pro Day, and even though he is only about 70 percent, he wanted to run the 40-yard dash to show his progress.
He was clocked at 4.65 seconds, a time that should improve as he continues to get the explosiveness back in his left leg. His flexibility, range of motion and strength in his quad has continued to improve on schedule along the way.
While Austin could have applied for a medical redshirt with the NCAA for both the 2017 and 2018 seasons and returned to Rutgers, his big picture goal was always to reach the NFL. He has met with the 49ers, the Lions, the Bills and the Cardinals, among others, in addition to securing invites to the local Pro Days of the Giants and Jets.
Austin hopes he can follow in the footsteps of former Rutgers stars Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan and Marcus Cooper in the secondary - all of whom have made a name at defensive back for the Scarlet Knights in the NFL.
"This really has to be all about patience," Austin said. "I've been able to mentally prepare for all this for some time now. I'm just respecting the process. Time's gonna be time, so I'm just letting it go on and waiting for my time. And when my turn comes, I'm going to give that team everything I've got. They're going to get the best player I can be, and I look forward to showing everyone just how good that is."
More NY Giants news
DWAYNE HASKINS: Are Giants serious suitors or is this part of a smokescreen?
JABRILL PEPPERS:He's not intimidated by challenge of NJ homecoming with Giants