O.J. Howard NFL Draft Profile

O.J. Howard NFL Draft Profile

The tight end position presents a veritable witches brew of potential pitfalls for fantasy owners. You can be enticed to deploy an early pick on Rob Gronkowski or Jordan Reed, due to their propensity to deliver high-quality production. But injuries have conspired to prohibit that tandem from performing in all 16 regular season games during nine of their 11 combined seasons. You can also exhibit patience before a choosing a tight end, but that places you at risk of receiving either inconsistent or unacceptable output from your disappointing starters. However, O’Terrius Jabari (O.J.) Howard should be embraced by owners who desperately covet a ray of hope. Not only does the 22-year old possess an irrefutable mixture of exceptional physical tools, but there is also the distinct possibility that he will quickly develop into a formidable weapon at the NFL level. Of course, the initial step in that process is for Howard to be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. His name could be called very early on the night of April 27th, as there is increasing speculation that he will be among this year’s top 10 picks. If that occurs, it will place him in a select category.

In the past 10 NFL Drafts, only six tight ends have been chosen during the initial round (Greg Olsen, Dustin Keller, Brandon Pettigrew, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and Eric Ebron). Among that exclusive group, only Ebron was taken inside the top 20. But Howard appears destined to join Ebron in that distinction, which would mark the first time that a tight end has been selected in Round 1 since 2014. Plus, the 6’6″, 250 pound Howard is held in such lofty esteem, that he could also become the first performer at his position to be drafted inside the top 10 since Vernon Davis in 2006. This would represent a notable achievement for the former five-star prospect, who entered Alabama as the top rated recruit among all tight ends within the 2013 recruiting class.

Howard proceeded to start five games, and secure snaps in all 13 contests as a freshman, while amassing 14 receptions for 269 yards, two scores, and a team high 19.2 YPC average. He continued to perform in every game as a sophomore while collecting 17 catches for 260 yards in 2014. His output rose appreciably as a junior when Howard assembled 38 receptions for 602 yards. Then, he gathered 45 passes for 595 yards and three touchdowns last season. While his numbers did not rise steadily in every major receiving category, that was not the result of any significant shortcomings. As he remained a multi-talented athlete with big play capabilities, that was nevertheless just one component of Alabama’s potent offense. His most memorable production occurred against Clemson in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. When he grabbed five passes for 208 yards, generated two touchdowns that exceeded 50 yards, and burst for 63 yards in his longest catch of the contest. Essentially one year later, he exploited yet another coverage breakdown by the Tigers, by scampering 68 yards into the end zone during their Championship Game rematch.

O. J. Howard will present the team that selects him with a desirable blend of abilities, that contain the potential to elevate Howard into a consistent playmaker at the professional level. He is an extremely capable athlete, who can line up anywhere on the field, then explode beyond opposing linebackers and safeties. Many of which will struggle sizably when they are forced to contend with Howard’s lethal combination of size and speed. His new signal caller can also rely upon Howard to secure passes launched in his direction. As he is a trustworthy receiver, who can take full advantage of his 33 3/4″ arm length and 10” hands, even if he is operating in traffic. Howard has also demonstrated his proficiency as a run blocker, which should further endear him to the team that selects him. It will become advantageous to utilize his prowess as both a blocker and receiver, which will entrench him as an every-down player. Howard also delivered a strong performance at the NFL Combine, finishing second within this year’s impressive class of tight ends in the 40 Yard Dash (4.51 seconds), while surpassing all others at his position in the Bench Press (22 reps), the 3 Cone Drill (6.85 seconds), the 20 Yard Shuttle (4.16 seconds), and the 60 Yard Shuttle 11:46 seconds).

His inconsistent production as a member of the Crimson Tide does not necessarily indicate a weakness. However, considering his potential to stockpile yardage and touchdowns, it does elicit questions. He collected a total of 114 receptions during his four seasons, while assembling 1,726 yards, and scoring seven times. His initial touchdown versus Clemson was also his first visit to the end zone since his freshman season. Plus, he did not register any 100-yard performances during his career, with the exception of those two encounters with the Tigers. It remains a mystery why such a powerful weapon failed to accumulate more big plays during his collegiate career. Was it a byproduct of Lane Kiffin’s inadequacies in knowing how to utilize him more effectively?  Or was it a consequence of being an incredibly capable tight end, operating within a offense that possessed a plethora of other weapons? This topic has not provided a deterrent for franchises to maintain interest in drafting Howard. As the team that secures him during the draft process can be expected to implement his vast collection of skills with unfailing frequency.

When you consider the enticing list of favorable attributes that comprise Howard’s game, along with the burgeoning number of teams that could benefit from an upgrade at the tight end position, it is hardly surprising that there is a cluster of logical destinations for this uniquely talented rookie. He has been projected to depart the draft board as early as fourth overall to Jacksonville, where there is certainly a need for the Jaguars to focus on the position. As Julius Thomas is now in Miami, Marcedes Lewis will have an unattractive ceiling on his production during his 12th NFL season, and Mychal Rivera’s limitations as a starter were unmistakable throughout his tenure with Oakland. Howard’s blocking aptitude would also provide a bonus for a Jacksonville team that has deficiencies along their offensive line. Meanwhile, the Jets urgently need to upgrade multiple positions both offensively and defensively, but it could behoove this talent deficient franchise to address their deplorable tight end situation. In 2016, Jet tight ends were 32nd in every major receiving category. Accumulating an astoundingly low 18 receptions, 173 yards, and failing to penetrate the end zone throughout the entire season. Plus, if the regular season commenced today, New York would be deploying Eric Tomlinson and Braedon Bowman at tight ends, with the eternally unreliable Austin Seferian-Jenkins adhering to his two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Seizing Howard would enable the Jets to instantly secure a legitimate playmaker, who can also block effectively amid the comparative inadequacies of the team’s offensive line. New York’s divisional rival Buffalo also provides another reasonable possibility, as it is essential for the Bills to add another gifted weapon for Tyrod Taylor. Howard would quickly elevate into a more consistent producer than Charles Clay, who has failed to reach 60 receptions or 555 yards during his first two seasons with the team. The Jets and Bills are among four destinations that have been chosen by five prognosticators (including myself) that participated in the Gridiron Experts’ NFL Mock Draft 2.0.  

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As mentioned earlier, the opportunity of utilizing such a fluid athlete, who can combine imposing size with the ability to accelerate through overpowered defenders, and simultaneously function as an adept blocker, will convince a team’s decision makers to seize Howard in the upper portion of Round 1. He should then become an immediate contributor, could easily develop into a top tier performer, and has the capacity to progress further into Pro-Bowl and All-Pro status on a regular basis. This will allow fantasy owners to add a truly gifted performer to their options, at a position that is often laden with excruciating disappointment. While statistical projections are more feasible once Howard’s professional destination has been determined, he should manufacture numbers that warrant his usage as a TE1 this season. With a ceiling that allows for frequent high-quality production throughout his career.

 

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About the author

Phil Clark

Phil is a proud Hoosier, who relocated in Nebraska, and began playing fantasy football nearly 20 years ago. In his first ever draft, he had the third overall pick and selected Barry Sanders. That choice was instantly mocked by several other owners, but Sanders ultimately scored 14 touchdowns and generated 2,358 total yards during an exceptional season. That instantly taught Phil a very important lesson – even though none of us will forecast with 100% accuracy, you should follow your gut instincts whenever you truly believe in a player. Phil began his writing career with RotoWire, later joined Fanball, and has since returned home to the Gridiron Experts. He remains firmly convinced that the key to happiness can be found through a subscription to the Sunday Ticket.

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