There is undoubtedly an impressive array of talent at the offensive skill positions within the 2017 rookie class. Which was one of the primary topics eliciting conversation prior to the NFL draft. The enormously gifted O.J. Howard was among the members in this collection of dynamic athletes that fueled interest. As he possesses a unique blend of size, speed, and overall ability, that enables him to explode down the seam beyond overmatched defenders, yet also perform with sustained proficiency as a blocker. All of which would compel the team that selected Howard to affix him on the field. In order to provide him with the opportunity to deliver immediate dividends, while evolving into one of the league’s elite performers at his position.He was also afforded a chance to generate history during the three-day event that transpired in Philadelphia as only six tight ends had been selected in Round 1 during the past 10 NFL Drafts. If Howard had been chosen among the top 10 selections as had been speculated, it would have been the first time that a tight end had departed the draft board that early since 2006 (Vernon Davis). Ultimately, Tampa Bay invested the 19th overall pick in the 6’ 6”, 250-pound Howard, which was just the second time that a performer at his position was chosen inside the top 20 during the aforementioned 10-year span of drafts.
The appeal of Howard for both the Buccaneers and the fantasy community is the byproduct of the rare combination of exceptional attributes that Howard can supply. Not only will he create sizable mismatches for many linebackers and safeties, but he can rely upon his 33 3/4″ arm length and 10” hands on those occasions when he is operating in traffic. We were provided with a glimpse of his capabilities when he consistently exploited breakdowns in coverage during both College Football Playoff National Championship Games between Alabama and Clemson. As he exploded for 208 yards and two touchdowns during the 2016 matchup and bolted 68 yards into the end zone during last January’s rematch. His athleticism was also demonstrated extensively during his noteworthy performance at the NFL Combine. As he finished second among all tight ends in the 40 Yard Dash (4.51 seconds), and surpassed all other members of this year’s impressive class 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).
He will now be placed into the suddenly burgeoning assemblage of game-breaking weaponry that will be at the disposal of third-year signal-caller Jameis Winston. The former Seminole has been heavily reliant upon Mike Evans, who at the tender age of 23 has firmly established his presence within the top tier of wide receivers. After accumulating over 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, and accruing double-digit touchdowns during two of those years. Evans also assembled the league’s fourth highest yardage total (1,321), and collected 12 touchdowns in 2016, while garnering an NFL-best 175 targets. Which was also over 30% of the passes that were launched by Winston. That percentage will diminish this season, as newly acquired DeSean Jackson should adeptly fill the cavernous void that had existed at the WR2 position. The 30-year old veteran has already eclipsed 1,000 yards in five of his nine seasons and will equip Winston with another enticing target who delivers the capacity to explode for big plays. Plus, even though Howard clearly was not drafted to perform in a secondary role among Tampa Bay’s tight ends for an extended period of time, it is realistic to expect that former starter Cameron Brate will remain yet another viable component within the Buccaneer attack this season, after generating eight touchdowns in 2016. That tied him with Hunter Henry for the most among all tight ends, while Brate also finished 12th overall at the position in both yardage (660), and receptions (57). He will eventually descend into a subordinate role as Howard’s involvement and production soar, even though that will not occur this season.
In addition to the cluster of options for Winston at the wide receiver and tight positions, several running backs contained within the Tampa Bay roster are fully capable of supplying additional outlets for Winston, as what is currently an unsettled situation at running back will eventually become less ambiguous before the regular season begins. However, Dirk Koetter possesses the acumen to resolve that uncertainty, and concoct a formidable aerial assault by deploying the newly constructed arsenal of talent. The Buccaneers ranked 16th in total offense in 2016, during Koetter’s initial season as the head coach. But his proven track record in nine years as an offensive coordinator includes the three in which he guided Atlanta’s passing attack to top seven rankings (2012-2014). Plus, his extensive utilization of tight ends during his tenure as coordinator with the Falcons and Jaguars, provides an abundant reason for potential owners to procure Howard for their rosters. Once the talented rookie has advanced beyond his initial learning curve.
As Howard’s career unfurls with the progression of time, it is reasonable to believe that his production will be sufficient for inclusion among the elite at his position. Making him an enticing option in dynasty leagues, and worthy of investment in Round 7. But even though he appears destined to stockpile numbers and awards, it would be premature to expect a statistical explosion during his initial campaign with the Buccaneers. Primarily because of what is frequently a mammoth learning curve that is inherent for rookies at the tight end position. While, this should not prohibit Howard from emerging as one of the most accomplished members of this year’s rookie class during the course of his professional career, managing your expectations regarding his 2017 output is of primary importance.
Because he is at best a borderline low-end TE1 option this season, who will need to garner 7-8 touchdowns in order to attain true viability for owners in redraft leagues. While Henry was able to achieve fantasy relevance during his initial campaign last season, the list of rookie tight ends who have manufactured only modest success during their first seasons is massive. Plus, Henry only managed 478 yards and 36 receptions despite his propensity to generate touchdowns. As a result, the belief from here is that Howard will fall short of the output that he would need to merit a selection prior to Round 13. Although it is understandable for anyone who is enthralled with his immense talent to take a chance that he will rise beyond year 1 expectations, by seizing him in Round 12. But in 2018 and beyond, it will require a loftier investment in order to secure him, and those who do will enjoy his ascension into the top tier at his position.
O.J. Howard Pre-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 Brandon 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.
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.
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.