Name: O.J. Howard
Weight: 242 lbs
Games Watched: 2015 – vs Clemson; 2016 – vs Auburn, vs Texas A&M
A five-star recruit from Autauga Academy in Prattville, AL (a suburb of Montgomery), Howard was a four-year starter at tight end for Alabama. Used sparingly in the passing game in 2013 and 2014, he recorded 38 catches for 602 yards in 2015, and 45 catches for 595 in 2016. Modest stats, but Howard’s breakout game happened to be the National Championship game, at the back end of the 2015 season. In that matchup, Howard notched up 5 catches for 208 yards and his only two touchdowns of the year. Howard was named Offensive MVP for his efforts. His 2016 season was more consistent, as Alabama used him a touch more in the regular offense.
Oh, to be Nick Saban. To be able to get a team to two national championships, winning one, while barely involving one of your most gifted and able pass catchers. Howard is going to be one heck of a dynamic weapon for whoever drafts him. First up: he lines up pretty much anywhere. On the end of the line? Check. In the slot? Check. Outside? Check. In the…backfield? Check. And he’ll run routes from all of these – good, crisp routes, too. I noticed a couple of occasions in the Texas A&M game where he’d got open but wasn’t targeted – it seems to be a pretty common pattern.
And throw it? He’ll catch it – he’s sure-handed, with enough toughness to make a contested catch. What passes do you want to throw him? Well, send it deep, let him catch one up the seam, toss a shovel pass, throw a screen, just give him the ball! Oh, and once he’s got the ball he’s dynamic. Howard was regularly sprinting round and past defensive backs, taking angles and running intelligently in space. He’s going to be a menace. He’s agile, athletic – heck, at times when he’s running he twists and turns like and oversized running back.
Howard’s blocking is reasonable. I feel like he’s better in run-blocking, holding off a few big men to create some holes as he went, but there were a couple of occasions in the Texas A&M game I realised he’d successfully blocked Myles Garrett, of all people. So he’s a willing blocker, which already puts him at an advantage over several starting-calibre tight ends in the league.
Howard is going to have to bulk up a bit to not be overwhelmed in the NFL. At 6’6” and 245 lbs he’s built more like a big wide receiver (think Devin Funchess), and bulkier defensive backs and linebackers will have more fun at NFL level. The risk of that is, does Howard lose that athleticism and agility? Does he make himself less of a threat just so he can block better? That’s a dilemma whoever drafts him is going to have.
Either way though, I’d like to see Howard refine his technique on blocking a bit. He often ended up flatfooted in pass-blocking, and basically any move that’s put on him stands a decent chance of blowing by. Footwork, handwork, along with getting a touch bulkier, that’ll all help. I’m not overly worried – the guy’s a college tight end, they can never catch and block – but it’s still a weakness.
The only other thing? Well, teams might be worried about his lack of production in college. I mean, this appears to be due to Nick Saban just not calling for plays involving a pass to the star tight end (and yet still winning). But it might give the odd the team the jibblies. It shouldn’t, though.
Howard’s the best tight end to come out of college football in years – better than the overdrafted Eric Ebron, for sure. He’s going to be an upgrade to the passing corps for whoever picks him up, and is going to represent a vertical, outside, slot threat, wherever you put him. I like Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert as comparisons which in itself points out one thing you have to worry about. In a position of very high attrition, Howard will as it stands be among the lighter of the bunch. Put him into block too much against NFL-size players and you risk him being ground down to mulch. But bulk him up a bit – not too much, keep him athletic – and set him loose, and he’ll play with a lot of energy and block and catch everywhere. I like Howard a lot.
Grade: Mid-1st round