I’m fully aware that this might sound like a hot take, but hang with me: Alabama’s O.J. Howard isn’t all that crazy a pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I’ll make a case for just that, and we’ll take a look at the ways in which Howard could help Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense as a whole.
If you asked the average fan what the Buccaneers’ biggest needs were, I’d wager that tight end would be near the bottom of their list. Justifiably so; they have an ascending 25 year old named Cameron Brate, who scored eight touchdowns last season, tied for the most among tight ends. Brate was a terrific safety blanket for Jameis Winston and one of his few reliable targets. So, when I say that the Bucs should consider drafting another tight end, trust me that I have not forgotten about Brate.
Some folks might be unfamiliar with Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, so let’s get caught up before I explain why he could be a fit in Tampa. Howard played four seasons for the Crimson Tide, accumulating 114 catches, 1726 yards, and seven touchdowns. The 6’5, 249 pound tight end wasn’t featured often in Alabama’s run-heavy offense, but when he was, he came up huge. Howard delivered two straight virtuoso performances in the 2015 and 2016 national championship games versus Clemson. If you’ve forgotten or simply didn’t watch the games, check out the video from Draft Breakdown below for a taste.
In both games against Clemson, Howard showed off the traits that will make NFL teams drool, including the Buccaneers. First and foremost, Howard is a willing and capable blocker. In Alabama’s rush oriented attack, Howard was required to block often for the likes of
and Bo Scarborough, and though nobody will mistake him for an offensive lineman, Howard was more than able to hold his own. This trait will go a
way for teams that run the ball a lot, like the Buccaneers.
For a player as big and physical as Howard is, it’s legitimately startling to see how quickly he can accelerate up field and then out run linebackers and defensive backs after the catch. Some big tight ends, like
or Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, are fast for their size but are plodding in their movement and take a minute to accelerate. Not Howard, though. Take this play against LSU for example.
Howard, lined up wide, runs a simple slant, makes a routine catch, and then puts the jets on. For many tight ends, that play ends around the 20 yard line or so where either the defensive back or linebacker is able to catch up. Not Howard, though. The Alabama product has drawn
comparisons, and watching plays like that makes it easy to see where those come from.
So, how does he fit with the Bucs? We know that Howard is a terrific prospect with tantalizing talent, but why would a team that already has Cam Brate invest a draft pick in him?
First of all, Howard in the hands of an esteemed NFL coaching staff could be used as more of a chess piece than merely a . When I look at a prospect I like to ask myself “how many different ways can this guy help my team?”. Corner backs that can line up anywhere, running backs that are disciplined blockers with consistent hands, defensive ends that rotate inside on passing downs. All of these things earn extra points for me, and it’s tough to ignore how many different ways Howard can help the Buccaneer offense.
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The most obvious place he’d help is in the quest to add weapons for Winston. The Bucs’ passing offense was limited to just Mike Evans and Cameron Brate as consistent play-makers, and as a unit had very little run-after-catch potential. With Howard the Bucs would get another talented pass-catcher with the athleticism needed to create huge mismatches for linebackers and defensive backs. At Alabama Howard showed he’s comfortable lining up all over the line of scrimmage, whether that be as a traditional tight end, a wide receiver, or a slot receiver. No matter where he lines up, teams intending on using an extra defender to shadow Mike Evans will now need to account for a second dangerous tight end paired with Cam Brate.
It might seem strange to feature two tight ends, but if you recall, Dirk Koetter was prepared to do just that before last season began. The Bucs entered week one with Cameron Brate and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and against Atlanta we got a taste of what could happen with two capable tight ends. It was a great taste, but unfortunately ASJ had a taste for drinking, and the rest is history. For the remainder of the season the Bucs had to rely on Brandon Myers and Alan Cross to compliment Brate, and though they were plenty involved they couldn’t make a difference often enough. A late season injury to Brate effectively ended the Bucs playoff chases.
We’ve talked about both his physical stature and athletic ability, but Howard’s absurd catch radius would be an extremely useful asset for Jameis Winston, who has a penchant for throwing passes a bit too high. At the senior bowl, Howard measured in with 33 7/8-inch arms, which matches up perfectly with the player you see on tape. At Alabama Howard was able to use those long arms to catch and secure passes and then brace for contact before the defender arrives. This all helps Howard be a force of nature in traffic, where he’ll often find himself in the NFL.
Something that doesn’t get enough attention is the Buccaneers’ need to improve their red zone offense. In 2016 they ranked 20th in the NFL in terms of touchdown percentage inside the 20 yard line, and far too often they were settling for field goals. This is one more area that Howard could be a real asset for the Buccaneers. Howard’s size, body control, and arm length should allow him to successfully box out defenders in the end zone in the way we’ve become accustomed to seeing from the leagues top tight ends.
Working against Howard is the fact that he didn’t score many touchdowns in college, and even fewer of those came in the red zone. This, and his meager statsitical production as a whole, could be because of the Alabama offense and how it’s structured, but regardless it makes projecting Howard at the next level a little bit more complicated. Should the Buccaneers choose to select him, it will be based more on traits and potential than a plethora of great tape.
So, what do you think about the notion of drafting O.J. Howard? Are his talent and potential simply too great to pass up, or do the Buccaneers simply have too many other pressing issues to add a second tight end? Let us know in the comments section!