Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard has been vastly underrated and underused in the Bucs’ offense through his first couple of seasons.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans didn’t see the production out of TE O.J. Howard that they had hoped for, but there’s potential for Howard to become one of the league’s best tight ends.
As Howard stepped into his third season in the NFL, there were huge expectations that the talented tight end could take the next step towards becoming an elite option for the Buccaneers offensively.
Unfortunately, he had just 34 receptions for 459 yards and one touchdown during the season and was even reprimanded by Bruce Arians for his lackluster play during the season.
Though Howard certainly has some areas to grow as a player, one area that he did show much improvement was in pass-protection. According to ESPN, Howard had a 98 percent PBWR (pass-block win rate).
It seems that it may be more than just Howard’s lack-of-production, though, when it comes to what we’ve seen through his first few years with the Bucs.
Arians loves to air the ball out, but he doesn’t have a philosophy for getting the tight end involved heavily in the passing game. After all, he did say back in 2015 with Arizona Cardinals that tight ends are there to block, not to catch a ton of passes.
As a matter of fact, Howard was on the field for more than 80 percent of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps, but was targeted four times or less eight times.
While many Buccaneer fans are ready to give up on the tight end, it should be noted that the system has led to Howard being underutilized and without a defined role. Yes, he has made mistakes- including having a couple of bad drops when targeted- but it shouldn’t be forgotten that there’s a reason that he was drafted highly.
There’s also a reason why opposing fanbases are jumping at the prospect of the Buccaneers trading Howard during the offseason: It’s his talent and upside.
I understand that Arians doesn’t necessarily want to get the tight end involved and would rather take deep shots down the field. I also understand that the Bucs have a solid wide receiver core that doesn’t necessarily need a ton of underneath help.
That being said, Howard has the talent to contribute and develop into one of the better tight ends in the league. He is explosive when running the ball and could be an X-factor in terms of depth in the passing game if used correctly.
But, it’s all about how he’s used.
If the Bucs aren’t going to highlight Howard’s receiving skills- and trust me, they’re there- then it may be beneficial to part ways and perhaps get another draft pick or a solid commodity. If they are going to keep him, though, they need to find ways to get him involved in the receiving game.
Howard certainly has room for improvement and those things have been noted repeatedly, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that he’s been vastly underused, as well, and that is affecting his production in more than one way.