Buccaneers: Three starters who should watch their backs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /
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O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Buccaneers Tight End O.J. Howard

Given the fact that O.J. Howard is a former 19th overall pick of the draft, his potential is always reason for optimism in Tampa Bay, but also frustration. It’s always hard coming to the realization that a first-round pick simply didn’t pan out as planned.

That’s not saying it’s completely Howard’s fault though. At 6 feet 6 inches and 251 pounds, Howard is a freak of nature for a tight end given his speed and athleticism for his size. He has shown flashes of brilliance when healthy. The keywords here are “when healthy”.

To pretty much sum it up, Howard’s best game in 2020 with Tom Brady came in the game he tore his Achilles against the Los Angeles Chargers where he had three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown before his injury. That is Howard’s NFL career thus far in a nutshell. He’s solid when he is actually on the field, which is few and far between.

The best ability is availability. Unfortunately for Howard, he has only played in 42 games since entering the league in 2017 and has never played a full season. In 2020, Howard played in only four games, by far the lowest of his career.

Howard will be playing on his fifth-year option, and if 2021 goes like every year prior, the Bucs may cut bait sooner rather than later. Besides, Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, and Tanner Hudson are still on the roster. The latter of which has been visibly fighting for his NFL life to remain with the Buccaneers this training camp and preseason while Howard’s receiving and blocking ability have left much to be desired thus far.

Sure, one can attribute it shaking off the rust, but considering that receiving and blocking are the two most important skills of a tight end, there’s cause for pause. Howard may not technically be listed as “TE1”, but with the amount of 12-personnel packages the Bucs offense runs, he was penciled in to see a big amount of playing time. Now? The jury may still be out.

At the end of the day, Bruce Arians and the staff may just keep what worked for them in 2020, and not “rock the boat” so to speak, with their starting lineup. However, if any of the 2020 starters should feel their seats getting a little toasty, these are the three primary candidates.

Time will tell how the rest of the preseason and training camp goes, but at the end of the day, the Buccaneers have a loaded starting lineup, and an absurd amount of depth to boot, regardless of the starting lineup.