O.J. Howard – Worth the Hype?

While the likes of David Njoku, Evan Engram and Gerald Everett have moved up and down draft boards (apparently) since the evaluation process began, one player has remained firmly atop the tight end charts and firmly a top-10 selection. That player is Alabama TE O.J. Howard. After a glittering college career, including an MVP award in the National Championship game, surely Howard will be a surefire NFL stud from day one, right?

Cool your jets a wee bit, bucky. There are a few hurdles to jump before Howard becomes a superstar, if he in fact does. Despite a reputation as a college power house, the Crimson Tide has failed spectacularly to provide the NFL with consistent offensive play makers over a course of many years. While we can all point, laugh and probably groan at the NFL careers of running backs like Trent Richardson and T.J. Yeldon, the careers of Alabama TEs in the NFL is not all that impressive…at least, not after the first guy.

NameNFL Career SpanGames PlayedReceptionsReceiving YardsTouchdowns
Ozzie Newsome1978-1990198662798047
Howard Cross1989-2001207201219417
Kris Mangum1997-200612615114249
Ray Ogden1965-197170538854
Terry Jones2002-200553594935
Butch Wilson1963-196982253173
Thornton Chandler1986-198949292684
Rod Rutledge1998-200270272041
Tony Johnson1996-1998279971
Brad Smelley2012-20134130

I’m not saying O.J. Howard is Ozzie Newsome, and I’m not saying he’s Brad Smelley either, but this is hardly a list replete with Canton bound heroes. Howard won’t have to do an awful lot to be known as the second best Crimson Tide TE to play in the pros.

As always, our attention now turns to the combine measurables tree, taken from Kevin Cole’s definitive article on what drills matter the most to TEs. The 6-foot 6-inch, 251-pound Howard ran a staggering 4.51 forty, threw out 22 reps on the bench and touched 30 on the vertical jump. The first two of these deeds, as you can see below, speak very well in his favour, although his vertical falls short of the standard Kevin has determined most predictive in a TE becoming a stud in his first three years. But not disastrously so.



Howard’s vertical jump wasn’t as high as Engram, Everett, Jordan Leggett or Jonnu Smith, but his 40 time was faster than all of them (except Engram), and his 22 bench reps were more than any of his closest competition except Everett, who also managed 22. He stands in comparison with all the big guns in this deep TE class.

When it comes to a range of outcomes for Howard, based on his physical measurables and college performance, it was necessary to turn to the RotoViz Box Score Scout app. Given most draftniks certainty that Howard will hear his name called within the first ten picks on April 27th, I set his draft assumption to ten. Here’s the comps.

howard comps#

If this list is a possible range of outcomes for what O.J. Howard could become in the NFL, there is certainly the possibility for huge upside. Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert and Hunter Henry are examples of some of the encouraging comps in this list, and show Howard’s elite upside, validating his expected draft position.

But with every ying, there is a yang. Ed Dickson, Luke Willson, and some even worse no-names show there is bust potential with Howard. Fortunately, those names tend to be further down the list.

On the production front, Howard, despite putting up huge numbers in the 2016 National Title game, was never a huge part of the Alabama passing game. The 312 yards he amassed in two national title matchups against Clemson accounted for 18 percent of his total college production, while the other 44 games of his college career saw just four more touchdowns after the three he scored in the finals. Sure, he came through in a big spot in the biggest stage he could play on at the time, but when it comes to week in week out contributions, I’m not able to say that he was ever THAT guy.

Phil Watkins, author of the must-read Tight End Prospecting article published on this here site, looked at which of the 2017 class was most likely to become a long-term NFL starter. Despite all the things going in Howard’s favour, namely his honor-laden collegiate career, his long time spent in the limelight of draft twitter, Phil’s model shows that Howard is not the most likely TE to break out among this group.

2017-04-04 (11)

It’s a better than 50 percent chance, of course. But is that probability really worth ploughing into a 1st round draft pick, when players with better odds can be gotten later in the draft, especially when the comps we have seen point to such a wide range of possible outcomes for him? Phil’s model would indicate not.

However, it is likely that O.J. Howard will be an early draft pick, probably by a TE-needy team like the Jets. Gang Green have never come close to replicating the production they saw from Dustin Keller between 2008-12, and given the paucity of their offensive weapons, they’d be foolish to pass up on anyone who could be a playmaker. This wouldn’t help Howard’s chance of becoming an instant fantasy stud, and to be honest it does very little for his long-term chances. According to the RotoViz Dynasty ADP App, Howard is currently the eighth TE going off the board. I can’t get behind this lofty position, while in rookie drafts he’ll probably be taken at around the 1-2 turn. I’m not sure I’d ever forgive myself if I took him that high, and he turned out to be the second coming of Shawn Nelson. Even if he ends up like his top comp, Eric Ebron, he’s being taken too early for that kind of production. My dynasty teams are not strong enough for me to make that kind of play.


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By Neil Dutton | @ndutton13 | Archive

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