OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
Howard surprised most draft analysts when he bypassed the 2016 NFL Draft, after his breakout game helped Alabama win last year's national championship.
At Alabama, Howard has "flashed" the talent that made him the # 1 TE recruit coming out of high school in 2013, but has only been a complementary players thus far.
After another ho-hum 2015 season, Howard went off for five catches, 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the National Championship Game.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah shares his pre-season thoughts on Howard:
Howard has all of the tools to be an elite player at his position. He's big, explosive and versatile. He can play with his hand on the ground, as an H-back or even split out wide. He is a match-up nightmare for linebackers because of his speed, and he has a major size advantage over secondary defenders.
Howard has all the physical tools to be the next big name at the tight-end position in the NFL, but if he will have to improve as a blocker and become a more effective technician if he hopes to fully maximize his potential.
In 2016, Howard did indeed improve as a blocker and technician, adding more consistency to an already highly regarded prospect.
Bryan Perez, owner of Draftbreakdown talked on the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast (Dec 15th) that he feels Howard is a "rare" prospect. I will paraphrase.
He's rare that you find someone that's 6'6, 245 that can run like a WR. Alabama has talent everywhere...It is impossible to get everyone the ball. I can see him in the NFL being such a game-changing TE, which is hard to find. I believe he can have a similar impact as Rob Gronkowski.
I watched Alabama six times in 2016, and in most cases, he was used more as a blocker than a receiver.
Howard finished with a season-high eight receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown in Alabama's win over previously undefeated Texas A&M.
Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin didn't necessarily kept their promise to feature Howard in this year's offense, but this was a rare exception. Throughout the first half, Howard was surprisingly used often with seven receptions for 59 yards. However, most of his receptions were right at the LOS.
Just 58 seconds into the cut-up, you can see him successfully block Myles Garrett and Deonte Hall on back-to-back plays.
Against LSU, Howard help up admirably on a few one-on-one reps blocking the Tigers' top pass-rusher, Arden Key, but once again was ignored in the passing game (one catch for minus-three yards).
In the 2017 National Championship game, Howard caught four passes for 106 yards, including a 68 yard touchdown. In back-to-back games against Clemson, Howard took advantage of blown coverages to score a long touchdown.
Howard is a smooth athlete, but not really twitchy. He has thinner legs, and you don't see the lower body explosiveness of Jimmy Graham. Unlike Gronk, Howard too often gets mowed down after then catch.
Howard ran a 4.65 forty during Alabama's spring testing, and added a 365-pound clean, 425-pound bench, 500-pound squat and 9-foot-11 broad jump. Howard should test like his five-star pedigree at the NFL Combine.
With Eric Ebron and Tyler Eifert being the only two to go in the first round in the past six classes, it seems fairly certain that teams will be tempted to take Howard pretty high based on his physical traits alone. Howard's physical skills seem one notch above Ebron, who was a top-ten pick in 2014. Additionally, Howard has been a far more dedicated blocker.
When looking for a comp, names like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski come to mind, yet don't feel quite right. After all, Gronk was a second round pick, who entered the NFL after missing his entire junior season with a back injury. Graham was a third round selection who only played one season of college football, after playing basketball for four years at Miami.
My comp for Howard is Julio Jones. Sure, they play a different position, and often people say it is a lazy comp when people compare two players from the same college, but prior to the NFL, Jones was also a dynamic athlete that was under-utilized in the run-heavy Saban offense.
Consider this; after catching four touchdowns in his first five games as a true freshman, Jones only scored once is his next sixteen games!
Given that the Panthers already have one of the NFL's best TEs, I wouldn't suggest us spending the eighth pick on Howard, but I do consider him to be the rare talent that justifies taking a TE in the top-ten.
What do you think?