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Crist | O.J. Howard is the Tight End we’ve been waiting for

JAN 09 CFP National Championship - Clemson v Alabama
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Crist | O.J. Howard is the Tight End we’ve been waiting for

The tight end position is often discussed as a luxury position — a position that you cannot take high in the draft and for that reason a player like OJ Howard isn’t worth a top 10 selection. It’s understandable why this line of thinking is so common.

College tight ends who get drafted high generally take 2-3 years to start producing as they learn the nuances of the NFL game. They typically must develop a route tree, play inline more, and learn to block in order to stay on the field. The production expectation of a top 10 pick is to be able to contribute as an effective starter from day one, something most tight ends cannot do.

0A look at the chart below gives you a sense of just how little rookie tight ends have produced in their first season in the NFL.

Rookie tight ends often show up with such a steep learning curve that a team taking a player that high in the draft can’t afford to wait so long for the production. The first tight end off the board is almost always an electric athlete with big time potential to dominate as a receiver in the NFL.

Blocking is thought of a secondary trait for these players. Teams can find a second tight end to be a run blocker, while the rookie develops the rest of his game. With only one tight end breaking 500 yards, none catching more than 50 balls, and only one scoring 5 or more touchdowns, it makes sense on paper to say a tight end isn’t worth a top 10 pick.

This year that argument goes out the window, as OJ Howard is the tight end prospect NFL teams have been waiting for. He is the complete package at tight end, with a high floor and his ceiling becoming the best tight end in the NFL. He is a dominant run blocker; in fact, he was PFF’s highest graded run blocker among 200 qualifying tight ends.

Unlike other rookie tight ends in this class or in years past, Howard’s presence on the field won’t give away run pass tendencies. He will able to stay on the field at all times as a threat to catch the ball as well as help teams in the run game.

Howard dominated as an Inline blocker playing in the best conference in the country in the SEC. He held his own versus some of the draft’s top edge players, including Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett, Jarrad Davis and Carl Lawson. He can seal the edge and create seams for his running back as well as use his athleticism to block in space.

He is versatile in his alignments as well. He can play inline, h-back, and the slot. He can pull and become a lead blocker, block in space and allow screens to go for big plays, or punish defenders as he finishes his blocks.

From the day he steps into the locker room he will improve the running game for whatever team drafts him. His blocking ability alone will do wonders for a team, but his athletic ability combined with his receiving ability may leave teams racing to the podium to have the commissioner call his name.

When it comes to his athleticism OJ Howard is a freak, as seen not only on his tape, but in his insane measurables posted at the combine.

OJ Howard tested in the 86th percentile or better in 6 different categories. At 6’6” and 251lbs, he blazed a 4.51 second 40-yard dash, second fastest among all tight ends and matching Leonard Fournette’s 40-time exactly. His speed score, which is a weight adjusted 40 time, was in the 98th percentile. He showed off his elite lateral quickness for his size, running the 3-cone drill at 6.85 seconds, which tested in the 92nd percentile best among tight ends and would have put him 16th among wide receivers. He matches each of the criteria teams look for in an NFL tight end at the top of the draft.

Howard shows off his explosive athleticism with his run after catch ability. Howard is a rare breed of tight end who can turn a 2 yard out route into a 60-yard touchdown. He has elusiveness and power in the open field, and once he builds a head of steam he can run through players as well as make them miss completely. Howard

also has good open vision and will make the most out of his opportunities down the field. He averaged a ridiculous 15.1 yards per reception in his career at Alabama.

He can also stretch the defense and beat them over the top. NFL teams will take advantage of his size and speed and have him work up the seams. He will blow by any safety who takes a wrong step and will allow other plays on his team more freedom of space.

Howard also has soft hands and a good catch radius. He is comfortable catching the ball through traffic and can catch the ball away from his frame. His hands suggest that he can be even more dynamic as a receiver than he was at Alabama.

The biggest concerns about OJ Howard is his lack of production at Alabama. He never caught more than 45 passes in a season; his career high in yardage in a season was 602 and he only scored 7 touchdowns in his entire career. Howard was hurt this year by playing with a freshman quarterback on a run first team.

Jalen Hurts only threw the ball 30 or more times in 6 of 15 games and never cracked 40 passing attempts in a game. As a team, Alabama averaged 28.2 pass attempts per game which was 95th out of 128 teams in the nation.

Hurts was a one read and run quarterback in his freshman season. The team was so good Alabama just looked to protect him and have him avoid mistakes. Alabama had the philosophy if he didn’t cost them games they were likely to win the game.  In the below play Howard is wide open in the end zone but Hurts bails the pocket and throws it elsewhere never looking in his direction.

An NFL quarterback is far less likely to make that mistake. While Howard’s production is less than ideal I believe it was due to the circumstance he was in and not to his play. He is more than a flash in the pan receiver and has the tools to dominate.

Howard’s elite run blocking paired with his receiving ability and athleticism earns him a Rob Gronkowski comparison. He deserves to come off the board in the first 10 picks and whichever team picks him gains the potential to have the future best tight end in the NFL on the roster.

Eliot Crist

Eliot Crist is a National Scout for NDT Scouting Services. He also works for Pro Football Focus as an analyst. He has experience in draft breakdowns, tendency scouting reports, and player evaluations. Eliot is passionate about breaking down film, showing the good and bad of players explaining what he sees in a player. He frequently appears as a guest analyst on football podcasts.

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