O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Weight: 251 pounds
(percentile rank among all TEs at the Combine since 1999, courtesy of mockdraftable.com)
40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds (86th)
Vertical: 30 inches (19th)
Broad: 121 inches (86th)
3-cone: 6.85 seconds (92nd)
20-yard shuttle: 4.16 seconds (88th)
Howard arrived at Alabama in 2013 as the nation’s top recruit at his position. Feed that into Nick Saban’s football factory, and you’d expect bigger career numbers from the product.
Howard didn’t take long to crack the loaded lineup, starting 5 games while appearing in all 13 as a true freshman. His 19.2 yards per catch led the team. The TE then started just 3 contests as a sophomore but played in all 14.
His statistical breakthrough didn’t come until the end of his junior year. Howard nabbed offensive MVP honors in the national-championship victory over Clemson with his monster 5-catch, 208-yard, 2-TD performance.
The next year’s title-game rematch with the Tigers would prove to be the only other time Howard reached 100 receiving yards, with a 4-106-1 line. Those 2 meetings produced 3 of the 5 TDs Howard scored over his final 2 college seasons and 26.2% of the receiving yards he totaled over that span.
(Courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com)
Games watched: Auburn, Texas A&M, Clemson (2015), Florida (2014)
“Alabama recruited a shiny toy, but (Lane) Kiffin never really knew what to do with it,” one NFC GM told NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. “I don’t worry about the talent at all. He could be an all-pro. I just need to know if he loves football.”
The book on Howard includes questions about his competitiveness. That’s probably why he went ahead and played – a fair amount – in the Senior Bowl, despite plenty of analysts opining that he didn’t need to.
NFL team evaluators will need to figure out how much Howard loves football before they draft him. Fortunately, though, that’s not really an issue for us fantasy football drafters.
Good luck finding someone who doesn’t acknowledge Howard’s elite upside, and you don’t have to be a seasoned film vet to see it.
Let’s start with the boring stuff. Here’s Howard as a 2014 sophomore blocking through the end of the play, finishing off the last defender that might have had a shot at the RB.
And here’s Howard in the title-game win over Clemson to close out the 2015 season, sealing the lane that springs Derrick Henry for a long TD.
Scouts say he could use more strength and perhaps further technique work as a blocker. Frankly, we don’t really care. Howard looks plenty willing to block and doesn’t appear to be a liability in that area. It should be enough to make him a 3-down, all-situations player right away for just about any team that drafts him. That’s the fantasy relevance.
Of course, it’s the receiving skills that make this guy most attractive. And there’s plenty to like on that front—despite the disappointing reception totals.
Howard can deliver on straight go routes like a speed receiver.
He can also leverage that speed to get the edge on a defense and create the long yardage himself.
And each of those plays came against a talented, speedy Clemson defense in the aforementioned 2015 title victory.
When the Tide wasn’t busy under-utilizing Howard’s talents, the coaches did draw up some short-yardage touches that relied on Howard (and his blockers) to move the ball. Here are 2 examples against Texas A&M last year that display both the speed …
… and power to gain yards after the catch.
CBS draft analyst Rob Rang touts Howard’s natural hands, nice body control and strong ball tracking on downfield routes—ultimately comparing him with Jimmy Graham. Rang says Howard similarly “projects well as a ‘move’ tight end and hybrid slot receiver.”
You probably hear often about today’s NFL being a “matchup” league. TEs most often get talked up as matchup dominators, with every team seeking out guys who are too fast for LBs and safeties and too big for corners.
Well, Howard stepped right out of that mold.
His early target outlook will likely depend more on where he lands than his readiness. We’ll see whether his lagging college production came from a lack of football smarts or a coaching staff that shackled him.
Ultimately, though, Howard has all the skills needed to crack the top 5 at his fantasy position. The history of rookie TEs struggling might add early risk, but the right NFL landing spot could make him worth a pick near the Round 1-2 turn in dynasty rookie drafts.