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2017 NFL Draft scouting report: O.J. Howard

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Today we break down and profile tight end O.J. Howard out of Alabama.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start today’s scouting report with a little trivia. In the last six drafts (2011-2016) only 2 tight ends have been drafted in the first round…Can you name them? Please share in the comments below! With that said, this year we have at least 2 tight end prospects and possibly a third that will hear their name called on day 1 of the NFL Draft in Philadelphia. Today, we are going to focus on the highest rated tight end out of Alabama.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

When I reflect back on O.J. Howard’s career with the tide three things come to mind…Underutilized, Big-Target, and Physically Gifted. Now, it makes some sense why Howard could be viewed as underutilized at Bama. For one, no matter who their offensive coordinator was or who was under center, the Tide’s blueprint on offense for years have been centered around a physical, downhill bruising running back with a complimentary passing attack. Other than current Oakland Raider Amari Cooper, there really isn’t much love for members of the Bama passing attack coming out of school. However, there is every reason to believe that Howard is not only a first round pick, but a top 15 pick as well.

Let’s start off by stating that Howard checks off all the physical tools evaluators and scouts look for in a tight end prospect. What really intrigues me about Howard is that while he is listed as a tight end, he has the speed and capabilities of a big-target receiver. Howard seems to make his presence known when the lights are shinning the brightest. Not once, but twice Howard shredded the Clemson defense in back-to-back national championship games. It wasn’t until his final season in Tuscaloosa that Howard was really able to showcase his receiving skills and abilities. Howard is versatile, and can be lined up virtually anywhere along the line of scrimmage. His first step, burst off the line, and speed give Howard the ability to create yards after reception, making him a “Big-Time Playmaker”. What’s remarkable to me is that someone with his size is able to produce the speed and agility in open space. Sometimes his issue is creating that separation from defenders.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Another important factor to consider with the tight end position is the ability to block. Howard’s blocking skills were clean, crisp, and consistent, whether in run or pass protection schemes. His hands both as a blocker and a receiver are strong and reliable. His toughness and willingness to take a hit, especially up the middle increase his value. Thanks to his big-target appeal, he is able to offer the passer large windows to complete passes. Overall, Howard is the most complete tight end this draft class has to offer.

Here are Howard’s 2016 stats: 45 catches, 595 yards, 3 Touchdowns.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Basics

School: Alabama
Jersey Number: 88
Height: 6’6”
Weight: 251 lbs.
Hands: 10”
Arm Length: 33 3/4”
40 Time: 4.51
Bench Press: 22 Reps
Vertical Jump: 30.0”
Broad Jump: 121.0”
3 Cone: 6.85
20 yd shuttle: 4.16
60 yd shuttle: 11.46

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

How the measurables translate for Tight Ends?

Information on measurables courtesy of Draft Breakdown

TIGHT END

Drill Target Explanation

40 yd dash 4.85 Speed over distance
10 yd split 1.70 Initial quickness
225 Bench 22 Upper body strength
Vertical Jump 32″ Explosiveness
Broad Jump 9’6″ Explosiveness
20 yd shuttle 4.20 Flexibility/burst/balance
60 yd shuttle 11.8 Endurance
3 cone drill 7.30 Agility/COD

NCAA Football: Auburn at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Do Your Homework

The following video is a selection of highlights and game film of Howard in action: Opponents include: Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas, USC, Texas A & M, Clemson (CFB Title Game), Michigan State (CFB Semi-Final Cotton Bowl), Wisconsin, Tennessee, Florida, and LSU.

PROS

  • Physically gifted with A+ athleticism that checks off all the boxes you would want from a tight end prospect.
  • Elite speed, with a quick first step, sudden burst, and agility that allows him to run the short, intermediate, and deep routes. Builds up speed as the play extends.
  • Can line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage.
  • Strong and reliable hands both as a pass catcher and a blocker.
  • “Big-Play” abilities on the biggest stages when the lights shine the brightest. See both national championship games against Clemson.
  • Has the physicality and willingness to fight for jump-balls against defenders in one-to-one coverage and has the ability to adjust on a dime to poorly thrown passes.
  • Runs and catches the ball with consistency and comes off on film as a big-target receiver.
  • A proficient and strong blocker in both passing and running schemes.
  • Even for his size, Howard has the ability to stretch the field and serve as a deep threat on longer routes.

CONS

  • Had some trouble creating separation, and at times was immediately tackled by defenders.
  • Durability can be a question…at times throughout the season he did not see the field as often as expected.
  • Will need to continue to work through his hips in his blocking. At times relied too much on his athleticism in this area.
  • Will need to continue to develop his route tree in the pass-friendly NFL.
NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Summary

There is a lot to like about O.J. Howard. Again, I felt like he was underutilized at Alabama, and it wasn’t really until his senior season when the nation was able to see his abilities as a receiver. I guess it’s never easy to be a receiver at Alabama. He is a natural offensive weapon who is going to make whatever team selects him immediately better on the offensive side of the ball. His big-target and big-play abilities are two of the many reasons why Howard has a first round grade.

For the San Francisco 49ers, they certainly have bodies and depth at the tight end position. My question and concern is this…How talented are the tight ends on this team? It seems to be one of the more curious and head scratching positions on the 49ers at the moment. With Howard in the picture I believe he would immediately shoot to the top of the tight end depth chart. Howard is a playmaker who can do it all, and would be quite valuable in Kyle Shanahan’s offense both as a blocker and a receiver.

If the 49ers are interested in Howard’s services they will need to welcome him to the bay area on the first night of the draft. In my honest opinion I don't value Howard with the number two overall pick. A trade-down scenario would need to take place. I have Howard valued between Picks 12-20 of the first round at the moment. Here’s what I do know…The 49ers need a playmaker at tight end, and Howard is the best prospect in this draft class. If they do trade down and end up between picks 12-20 the value is there, and the 49ers will have a big-target, physical playmaker to add to their rebuilding offense.

Draft Projection: Top 20 Pick (1st Round Selection)

What are your thoughts on O.J. Howard? Is he the best tight end in the draft? If the 49ers trade down between picks 12-20 is Howard a good candidate to select? Share in the comments below! Don't forget about the trivia question!