Alabama Tight End O.J. Howard has quickly become the top player of his position in the 2017 NFL Draft class, but it is likely he will also be one the most heavily scrutinized.
Alabama has been the most dominant program in college football since the beginning of Nick Saban’s tenure as the leader of the Crimson Tide. His ability to churn out NFL prospects year-in and year-out speaks volumes about his ability as a coach and expertise in maximizing the talent of his players. Just looking at the NFL landscape today will you give an idea of his success in that area.
While Alabama has been known for producing NFL-ready running backs, offensive lineman, and a wide-range of defensive players, quality tight-ends have never been high on the list. That is, until the 2017 NFL Draft. Despite the fairly talented pool of tight-ends entering the 2017 NFL Draft, none have have been able to separate themselves quite like O.J. Howard.
Weight: 245 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.57 sec
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Just a hair under 6’6″ and checking in at 245 lbs, Howard has intimidating size and the look of an NBA forward rather than an NFL prospect. An explosive athlete with tremendous speed and body control, Howard figures to be the look of the “new” NFL tight-end similar to Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed. He is a versatile talent that can run routes in the slot or take it deep and considers to be a huge mismatch for any defense.
Despite his unique size and build, Howard accelerates from the line of scrimmage almost effortlessly, demonstrating the explosive athleticism that makes him such a unique prospect. He possesses reliable hands and does a nice job being able to fight for the ball in the air or track it over his shoulder. An impressive receiver, despite his lack of technique and experience, Howard understands body control and has learned how to use his weight to his advantage against smaller cornerbacks and safeties tasked with covering him.
His vision in the open-field has continued to improve each year, making him a devastating weapon when the ball is in his hands. He has become a key cog in the Alabama offense, one that he has four years of experience under. His effectiveness in the receiving game was not more evident than when the Crismon Tide faced off against Texas A&M (video below). Howard routinely showed his athleticism and despite a short injury time, finished the game with eight catches for 69 yards and one touchdown.
While his athleticism and physical gifts are all but obvious, Howard remains somewhat of a developmental prospect at the next level. He tends to rely more on his physical gifts rather than improving his technique throughout his routes. Lacks the power and physicality while blocking, despite what his size would indicate. He tends to get in the way more than aggressively driving his defenders into the ground. Technique and blocking improvements must be focused on if he is to have a productive career in the NFL.
Despite a dominating performance in the 2016 College Football Championship, where he totaled an astonishing 208 yards on five catches and two touchdowns, Howard opted to return to the Crimson Tide for his Senior season. The additional year of experience could pay off in a big way and paired with his undeniable potential, will likely make him one of the more dissected prospects in the draft.
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. If he can, and if scouts feel he will, he’ll likely hear his name called on Day One of the 2017 NFL Draft.