Name: O.J. Howard
Position Fit: Tight end. Effective both in-line and standing up.
Stats to know: Number one overall grade among tight ends, including the top run-blocking grade in 2016.
What he does best:
- Athletic mismatch as a receiver. Big enough to take advantage of smaller defensive backs and both fast and quick enough to create separation against linebackers.
- Especially dangerous when matched up against off-coverage safeties. Can use both his size and speed to create leverage and keep safety off balance.
- Effective at finding holes in zone coverage, strong working between layers of coverage. Good concentration as a receiver, can see ball through muddied underneath coverage and reacts wells to tipped balls.
- Nice post-catch burst.
- Sure hands. Had just six total drops over the last three seasons, with three of those drops coming in 2014.
- Graded positively as a run-blocker each season since 2014, had highest run-blocking grade among all tight ends in 2016.
- Looks to finish blocks, very tough for smaller defenders to shed once engaged. Makes sure play is past him before letting up.
- Very effective on frontside of outside zone runs. Quick enough out of the snap to execute reach blocks, works well off combos and is effective moving up into the second level. Earned 11 positive grades this season while blocking on outside zone versus zero negative grades.
- Doesn’t just blindly dive on cut blocks. Appears to consciously seek out the defenders legs, will take an extra step on his lunge if need be.
- Great downfield lead blocker. Takes good angles, athletic enough to stay in front of the run and bullies smaller defensive backs.
- Underused as a pass-catcher in Alabama’s scheme. Can he live up to the hype at the next level?
- As good as he is on the front-side of outside zone runs, lacks the strength to consistently seal off edge defenders with front-side down-blocks on power runs.
- Doesn’t always take great angles when setting up for screen blocks when lined up out wide on wide receiver screens.
- Question his ability to quickly locate his assignment on pull blocks.
- At times relies too much on DT help with combo blocks, if help has to bail he’s left in a bad position.
- Questionable ability in pass protection. Only allowed one pressure this season, but asked to stay in and block less (15.8 percent in 2016 vs 20.2 in 2015) after surrendering six pressures on just 85 pass-blocking snaps in 2015. Will get overpowered by more explosive NFL edge defenders and may be susceptible to inside moves.
Player comparison: Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Like Olsen, Howard can move around the formation and create mismatches in the passing game. Olsen has been inconsistent in the run game, and despite Howard’s top-notch run-blocking grade in 2016, his success in the trenches may rely more on scheme and fit.
Bottom line: Howard may end up being a better pro than he was a college player based on opportunity alone. He has the size, speed, hands and feel to be effective in the passing game while doubling as a strong run-blocker if placed in the right scheme. Howard’s ability to create mismatches in the passing game will make him an early target and potential Day 1 starter.