Player Profile: O.J. Howard
Tight end is one of the more challenging positions in fantasy football. Most NFL tight ends are wildly inconsistent. Despite the receiving ability of a lot of NFL TE’s, sometimes the matchup requires them to become blockers first and offensive weapons second. If you do happen to find a quality TE, especially in your dynasty league, it can be a game changer. This year’s draft class, at least on paper looks to be one of the better classes for tight ends in quite some time. At the top of the stack is O.J. Howard from Alabama who caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in the National Championship game against Clemson. Howard is somewhat tricky to evaluate since, not unlike all TE’s under Nick Saban, he was largely under-utilized throughout his college career. You saw flashes of his talent, but in a talent-rich Alabama offense, there were too many mouths to feed to feature just one player, especially one that has blocking ability. In other words, he’s just like the NFL tight ends that I described above. What is he going to look like at the next level? What does his future hold? I broke down some tape and this is what I saw when reviewing the former Crimson Tide tight end.
The first major advantage he has going is his frame. He stands 6’ 6” and weighs 251 according to the team’s official website, which makes him a prime red-zone target candidate. He doesn’t shy away from contact either. He is an extremely powerful runner who is comfortable lowering his head and trying to run guys over. He also has a sick stiff arm that just puts clown suits on defenders. In situations where it’s more prudent to flash some agility, he checks that box as well. In fact I was surprised after seeing his height and weight, how well he can cut and move. He possesses good speed for the TE position and displays good field awareness on several runs down the sidelines to stay inbounds. Always looks comfortable using his big hands to catch balls away from his frame and is extremely reliable on passes that are within his catch radius. Can get off the line quickly and power or maneuver off a defender that may try to jam him up.
Despite being listed at 6’ 6” and 251, he appears and plays skinnier than that on tape. He also seems to go down a little too easy at times and rarely shakes off defenders with shoulder fakes. Will likely never overachieve in the “yards after contact” column of the stat sheet. I noticed that occasionally he carries the ball away from his body and leaves the rock exposed while running. In the NFL, defenders will knock the ball loose more often than not if he doesn’t correct that habit. Perhaps the biggest red flag with Howard is that he can appear disinterested during blocking and plays in which he’s not involved. There are some internet rumors about his work ethic being below average. However, there are also reports that he came back for his senior year at Alabama because he knew he needed work on his blocking abilities. If he truly had a poor work ethic, I don’t think there is any way he would have postponed the NFL for his senior year of college. Seems like those would be opposing ideas.
O.J. Howard is a physical specimen. His physical build, agility, speed, and catching abilities afford him opportunities that not many people have at the NFL level. We have tape showing that he can be the type of player that you can build a team around, but we also have tape that shows him acting like he’d rather be somewhere else. I believe that he probably felt underutilized in Alabama’s offense. We need to be cautious with him though because as I stated previously, there are teams and situations that don’t allow the tight end position to thrive. The system can make or break a TE. Just look at Jimmy Graham’s production in his first season in Seattle. Howard isn’t going to be happy only being used as a blocker. Let’s see what team he lands on before we go too crazy, but at the pro level Howard has a chance to be a real difference maker for fantasy purposes. With the similar build (6’ 6” 265 lbs), it’s easy to be reminded of Rob Gronkowski when you watch Howard play. However, I think the size is where those comparisons mostly stop. Gronk plays the game with a passion and drive that I just don’t see on tape from Howard. Maybe he’ll find it through NFL coaches and a massive paycheck, but at this time I think his upside is somewhat limited by his commitment to the game. He still has top 15 tight end skills, but I want to see more from him before I can put him among the elite tight ends in the league.
Originally published at dynastyfootballfactory.com on February 19, 2017.