In this series we’ll break down popularly linked names to the Jets at pick six. First up, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard – a prospect being hyped up as one of the most complete in the past ten years.
Name: O.J. Howard
Position: Tight End
Measurables courtesy of mockdraftable.com:
|40 Yard Dash||4.51s||96|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.16s||88|
|60 Yard Shuttle||11.46s||95|
|Bench Press||22 reps||64|
As the measurables table above shows, Howard has good size and is an elite athlete for the position. The first thing you notice with Howard when watching Alabama however is not his off-the-charts athletic ability but his willingness and proficiency as a blocker. If you’ve heard the story on Howard you know the production doesn’t seem to match the draft value (more on that later), but you’re not a two-year starting tight end for Nick Saban if you’re lacking physicality and skill in the blocking department.
Howard was used all over the field, and while that bodes well for his future utilization as a receiver, Alabama frequently reaped those rewards in the run game. Split out wide, defensive backs are at an obvious disadvantage with Howard’s frame. Inline, Howard explodes off the snap well and shows the ability to get under and move mid-major ends and SEC linebackers. In pass protection he can be an asset as well, showing the ability to mirror and easily deal with blitzing back seven players with limited moves. Just don’t ask him to handle Myles Garrett.
Howard is getting top ten hype and as polished his blocking skills are for an NFL rookie, teams don’t take tight ends that highly purely on their ability to block. Back-to-back star performances in the National Championship game attest to Howard’s potential as a receiving weapon.
It’s not just the breakaway speed that makes Howard a threat, but also his vision and willingness to get physical. True to a 6’6 250+ receiving target, he’s difficult to bring down.
Howard is the combination of a top notch blocking tight end coming into the league with the high end athletic ability to be one of the NFL’s most dominant receiving tight ends. The hype is for good reason.
Two years ago Marcus Mariota as a quarterback prospect seemingly had everything. The question was not whether he had the skills to make certain NFL level plays, there was just not enough evidence of him doing so. It’s a projection. I feel that same idea applies to Howard as a receiver.
Alabama’s offense had a trust issue. The conventional logic is that lack of trust was in Jake Coker and Jalen Hurts to utilize an aggressive downfield attack in the middle of the field to take advantage of Howard’s athletic strengths, but the result is that Howard was mostly a “get it to him” weapon at Alabama. A good deal of his touches can be attributed to the same several quick sideline outs, shovel passes and flat route passes.
Because of that, there aren’t many examples of him earning receptions the hard way. I don’t really know how well O.J. Howard deals in press situations (though I imagine pretty good given other skills) nor do I know how good he’ll be as a classic tight end box-out style red zone threat. There are good examples of Howard adjusting to some poorly thrown balls and making an athletic, balanced move to continue moving upfield. But I don’t see many circus catches you expect from an athletic freak. Even those highlight reel plays against Clemson were mostly the result of scheme getting Howard open and Howard just running fast in a straight line.
He’s clearly a work in progress as a route runner as well, and a good deal of his pro projection in living up to his lofty draft expectations will be mastering this craft. Howard shows some laziness here, especially if it’s unlikely he’s seeing the ball. He can telegraph shorter routes compared to the way he absolutely flies off the snap when being sent downfield. His cut at the top of the route can be labored and easy for defenders to read. His route awareness on third downs is sometimes lacking.
Fit at Six – 9/10
This is as good a marriage of need and value as the Jets will see at this spot. If you consider Christian Hackenberg one of the young players on this roster with real potential, tight end sticks out above all as the most desperate position group in need of talent injection. Howard – battle tested in the SEC, pro-level competence as a blocker out of the gates and the athleticism to be schemed for immediately – is a good chance to be an upgrade from day one. This should matter to Mike Maccagnan.
The flip side of this is that if Howard turns out to be nothing more than a decent blocking tight end that never puts it together further athletically, there’s nothing more inconsequential to a team’s fortunes than having an ok starting tight end. This is a great class for the position as well, so if you aren’t taking Howard with the expectation that he’s going to turn out to be a *great* player, you’re playing it too safe.
This pick would tick a lot of boxes: one of the draft’s premier offensive players, a weapon for a new quarterback, and a player that could make an immediate impact. It’s a pick that makes sense for a GM that needs to show some promising young talent *now*, and of all the names the Jets have been linked with at six it’s probably the one most fans can live with.
The Jets should absolutely have Howard on their radar – but they need to get a good feel for him, and study as much film as they have available. Seek as many instances of his athletic prowess being displayed on the field as possible. Get a feel for his dedication, his practice habits, and what type of worker he’s going to be when football is his job. Because if you take him this high, you should be expecting greatness, and it’ll be up to him above else to achieve it.
Photo courtesy: AL.com