O.J. Howard Will Make the Buccaneers' Offense Even More Potent

Howard gives the Buccaneers yet another option on offense. How good can they be in 2017?

The 2017 draft class lacks star power at a number of positions, but tight end isn't one of them. O.J. Howard headlines a historic class of tight ends, and he became the first tight end to be selected in the first round since Eric Ebron in 2014.

That's even after Howard was criminally underutilized throughout his four-year career with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

This was the biggest knock on him during the pre-draft process. Good teams find a way to utilize their best talent, and despite a rotation of elite producers at the running back position for the Crimson Tide, Howard was rarely unleashed in the Alabama offense.

Here's a look at his collegiate production, courtesy of Sports-Reference.

Year Games Receptions Yards Yds/Rec TD
2013 10 14 269 19.2 2
2014 9 17 260 15.3 0
2015 12 38 602 15.8 2
2016 15 45 595 13.2 3

Despite the low usage, he is easily the most complete tight end in this class and one of the most complete tight end prospects to enter the NFL in quite a while.

Howard has very few holes in his game and blends rare athleticism with a well-rounded skill set. Howard displayed this freakish athleticism in each of the last two national championship games against the Clemson Tigers, catching 5 passes for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 2016 title game and 4 more passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in this year's contest.

As evidenced in these games, Howard can take over contests when given the opportunity.

Howard also has a promising athletic profile, per MockDraftable.

At 6'6" and 251 pounds, Howard blazed the 40 yard dash in 4.51 seconds -- a 96th-percentile time.
He uses his elite speed to get open downfield, winning most frequently in space and down the seams. Howard is incredibly reminiscent of Greg Olsen both in size, athleticism, and overall talent, and that's PlayerProfiler's closest comparison for him as well.

Every NFL team could benefit from adding a weapon like Howard. Fortunately for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they're the only ones that get to add this dynamic player to their offense.

Howard in Tampa Bay

In an evolving NFL landscape, most exciting rookie tight ends are talented pass catchers who can't block particularly well. Rookie tight ends rarely make a fantasy impact for this reason: NFL teams don't want blocking liabilities, which limits their ability to see the field immediately.

Howard, on the other hand, was asked to block a lot in Alabama’s run-heavy offense and has improved in this area over his four-year college career. He's among the best blocking tight ends to come out of college in a while, which means he can be close to a full-time player.

Cameron Brate had a great season, finishing seventh among tight ends in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), but is nowhere near as talented as Howard. Howard can be a dangerous weapon in the middle of the field and complement Brate in two-tight end sets.

Howard’s production never matched his elite physical gifts, but that was more a byproduct of the offense Alabama chose to run. At times, he relied on his superior athleticism to win against smaller defenders and will need to do this less often at the next level.

Fortunately, he shouldn't be tasked with putting an offense on his back. Surrounded by Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Jameis Winston, Howard is in a terrific position to be a successful pro and a fantasy contributor right away.