by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected O.J. Howard in the first round of last year’s draft (19th overall), there were immediately high expectations set for him. Unfortunately, as is the case with many rookie tight ends, the production simply wasn’t there as he was virtually unusable in his rookie campaign:
26 receptions, 432 yards, 6 TD
He played in 14 games, missing the final two with an ankle injury. There aren’t any concerns with that heading into 2018, but is there the potential for him to rise into a more significant role?
Last season he was targeted 39 times, getting more than 4 targets in a game just twice (and never more than 6). It was clear that Cameron Brate (48 receptions, 591 yards, 6 TD) was the preferred option, though the bulk of his damage came over the first seven games of the year:
- First 7 games – 31 receptions (44 targets), 591 yards, 4 TD
- Next 9 games – 17 receptions (33 targets), 186 yards, 2 TD
That means over the final nine games of the season he was averaging less than 2 catches on 3.7 targets per week. He also had just one game with a TD over that stretch (he had 2 TD on December 3), so it appears safe to think that the Buccaneers have no issue with pushing Howard past Brate and into a more prominent role. If they viewed Brate as a key cog in the offense, wouldn’t you expect more consistency in his production a year ago?
Howard, for his part, put up 50+ yards in three of his final five games last season (including 3 games with 1 TD). There also appears to be a lot of opportunities for Howard to step up and emerge as the second option, behind Mike Evans, in the passing game. Just look at last year’s target leaders:
- Mike Evans – 135
- DeSean Jackson – 91
- Adam Humphries – 83
- Cameron Brate – 77
- Chris Godwin – 56
- Charles Sims – 48
- O.J. Howard – 39
Jackson is now 31-years old and isn’t the same player that he once was. Humphries will have a key role, but he’s averaged 10.6 yards per reception over his three year career and isn’t a dynamic play maker. The Buccaneers need someone to step up and take the focus away from Evans, and Howard simply has the most upside to do so. Prior to the draft Walter Football compared him to Greg Olsen, saying:
Olsen isn’t a beast as a blocker, but he has turned himself into a serviceable player in that regard. Howard did the same at Alabama and has the upside to be a better blocker than Olsen as a pro. As a receiver, Howard could easily turn into a weapon like Olsen through the air. They are similar in size, speed and athleticism.
He’s already proven to be a TD threat (listed at 6’6″ and 251 lbs.) and would it be surprising to see his targets more than double in ’18? He has all the makings and upside of a TE1, yet doesn’t carry the same cost. Consider him a potential breakout star and well worth the late round flier.
Sources – ESPN, Walter Football
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 preseason rankings: