The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a steal in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft when O.J. Howard fell from a projected top ten pick all the way to number nineteen. They were ecstatic, very surprised, and couldn’t wait to pull the trigger—even with fan favorite Dalvin Cook on the board, too.
Of course, the Bucs already have a productive tight end on the team in Cameron Brate. But whereas Brate is mostly a receiving tight end, and not an overly explosive one, Howard can do everything: block, run down the seam, and out-jump everyone at the catch point.
Of course, there are some question marks, too. His production in college was limited, never producing more than 700 receiving yards in a season. That’s mostly blamed on the way Alabama used him (to block), but there’s always that lingering feeling that if he was really that good, he’d have magically forced the coaches to have him run routes more.
Still, Howard is a rare talent, which is ultimately why the Bucs picked. But there are specific ways in which he fits what the Bucs want to do, so let’s go through three of those.
Howard is a rare “Y” tight end
This is something Dirk Koetter has talked about repeatedly this offseason, and mentioned just after the team selected Howard, too: “Y” tight ends are hard to find. They’re the guys who can both block and be a real threat as a receiver.
Howard is Rob Gronkowski, whereas most NFL tight ends are more in the mold of Jimmy Graham or Luke Stocker: good at what they do, but ultimately one-dimensional. Howard is anything but one-dimensional and can do everything a team would ask him to do.
That gives the Bucs a ton of options, and turns the offense into a matchup nightmare. They could line up in a tight end-heavy set, one most teams run out of, and spread out a defense short on defensive backs. Or they could put up pass-heavy sets, and have Howard maul some poor cornerback on a running play.
Dirk Koetter loves that versatility, and he loves multi-tight-end sets. He got a lot of production out of Marcedes Lewis and Tony Gonzalez in Jacksonville and Atlanta, respectively. He’ll know exactly how to get the most out of Howard, too.
Howard is really explosive
The Bucs have a good receiving tight end in Cameron Brate, but he’s not truly explosive. Brate’s useful, especially in the red zone, but he’s not catching 30-yarders down the seam, and he’s not turning short catches into long gains.
Howard, though, is exactly the kind of player who does both of those things. With DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans on the outside to lift the safeties, Howard should have a lot of space to get down the seams and threaten the deep middle of the field, which will bring a whole new dimension to this offense.
That dimension is perfect for Jameis Winston, incidentally, who looks his best when throwing down the middle of the field, and who throws some beautiful seam balls. He hasn’t had the targets to consistently target there, though Austin Seferian-Jenkins made a handful of gorgeous catches when he was still with the Bucs. With Howard there, Winston can really shine.
Howard is perfect off the field
This isn’t as prominent a reason as the others, because many players are perfect off the field. Still, this is something general manager Jason Licht mentioned after taking Howard, and given the reported interest in several players with off-field question marks it’s worth noting. Many players fail for off-field reasons, and there’s very little reason to believe that’ll happen with Howard.