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Why O.J. Howard can have the biggest impact in the 2017 NFL draft

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Howard could transform the Bucs offense on day one.

CFP National Championship Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a steal in O.J. Howard. That’s not a secret, it’s a consensus. Almost no one expected him to fall to their pick at number 19, and they were ecstatic that he did.

While everyone sees Howard as a steal, there hasn’t been much discussion of what his immediate impact will be. ESPN’s Matt Bowen thinks he’ll have a big impact immediately, though, and that he landed with the perfect team.

Howard is a smart fit for the Bucs because he can do it all at the position. Start with the matchup ability in the passing game. Howard has the size (6-foot-5, 251 pounds) and speed (4.51 seconds in the 40) to beat safeties in coverage. Think of middle-of-the-field throws, red-zone opportunities and play-action concepts for quarterback Jameis Winston. Plus, Howard is one of the top blocking tight ends in this class, and will be an asset in the run game for the Bucs. He can reach block a DE/OLB on the edge or block down in power schemes to open up rush lanes.

The Bucs will try to build their offense around O.J. Howard. Not that he’ll be their top receiving target, but he’ll be on the field a lot and his versatility will give Dirk Koetter a weapon to mess with defensive strategies.

Previously, if the Bucs sent out a heavy formation out there, you’d know they’d usually run the ball. If they went with three or four receivers, they’d pass. They just didn’t have the players to be much more versatile than that, and it made planning for the Bucs offense pretty easy for defenses.

That changes now. They can field an offense with three tight ends and still convincingly spread the defense out. They can line up with three receivers and still run the ball well. Defenses will have to figure out how to counter Howard. If they go with linebackers, the Bucs can split him out wide and force those linebackers into coverage. If they go with defensive backs, Howard can block them into oblivion.

Of course, it’ll be a little more complicated like that, because defensive coordinators have brains of their own and quality players, too. But those are the basics, and it gives the Bucs a kind of tactical flexibility they haven’t had in years—the kind of flexibility that many teams spend years chasing.

That’s why Howard could have the biggest immediate impact of any drafted player. Assuming, of course, he adjusts quickly. Enjoy, Bucs fans!