The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t targeted first-round rookie O.J. Howard much this year. In fact, he has just two catches for a total of 29 yards—hardly the kind of production you’d expect from a tight end who was supposed to be a top ten pick.
That’s true, of course, but it ignores the value Howard adds as a run-blocker. He hasn’t been that versatile yet, but he took over 60% of the offensive snaps in both of his first games, more than any other tight end on the roster. He’s being used, just not as a receiver—not yet, anyway.
And that’s perfectly consistent with the history of first-round tight ends. They simply don’t produce as rookies in the passing game. Rob Gronkowski (actually a second-round pick) produced just two catches for 15 yards in his first two NFL games, for instance.
And Gronkowski is no exception: only three of the fourteen first-round picks at tight end since 2003 had more than five receptions in their first two games. None had more than 550 receiving yards on the season. Rookie tight ends, no matter how highly drafted they are, simply do not produce big numbers.
Which is why Howard’s production so far is no reason for concern. In fact, his being on the field as much as he is and being a productive blocker is a pretty good sign—the catches and targets will come, there’s only so many to go around after all.