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Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard feels good as mini-camp ends

Howard had a very quiet, but successful rookie year.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minicamp Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was a blessing last season when O.J. Howard fell to the 19th pick in the draft. If you asked every analyst and scout before the draft if that was a possibility, they would have said “no chance”. It wasn’t necessarily the team’s biggest need, but he was the best player available and Tampa Bay, like many teams, decided to go that route.

Howard was often compared last season to Evan Engram, who was selected in the second round by the New York Giants. The national media has praised Engram ever since the season ended, but Howard had as good of a year, with way less targets. In his rookie season, Howard was targeted only 39 times and had 26 receptions for 432 yards and six touchdowns. In comparison, Engram had 115 targets and hauled in 64 of them for 722 yards.. He also had six touchdowns. So to make that more clear, Howard only had 290 less receiving yards on 76 less targets.

As Howard heads into his second season, I expect a big jump for him in targets and yards. The former Alabama standout also feels more confident not only in his game, but in his mental preparation.

“I would say the game changed a lot to me, just mentally,” Howard said. “Slowing things down, understanding the playbook a lot better, so that just does a great job of helping me play fast and knowing what to do.”

Every player as they head into the off season knows that they can improve certain aspects of their game. As a young player, there are all sorts of things to improve on and Howard took that mentality into this off season.

“We all have to do our reports on last year’s film and tell the good and bad about it, so I had a lot of things I wanted to improve on such as the run game, running routes, getting open a lot in man coverage, so those are just some of the things that I brought to this season saying I need to improve on from last year.”

The Buccaneers offense has a chance to be special this season and the development of O.J. Howard is critical. If Howard stays on the upward trend, which I anticipate, he and Cameron Brate will be the best tight end duo in the NFL for years to come.