It is widely known by now that the Buccaneers have something special in tight end O.J. Howard. That seemed apparent to mostly everyone by the end of a 432-yard, six-touchdown rookie year in 2017.
It took Pro Football Focus a little bit longer to come around, as Howard was somehow graded very poorly for his rookie season. However, it looks like PFF came around in year two. After catching 34 of his 48 targets for 565 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games, Howard received a season grade of 89.4, which was the highest grade of any Buc and the second-highest grade of any NFL tight end.
O.J. Howard was named one of our bounce-back candidates for the 2018 season after struggling as a rookie.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 19, 2019
Yeah, he bounced back alright. He bounced all the way to the second-highest grade for a TE in 2018. pic.twitter.com/DY2QdDdfqW
I, along with a lot of others, still maintain that Howard’s low grade for 2017 was ridiculous. He averaged 16.6 yards per catch and put up six scores in 14 games, establishing himself as a big-play pass-catcher very quickly. He really proved to be the complete package, as his work as a blocker was solid as well.
Despite all of that, PFF initially gave him the lowest grade of any first-round pick from that year’s draft. Steve Palazzolo tweeted Tuesday that the site made some tweaks to account for sample size, which means Howard’s rookie grade is no longer lower than that of John Ross, who finished his rookie season with no catches, a 12-yard carry and a lost fumble. Regardless, saying that Howard “struggled” as a rookie is a bit unfair.
Grades from PFF clearly aren’t the ultimate indicator of success or failure. But it’s still worth noting that Howard ranked very close to the top of the league’s tight ends in 2018. In just two years, he has established himself as a big-time force at the position. And yes, he was graded higher than Kansas City’s Travis Kelce:
In the 2018 regular season, yes, Howard outgraded Kelce: 89.4 to 88.6 overall.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 19, 2019
Howard averaged more yards per rec., more YAC/rec., had a higher first-down + TD reception % and plus grades in pass protection & run blocking.
That's just some of the factors in an overall grade. https://t.co/ve8xw50QGI
You can take all of this for whatever it’s worth. PFF is far from perfect, but if nothing else, the grades give fans some good talking points. What isn’t quite debatable these days is that Howard is someone who Buccaneer fans should be excited about for years to come.