Over the next few months, we’ll be looking at prospects in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft from a decidedly Cowboys point of view. Taking the Cowboys current personnel, draft position, scheme, and needs into consideration; defensive line, linebacker, defensive backs, as well as complementary offensive pieces at wide receiver, tight end, and perhaps right tackle, we hope to profile the majority of the potential prospects that could realistically end up as Cowboys within the first two rounds. Once the “official visits” start to leak we’ll add prospects that are possibilities in the later rounds.
#88 O.J. Howard - Tight End - Alabama - 6-6, 250
Games Watched: Texas A&M, Auburn, Clemson (2016), Clemson (2015)
Pros: If you were to construct the prototypical tight end prospect in a lab Howard is more or less what you’d come away with. He has ideal height, weight, speed, length, and athleticism, with long arms and large hands. Extensive experience as a blocker in a variety of different formations at Alabama; was used in-line at the line of scrimmage, lined up in the backfield and pulled across formations on “wham” blocks, has experience blocking downfield, and was used as a lead blocker lined up in the backfield on sweeps, draws, and counters. One of the most NFL-ready tight ends I’ve seen coming out as a blocker due to the way Alabama used “pro style” formations and asked him to play a more traditional tight end role. Holds up well against defensive ends in the run game from in-line alignments, although he isn’t exactly a physically dominating blocker. Comfortable blocking in space and downfield against LB’s/DB’s. Smooth athlete with good change of direction for his size. Generally does a good job of extending his hands to secure catches away from his body. Has experience lining up in the slot and outside as a receiver. Was arguably the best player at the Senior Bowl practices. Has the physical potential to threaten NFL defenses downfield for explosive plays, while also operating as a traditional, “old fashioned” blocker in the run game.
Cons: Underwhelming collegiate production as a receiver, which may be due to the type of team Alabama is and the scheme that they run, but the fact of the matter is his production did not match his physical potential. Not developed as a route runner, most of his routes in college were very simplistic and designed to fool defenses by making them think he was blocking before he released into a route. Did not run a complex route tree or many downfield route patterns. Seems content to mostly just wall off defenders when blocking, you’d like to see more aggression and nastiness to his game in that regard.
Conclusion: While the lack of production is concerning, his performance at the Senior Bowl where he looked like a man among boys at times as a receiver cannot be discounted. It’s very likely that he will end up making much more of an impact as a receiver in the NFL than he did in college. The fact that he has a wealth of experience blocking in a pro-style system is something NFL teams will love when you consider that most college tight ends these days are often nothing more than “jumbo” receivers. With that said, while all of the tools are there for Howard to be an elite Pro Bowl tight end, he is still something of a projection as a receiver because he was not asked to do too much in that regard at Alabama.
He could certainly be the BPA (Best Player Available) at 28, and with his athletic potential and experience as a blocker I’d definitely be in favor of selecting him considering that Jason Witten likely won’t play more than another year or two, but his Senior Bowl performance seems to have elevated him to a probable top-20 lock. The only way I could see him lasting to 28 would be if David Njoku “blows up” the Combine, while Howard underwhelms, thereby possibly elevating Njoku to the number one tight end in the class in some team’s eyes. Either way, it may be a blessing in disguise if the top tight ends aren’t available at 28 because this is the deepest tight end class I’ve seen in 10+ years. The value may be better in the 2nd-4th rounds.
I do not have access to coach’s film or anything of that nature, I just watch plenty of football (television broadcast version) and go off what I see out of a prospect. I started this odd fascination of mine in 2011 when I sent my breakdown and links to videos of Tyron Smith at USC to the excellent Cowboys blogger Bob Sturm (April 28, 2011 - Even More Tyron Smith Tape). Since then I’ve continued watching prospects closely, but I’ve never taken the initiative to actually formally write my thoughts until I became a writer for BTB. I hope that I can provide an interesting, and accurate perspective on prospects from a Cowboys-centric point of view.
Special thanks to DraftBreakdown for posting the videos that help provide a more an in-depth look at this year’s prospects.