Bucs think they’ve caught a falling star in Howard

by Gary Shelton on April 28, 2017 · 1 comment

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs


Howard could be a better tight end in the NFL than he was in college./PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA

Friday, 4 a.m.

When the night began, he was considered beyond their team's dreams. He was the Christmas gift your family cannot afford. The vacation you cannot purchase. The car you cannot even consider.

And he fell.

Still, it is a long way from the top 10 to 19. And for a while, O.J. Howard seemed beyond reach. He was a nice thought, a winning lottery ticket kind of thought. But he wasn't realistic. For once, the Bucs weren't bad enough for him.

And he fell.

So Howard sat and watched, and the Tampa Bay Bucs sat and watched, and eventually, they noticed each other. Still, it seemed like a match made in someone's mock. No way Howard slides that far, right? No way the Bucs get that lucky.

And he fell.

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Finally, the Bucs were there, and so was Howard, and all bets were off. It didn't matter that Dalvin Cook, the elusive running back from FSU, was there. It didn't matter that David Njoku, who sounded okay as a consolation prize until Howard, the No. 1 tight end, was there. It didn't matter that Cam Robinson or Reuben Foster were there.

Miraculously, Howard – who was in the top dozen of almost every mock draft — was there. And the Bucs' fell on him like a fumble. He was found money. He was being the lucky caller to a radio show. He was the prize that you couldn't even spend a reasonable dream on.

And now, he was a Buc.

“We’re beyond excited about him," said a beaming Jason Licht. "It was a little bit of a pipe dream during the process that he would get there and then (we) got a little itchy. We decided to stay patient, which we did. We were getting some action at our pick, but I have a feeling a lot of teams were probably after him along with some others — there [were] still some good players on the board. That was the most excited I’ve seen the entire room since I’ve been here since we picked Jameis [Winston] with our first-round pick. [Howard] is a 6-foot-6, 250-pound guy that can run. He’s a great kid, he’s one of the top character kids on the board, if not the top. So, for multiple reasons, we’re beyond excited.”

How does this happen? Well, maybe it wasn't as unexpected as we thought. Howard's agent told him he could go anywhere from sixth to 20th in the draft.

But to most of us, it seemed Howard plummeted in the draft without reason. Reuben Foster fell and Jabrill Peppers fell, but they had diluted drug tests. But when the runs of quarterbacks and wide receivers came, something had to be pushed down. It was Howard.

For the Bucs, this is a chance to make right the wasted pick it spent four seasons ago when it picked Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a mess of a prospect. Seferian-Jenkins had the talent to tease fans, but he had a propensity to screw up, too. And when he started not knowing what was going on with the plays, it was time for him to go.

It's funny, but if Seferian-Jenkins was good enough to stick around, the team probably wouldn't have drafted Howard. So give an assist to Seferian-Jenkins; if ht weren't such a bust, this pick would never have happened.

As it is, the Bucs now face the prospect of breaking their offensive huddle with Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate and Howard. That's enough to get your attention if the team finds a running back.

And that's what Howard can do. He's a helper. He can make the wide receivers better, because he can split the seam. He can make the backs better, because he can block. He can make Winston better, because he's another play-maker.

“We always like to stick to the best player and where needs meet and we felt like we had a need at tight end," Licht said.. You can’t get through a season with just a couple — you’ve seen the injuries that we’ve had here in the past. Like I said, we feel like he’s going to be a guy that develops into a good line of scrimmage blocker and then he’s a 4.5 [second 40-yard dash] guy at six-foot-six, 250 [pounds] — he can stretch the field. I know Jameis, like I said before, I got a text from him with about a million smiley faces, so I know he’s happy.”

Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter says he's a big fan of tight ends from the ones he's coached -- Anthony Gonzalez in Atlanta and Mercedes Lewis in Jacksonville.

“First off, the true Y-tight ends are a dying breed in college football," Koetter said. "There’s not that many teams left that utilize a player like O.J. while in the NFL, I think is still one of the best weapons that you can have. Here’s a guy that’s got the speed to run down the seam and the power to block a defensive end at the line of scrimmage. There’s not many of those guys around so we’re very fortunate that he was still there and excited for him to be joining the Bucs.”

I'll be honest. I liked Cook as the Bucs' pick. I thought he'd touch the ball more often, and he could close the door on the Martin mess.

But think of it like this. Every good thing we all know about Cook, the Bucs knew, too. They saw the USF tape. They saw the Clemson tape. And they still like O.J. Howard better.

In his college career, Howard had 114 catches for 1,726 yards. Those numbers should increase in the more pass-happy offenses of the NFL. The Bucs might have finally got their Jimmy Graham. Maybe, they got their latest Jimmy Giles.

One publication called him “one of the cleanest players in the draft.” He's well thought of in the locker room, and he takes his blocking serious, and he played a role on a team that didn't force the ball to him. That has to count for something.

"I enjoyed playing at Alabama,” he said. “I learned a lot about being a teammate. That's better than catching 100 balls a season.”

The one quibble you can make with the pick — and isn't there always something — is that it didn't plug one of the team's bigger holes. It wasn't a safety or a running back or a defensive end or an offensive tackle. Those still have to be addressed.

But as far as adding a weapon, the Bucs did about as well as they could be expected to do with the No. 19 pick.

Think about it like this: The NFL is a matchup league. So the Bucs break huddle, and what do you do? Do you double-cover Evans, the Pro Bowler? How about Jackson, the high-priced free agent? Brate, who caught 57? Howard, the No. 1 draft pick? Who do you use to cover the man out of the backfield.

Yep. The more you think about it, the more the Bucs are going force teams to run out of defensive backs.

He's big,” Licht said. “He's a huge target. He makes contested catches. He can run. He's going to eventually develop into a good blocker. He's a tight end prospect that doesn't come around but every now and then.”

Imagine this pick through the eyes of Winston. Sure, he would have liked to have had Cook. But this off-season has brought him new weapons. His deep ball should be better. His accuracy should be better.

That's what a tight end like Howard can do for a team. He can complicate things. He can exploit the soft spots. He can be another blade in a Swiss-army knife.

You're heard of catching a falling star? This time, the team got a falling star who catches.

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