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2022 Free Agency All-22 Analysis: TE O.J. Howard

Not the Tampa Bay tight end many fans wanted

Fans of the Buffalo Bills were looking for a splash signing and a tight end from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They did get both, but not in the same person. They did, however, sign a former first-round draft pick at the position, so let’s take a look at tight end O.J. Howard.


Play 1

The last couple seasons haven’t had a lot for O.J. Howard to do when it comes to pass catching. By default that makes him more of a blocking tight end. I’ll start with the bad news. He isn’t Lee Smith. This play likely wasn’t going anywhere regardless, but Howard lets his man through quicker than you’d like to see as a result of a poor first step (on this play).

Play 2

So fine, he didn’t catch a lot of passes the last couple seasons. Surely he runs some routes though right? Yep. Here you go. Nothing too complex typically as you’d expect from a tight end. However, he looks like he’s running pretty fast doesn’t he? Check out his spider chart from MockDraftable here. His rankings in most areas are pretty elite for a tight end. Feel free to toggle over to ball carriers and skill position comparisons too, where he still ranks pretty well.

Play 3

I said he was no Lee Smith. But honestly, who is (besides Lee Smith)? Here Howard is one-arming Kyle Van Noy, which is a pretty good glimpse into his upside.

Play 4

That’s a nice chip from Howard. He’s also putting two defenders in conflict, which allows his teammate a bit of breathing room rather than a potential double team. The real reason I picked this clip though is that Howard presents as a selfless teammate, celebrating the accomplishments of someone else with a ton of enthusiasm.

Play 5

I’ve shown a lowlight and a highlight for blocking, so let’s take a look at something closer to baseline. For a tight end, I consider this a victory. It’s not a sustained block but it opens the lane wide enough for a running back and then some.

Play 6

Nothing complicated about the route, but it’s a nice recovery from the stumble. The stumble puts the play a bit off on timing and the pass is a bit behind. Howard adjusts very well and makes a clean catch for a touchdown.

Play 7

There were limited chances to watch 2021 Howard makes catches, but this one is pretty exciting. He looks the ball in the entire way and finishes with a strong hands catch. It’s also a pretty good cut for a player around 251 lbs.


Summary

I admit it. I’ve been holding out on you. It’s true that O.J. Howard hasn’t had a lot of passes thrown his way (20 per year), but it’s only been the last two years since Rob Gronkowski arrived on the scene. I don’t feel like I need to explain the rationale on that scenario. Prior to that, he averaged 47 targets a season. That’s right around Dawson Knox’s first two seasons. Howard averaged more yards per target too.

Howard likely isn’t going to be challenging for Dawson Knox’s spot on the roster, making this fall short of a major splash signing. But on the other hand, I think Howard has the potential to make the clear TE1 and TE2 roles look more like TE1a and TE1b. When you have a roster that was already in good shape, there’s a lot to be said for significant depth upgrade.