Alabama tight end O.J. Howard showed during the course of his collegiate career that he played his best at the most important time, and the potential 2017 first-round pick has continued to show this week at Senior Bowl practices why NFL teams have a high grade on him.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah spoke to five NFL executives regarding NFL comparisons for the Crimson Tide tight end, and their answers shed light on how impactful NFL front offices reportedly believe he can be at the next level.
Two of the NFL executives compared Howard to Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, while another said he was “a better version of” Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron. Alabama’s 6-foot-6, 249-pound tight end is not quite the size of Graham at 6-foot-7, 265-pounds, but one executive stated that Howard is not only a similar athlete to Seattle’s star tight end but a “better blocker.”
While comparing Howard to Graham may be considered some lofty praise, one NFL executive went as far as to compare the Alabama tight end to Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.
“He’s a taller version of Shannon Sharpe,” the executive said, via NFL Network. “You can’t cover him, he has reliable hands and he’s an adequate blocker.”
The fifth executive compared Howard to Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. The Bengals 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end is one of the best at his position in the league, but has struggled to stay healthy in his first four seasons in the NFL.
Howard recorded 45 receptions for 595 yards and scored three touchdowns in his senior year, but much like his junior season, it wasn’t until the National Championship Game that he had another breakout performance. In two National Championship Games, Howard amassed 314 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
While Howard’s numbers during Alabama’s regular seasons don’t jump off the page, NFL evaluators are well aware of the lack of a passing attack in Tuscaloosa. Howard along with Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku are projected to be the top two tight ends off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft, and NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock added another lofty comparison for Howard on Wednesday.
Mayock compared Alabama’s tight end to Carolina Panthers 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end Greg Olsen. The Panthers star tight end has recorded three consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards, and was named a second-team All-Pro for the second straight season in 2016.
“He has a perfect combination of height, weight, speed, toughness, and athletic ability,” Mayock wrote, via NFL Network. “The comparison I have for him is Greg Olsen. If you have a chance to draft a Greg Olsen, you go get him. And I think you’d have to get him with a pick in the early 20s.”
The Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, and even the New York Giants could all be looking to bolster the tight end position in this year’s draft. It will be interesting to see where Howard lands in the NFL, but after two days at the Senior Bowl, his draft stock looks to be on the rise.