Late on the night of Jan. 11, Alabama had secured its 16th national college football championship and O.J. Howard had moved from potential to accomplishment and consideration of the nation’s top right end entering the 2016 season.
Alabama’s upcoming senior tight end has always been considered an outstanding football player. In last year’s competition for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end, he was one of eight semifinalists. And that award had been presented to Hunter Henry of Arkansas long before the O.J. Howard explosion in a 45-40 win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
Howard earned the Offensive Most Valuable Player Award in Glendale, Arizona, after he pulled in five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. The 208 yards was not only his career high, it was the most in a bowl game by any Crimson Tide player in history and also the most by any player in a national championship game.
And it is primarily because of that game that Howard, a 6-6, 242-pound upcoming senior, ranks at the top of the heap in analysis of the nation’s tight ends for 2016.
Before the Clemson game, Howard had 33 receptions for 394 yards and no touchdowns in 2015. In his previous two seasons he had a total of 31 catches for 529 yards and two touchdowns. He was known primarily for two plays – his catch and run on a crossing pattern for a 52-yard touchdown against LSU as a freshman in 2013 and his failure to out-battle an Ole Miss defender for a ball in the end zone in a loss in Oxford as a sophomore. By the way, that touchdown play against LSU was the last one he had prior to the Clemson game.
Alabama followers could hardly complain about Hunter Henry winning the Mackey Award in 2015. Without his big play, and some sloppy defense by Ole Miss, the Razorbacks would not have had their miracle win that knocked the Rebels out of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and allowed Bama to finish the season with wins in the SEC title game, the Cotton Bowl, and, of course, the national championship game.
Howard isn’t the only top right end that will be playing in Alabama football games this season. A handful of Bama opponents also have candidates for the Mackey Award.
SEC teams with outstanding tight ends are:
Ole Miss with senior Evan Enfgram, who had 38 receptions for 464 yards and two touchdowns last year.
Arkansas with Henry’s replacement as the featured tight end, senior Jeremy Sprinkle, who had 27 catches for 389 yards and six TDs last year.
Tennessee with junior Ethan Wolf, who had 23 receptions for 301 yards and two touchdowns.