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Howard could be big playmaker for the Browns

Alabama's O.J. Howard is projected to be the top tight end in the draft and could be a target for the Browns at the No. 12 pick

(As it stands now, the Browns have the first and 12th overall picks in the upcoming NFL Draft as well as the top pick (33rd) in the second-round. We've taken a consensus of the majority of mock drafts and will profile the players that have been most associated with the Browns in the upcoming draft.)

O.J. Howard  (6-5, 251) Tight End, Alabama

Pro Football Focus ranks him as the No. 1 tight end (17th overall ranked player)

What PFF says about Howard's strengths: "Athletic mismatch as a receiver. Big enough to take advantage of smaller defensive backs and both fast and quick enough to create separation against linebackers...Especially dangerous when matched up against off-coverage safeties. Can use both his size and speed to create leverage and keep safety off balance...Effective at finding holes in zone coverage, strong working between layers of coverage. Good concentration as a receiver, can see ball through muddied underneath coverage and reacts wells to tipped balls...Nice post-catch burst...Sure hands. Had just six total drops over the last three seasons, with three of those drops coming in 2014...Graded positively as a run-blocker each season since 2014, had highest run-blocking grade among all tight ends in 2016...Looks to finish blocks, very tough for smaller defenders to shed once engaged. Makes sure play is past him before letting up...Very effective on frontside of outside zone runs. Quick enough out of the snap to execute reach blocks, works well off combos and is effective moving up into the second level. Earned 11 positive grades this season while blocking on outside zone versus zero negative grades...Doesn’t just blindly dive on cut blocks. Appears to consciously seek out the defenders legs, will take an extra step on his lunge if need be...Great downfield lead blocker. Takes good angles, athletic enough to stay in front of the run and bullies smaller defensive backs."

What PFF says are Howard's weaknesses:  "Under used as a pass-catcher in Alabama’s scheme. Can he live up to the hype at the next level?.. As good as he is on the front-side of outside zone runs, lacks the strength to consistently seal off edge defenders with front-side down-blocks on power runs...Doesn’t always take great angles when setting up for screen blocks when lined up out wide on wide receiver screens...Question his ability to quickly locate his assignment on pull blocks...At times relies too much on DT help with combo blocks, if help has to bail he’s left in a bad position...Questionable ability in pass protection. Only allowed one pressure this season, but asked to stay in and block less (15.8 percent in 2016 vs 20.2 in 2015) after surrendering six pressures on just 85 pass- blocking snaps in 2015. Will get overpowered by more explosive NFL edge defenders and may be susceptible to inside moves."

Who does Howard compare to in the NFL?: "Like Olsen, Howard can move around the formation and create mismatches in the passing game. Olsen has been inconsistent in the run game, and despite Howard’s top-notch run-blocking grade in 2016, his success in the trenches may rely more on scheme and fit."

Interestingly, Howard was asked at the NFL Combine who he compared to and he also said Olsen. "A guy I’d compare myself to right now would be Greg Olsen of the Panthers. I think Greg does a great job of blocking. He’s a guy, he’s a three-down tight end. He runs great routes. He has great hands. He’s a guy a studied a lot on film in college. So I would compare myself to him."

What Howard thinks his best attributes are: "I would just say my ability to be a three-down tight end. Being able to stay in the game and run-block, also being able to use my athletic ability in the passing game to separate from defenders."

Howard thinks his versatility will be a big factor in his success in the NFL.

"A lot. Being very versatile, I can go out wide, I can go in the slot, you can put a tight end in so many places on the field, it’s hard to key (on him) and shut him down. It’s a huge asset that I have." 

PFF gives their bottom Line on Howard: "Howard may end up being a better pro than he was a college player based on opportunity alone. He has the size, speed, hands and feel to be effective in the passing game while doubling as a strong run- blocker if placed in the right scheme. Howard’s ability to create mismatches in the passing game will make him an early target and potential Day 1 starter."

How Howard would fit with the Browns: The Browns have former Pro Bowl tight end Gary Barnidge and Seth DeValve to go with blocking tight end Randall Telfer. There is no question that Howard would bring a dynamic play maker to the offense. Howard could be a nice target for a young quarterback, whether it be Cody Kessler or a rookie drafted this year. 

Next Up: We'll take a look at former Ohio State safety Malik Hooker


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