30 prospects in 30 days: O.J. Howard

The Arizona Cardinals re-signed tight end Jermaine Gresham to a four-year deal this offseason, but the opportunity to select Alabama's O.J. Howard could be too sweet to pass up.

In the days and weeks leading up to the NFL Draft, CardinalsSource will profile 30 draft prospects who could end up making their way to Arizona this offseason.

Player: O.J. Howard

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 251 pounds

Arm length: 33 3/4 inches

Hand size: 10 inches

College stats: 2013: 14 receptions, 269 yards, two touchdowns, 2014: 17 receptions, 260 yards, no touchdowns, 2015: 38 receptions, 602 yards, two touchdowns, 2016: 45 receptions, 595 yards, three touchdowns

Strengths: There's no doubt Howard is one of the top tight end prospects to enter the NFL over the last few seasons as he brings a potent combination of size and speed to the table. A fluid, natural pass catcher who demonstrates an impressive ability to release into his routes from a three-point stance at the line of scrimmage, Howard has the potential to become an NFL quarterback's security blanket because of the way he dominates the seam, posts up defenders with his massive frame and uses his body to go up and make difficult catches in traffic. At the line of scrimmage, Howard is a powerful blocker who is able to maintain leverage by staying low to the ground with his body and keeping his center of gravity locked in with a wide base, which allows him to neutralize opponents on the perimeter and move the line of scrimmage backward on run plays. There's a lot to like about Howard, and it's clear to us that he should be the first tight end off the board.

Weaknesses: It's somewhat puzzling to us that Howard never amassed more than 45 receptions or 602 yards in a single season at Alabama because in theory, he should have been the biggest mismatch in college football. Is Howard's route running and consistency in his routes lacking? Or was Alabama simply looking to exploit defenses in other ways? It's somewhat unclear, but nevertheless, it's surprising to see Howard's statistical output so low when in reality, he'll be remembered for his dominant receiving performance in the 2015 National Championship game against Clemson. Additionally, for all of Howard's prowess as a receiver, he still has plenty of room to grow as a blocker and isn't nearly as tenacious as he could be for his size. Ironically, when Howard knows he's getting the ball or knows he's in position to have the quarterback read his route early, he bursts off the line of scrimmage. But when Howard is blocking run plays on the play side of a formation, he doesn't showcase the same quick-twitch athleticism. Though Howard has the measurables to be a first round pick, there's questions regarding his consistency that could prevent him from breaking into a starting lineup early in his career.

Howard's fit: Unless the Cardinals are dead-set on making Howard their tight end of the future, it's hard to see why Arizona would use the 13th overall selection on Howard instead of addressing a more significant need. Though the Cardinals certainly need to draft a tight end and would benefit from having a player who could step in right away as a secondary option to veteran Jermaine Gresham, there are going to be better blocking tight ends available in the middle to later rounds and those are the types of players who are better suited for head coach Bruce Arians' offense. While we believe the Cardinals could ultimately come up with more creative ways to deploy Howard in the passing game than Alabama did, it would be unlike Arians to add a tight end with a receiver-first mentality this early in the draft. If the Cardinals do wind up with Howard, he could turn into a piece the offense is eventually able to build around. But if they don't, it's likely because Arizona addressed a more prominent need. 

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