Continuing our look back at the first year performance of some of the notable 2017 rookies, our focus now shifts to Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round draft pick, tight end O.J. Howard. We’ll see how his numbers from the last season compare to other recent rookies, before looking at the good and bad of his first year in the NFL. Finally, I’ll offer my thoughts on his fantasy appeal moving forward.
I set the RotoViz Screener:
to find rookies from 2007 – 2017 and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player.
So without further ado, let’s see how O.J. Howard did.
O.J. HOWARD AND HIS COMPS
Looking at the players above, it’s important to realize that all of them were brought into situations where they played behind either an established starter or at least another TE on the same roster.
David Njoku played fewer snaps for the Browns this past season than Seth DeValve (500 to 531). Zach Ertz arrived on the Eagles roster behind Brent Celek. The signficant figure of Antonio Gates provided something of an obstruction to Hunter Henry. Jimmy Graham took his first NFL snaps behind Jeremy Shockey. Like Henry, Martellus Bennett found himself picking at scraps leftover from whatever targets didn’t go the way of a potential Hall of Famer in Jason Witten.
In Howard’s case, he had to coexist in 2017 with Cameron Brate. While not a superstar by any means, Brate has been a solid NFL pro over the last few seasons. His nose for the end zone in the 2016 and 2017 seasons see him near the top of the list in terms of scores.
Howard had no mere scrub barring his path to more playing time in his rookie season.
However, two areas in which Howard enjoyed dominance over his comps were yards per target and yards per reception. His marks of 11.1 yards per target and 16.6 yards per reception are well ahead of all his peers. Given the aggressive nature of the Bucs offense and of quarterback Jameis Winston in particular, an ability to make plays down the field should stand Howard in good stead moving forward.
Below is an image showing how Howard’s comps performed in their second seasons. We show this not as a means of condemning Howard to follow exactly their footsteps but to offer an idea of a possible range of outcomes. Did these first-year backups ascend to greater heights in their second seasons?
Well, Jimmy Graham certainly did. Ertz was more productive the second time around, but he was still not exactly a superstar. Henry enjoyed a similar season, although his touchdown rate noticeably dropped. As for Bennett, he found his path still barred by Witten. It would take Bennett another three seasons and a move to the Giants before he could become established in the NFL.
Only three players in Buccaneers franchise history found the end zone as rookies more times than O.J. Howard. His six scores rank behind only Mike Evans with 12, Mike Williams with 11, and Michael Clayton at seven. Generally, it seems that Buccaneers rookies named Michael are good bets to score touchdowns. Of first-year Buccaneers to see at least 10 targets, no other player had a higher yard per target mark than Howard. He saw four or more targets in five games and had at least four catches in four games.
In Weeks 7 and 8, Howard went 8 for 8 for 114 yards and 2 TDs, with both scores coming against the Bills in Week 7. The Bills allowed only two other TDs to TEs the whole season.1 Howard enjoyed some success inside the red zone, with three of his six scores coming on four receptions inside the 20-yard line.
There were seven games in 2017 in which O.J. Howard saw two or fewer targets. There were also eight games in which he had one or zero receptions. The presence of Brate was something of an obstacle. Howard did play more snaps — 608 to 582 – but Brate saw 77 targets on the season, compared to the 39 for Howard. Although Howard managed to eclipse 50 yards receiving in three of his last five games, he managed 30 yards or fewer in six games. In five of those, he failed to top 17.
O.J. Howard managed to amass 101.2 PPR points in 2017, good enough for a TE21 finish. Despite missing two games, if we were to project his 7.2 PPR points per game over a full season, he would still only be up to TE19. He doesn’t seem to be setting mock drafters hearts racing either, given his current ADP of TE15 over at Fantasy Football Calculator.
Going back to his comps, we see that second-year leaps are not out of the question. However, we also see that more of the same was not an unlikely outcome either. Once again, we come back to the presence of Brate. If the Buccaneers appeared ready to cut the cord and let Brate out into the world, there would be a lot more excitement regarding Howard for the forthcoming 2018 season. With Brate a restricted free agent, there is some mystery surrounding his future home. The Bucs can match any offer he receives, but if it is high-end money for a TE, they may choose to let him go. If this happens, Howard’s ADP would be on the rise.
With the Buccaneers enjoying a healthy dose of cap space, they may decide they could live with Brate enjoying a significant pay raise. If he stays around, I would expect Brate to continue to sniff TE1 airspace, while Howard will once more be condemned to TE2 status. Until Brate’s future is sorted, O.J. Howard will remain something of an enigma in fantasy football. This is particularly frustrating, given just how much more efficient Howard was when targeted by Jameis Winston.
The Bucs TE room has proven to be fertile fantasy soil of late, but it’s doubtful Winston can produce two TEs who can keep fantasy owners happy. As long as Cameron Brate remains on the roster and continues to siphon targets at the TE spot, my initial instinct would be to steer clear of Howard, at least for now.
- Only Rob Gronkowski had more yards receiving in a single game against them than Howard’s 98. (back)