• TrueNorth FantasyFootball

Breakout Profile: O.J. Howard

I’m not one to be conservative, but O.J. Howard is a top 5 talent at the Tight End position! He marries a well-rounded game with an athletic profile only surpassed by his metrics. Now! I’m not one to be hyperbolic, But Howard is the clearest breakout TE to spot in years!!!!

At age 24, O.J. Howard’s draft capital, talent, and efficiency have left us fantasy skids salivating. His usage however, be-it staying in to block as opposed to running routes, or his overall priority in the offence, have left us all banging our heads against… the fire Dirk Koetter wall.

Entering the offseason, Koetter wasn’t the only body gone. We also saw DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries walk in free agency. When Tampa Bay hired Bruce Arians as their new Head Coach, our fantasy ears perked up! The famous fantasy football community immediately put the Buccaneers under a microscope. With the masses paying close attention, they proceeded to use free agency and the draft to add… absolutely nobody on offence! (Sorry Andre Ellington/ Sorry not sorry Breshad Perriman).

Buccaneers management, and Arians alike, recognized they have THREE weapons on offence, all through the receiving game. If we polled 30 analysts asking them who they think Jameis Winston’s 4th read in the passing game is, I think we would hear several names bandied about. O.J. Howard would not be one of them. To my point, after being fifth in the pecking order to date, O.J. Howard has moved up to third on the totem pole.

Through his two combined seasons in the league Howard is 3rd behind only Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski in PFF’s Yards Per Route Run metric. He’s put up 11 TDs through 2 seasons on only 87 targets (12.6%- compared to Hunter Henry’s 10% and Evan Engram’s 5%). Howard’s 16.6 Yards per Reception usually reflects a Wide Receiver who sees his targets deep down the field! Last season O.J. Howard was the only TE in the NFL with both an average depth of target above 10 yards AND a catch rate of at least 70%.

So why do we still see O.J. Howard with a draft price near the 6th round? In my opinion, it's mostly people in high places driving us down narrative street. They may need to turn around though, I think they’re lost! And we all know, those voices can be drowning. Not to fear though, as we always carry with us our trusty “How to do Fantasy Football right Map”. So instead of getting lost, we’re at a truckstop re-fueling while plotting our checkpoints to the Fantasy promise land.

In 13 seasons as either Head Coach or coordinator, Bruce Arians offences have produced only ONE Tight End who performed as a top 20 fantasy option. Steelers fan favourite Heath Miller's TE 7, 9, and 15 finishes are the 3 best fantasy seasons of any Tight End under the Kangol Killer.

That sounds damning, but it isn’t damning to O.J. Howard. In those 13 years Heaaaaath- was the best Tight End Arians has had at his disposal. Out of the other 9 TEs he’s coached, most football fans would be hard pressed to remember 3 of them. Let me jog your memory, because they DID exist. Coby Fleener in 2012 was TE23 with Bruce Arians as OC. Remember that hair! (Referring to Coby Fleener of course, not Arians!) The only other two pseudo household names would be Darren Fells, and Jermaine Gresham who finished between TE31 and TE33 under Arians in Arizona.

Now we can truly appreciate the lack of weaponry Arians has had at the position. You may still argue his offence and schemes devalue the Tight End position overall. But a no risk-it- no biscuit offence can always use an athletic freak (40 Yard Dash, Speed Score, and Burst Score all at least in the 97th percentile). O.J. Howard can stretch the seam and run routes like a WR. He operates in all areas of the field and has shown historic efficiency doing so.

Showing Howard's talent, and Arians’ motley crew of Tight Ends just serves to dismiss the circumstantial evidence against my client! It’s the concrete numbers that show O.J. Howard is likely to Blow!

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the 4th most vacated targets in the NFL going into 2019. With Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson going to Tennessee and Philadelphia respectively, Tampa Bay has 234 targets to distribute. Those 234 available targets is 38% of the Buccaneers passing game. With little to none in the way of offseason additions, the trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard should all outkick their ADP coverage this season. My thoughts on the Running back group (especially their pass catching abilities) The lack of receiving ability in the Running Back core really enforces that statement.

When doing projections, one of the first steps is always to analyse the coaching staff changes. We all know Bruce Arians is as pass heavy as it gets. When we begin to look at pass to run ratios and historical data we find that there shouldn’t be much in the way of a regression to the mean in Tampa Bay. We know how much Arians loves to pass, so the play calling should be Brucie through the sky with Jameis! (Sing as Lucy in the sky with diamonds, c’mon guys).

With the volume available, and a pass heavy offence, O.J. Howard’s target share will skyrocket! In Howard’s rookie year his infinitesimal 6% share of the passing game was equal to how many touchdowns he scored! Last year, in Howard’s sophomore season, his market share % only crept up to 7.75. A head scratcher to most of us, it’s compounded by Cameron Brate out targeting him 126 to 87 over the last two seasons. Brate has also seen more work in the red zone over that time, although the margin is much thinner.

Another benefit the hiring of Arians provides to O.J. Howard is low usage of 2 Tight End sets. This should help us fantasy gamers to know that Cam Brate will be on the field less. Anyway you slice it Tampa Bay becomes a more condensed offence. This can also combat Jameis Wintson’s tendency to spread the ball around.Not only should Brate’s role continue to dissipate, there are a lot of high leverage fantasy points available for this team.

Along with having the 4th most passing work up for grabs, the Buccaneers also have the 5th most Red Zone targets available in 2019. Surprisingly, the red zone is where O.J. Howard really dominates. His criminally low Market Share % increases dramatically the closer Tampa Bay gets to the goaline, and his efficiency is undeniable. In his rookie campaign he caught 4 of his 6 targets inside the 20 yard line for 3 TDs. Inside the 10 yard line he converted 4 targets into 3 receptions, all 3 of which went for scores.

We hoped last season to see that role expand, and while we did see Cam Brate’s role diminish, Adam Humphries, Desean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans continued to be prioritized ahead of Howard. Despite their brutal efficiency in relation to Howard’s. In 2018, O.J. still managed 4 TDs on 5 catches in the red zone, and identical to his rookie season, his 4 targets inside the 10 yard line turned into 3 TDs on 3 snags.

O.J Howard has an ADP in early August in the back half of the 5th round, with Evan Engram and Hunter Henry both going early 6th. These guys are being drafted as TE 4 through 6 and over the last 3 seasons, 25% of Tight Ends drafted in the top 6 at their position have busted outright, finishing outside the top 18. It’s likely that 2 out of those top 6 will break your heart this season! Adding Eric Ebron, Jared Cook, David Njoku and Vance McDonald, we have 7 TEs being drafted between rounds 5 and 8. If we do draft a Tight End in this range, personally, I’m expecting to pick the player who will perform as that TE 4, if not creep into that elusive elite tier behind Travis Kelce. Not unlike George Kittle in 2018. To bring it home, out of those 7 Tight Ends falling into our ADP bucket, only 2 can vault up to top 4 at their position based on historical trends.

2019 may have a cheat code in projecting O.J. Howard’s rise into elite status. When you look at the 3 offences in question, as mentioned, Tampa Bay has a ton of targets up for grabs and no new comers or first timers! The Chargers and Giants either have new or returning players to inherit targets, or very few vacated targets available at all. Most importantly, both the Chargers and Giants are likely to be passing 25-30% of the time to their Running Backs! For the Buccaneers, unless Ronald Jones miraculously… I couldn’t even write it.

My arguments for O.J. Howard have been laid out to leave you riddled with bias in reaching a conclusion, so I’d be remiss to not pose this question: If you had an ultimatum where you had to pick ONE of those Tight Ends to crack the top 4 at the position, who’s your pick!? As you can see by the True North Projections, our minds are made up. In 2019 we just hope that when Jameis Winston is eating those W’s, he’s washing them down with some O.J.!!

Tyrell Maclachlan