Howard could ascend to TE1 quickly
The Houston Texans found a way to immediately improve their Tight End room, agreeing to a deal with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills Tight End OJ Howard on September 2nd.
Howard was once considered a “can’t miss” prospect, as both the top high school tight end recruit in the nation and as the top tight end prospect coming out of college. Howard showed he could be a high impact, big play receiver at Alabama despite not getting a lot of targets. He was named Offensive MVP of the 2015 National Championship game after catching 5 passes for 208 yards, including touchdowns of 53 and 51 yards, as Alabama defeated Clemson 45-40.
Howard was selected 19th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay and made an immediate impact his first 2 seasons particularly as an end zone target. He averaged 16.6 YPC and scored 11 touchdowns in those first two seasons with the Bucs, even though his second season was cut short, ending after Week 11 due to foot and ankle injuries.
Howard tore his Achilles tendon on Week 4 in 2020 and missed the rest of the season. In 2021, he found himself buried on the depth chart behind future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate. Howard saw action on only 31% of the team’s snaps, which was a career low as he worked his way back from injury.
Howard was considered a top free agent tight end target this offseason when he signed with the Bills. Reported to have a strong camp, his production in preseason games did not necessarily reflect that for Buffalo. In their first preseason game, he was held without a catch on just one target. In his second preseason contest, he caught all three of his targets for 16 yards and a touchdown. He did not see a target in the final preseason game. He was considered to be a surprise cut when the Bills announced they were releasing him as part of their final cuts to get the roster down to 53 players.
Howard was thought to be signing in Cincinnati shortly after his release, as he was reported to be visiting and taking a physical with the Bengals and a deal was thought to be imminent. However, Cincinnati was awarded TE Devin Asiasi on waivers from New England, which scrapped the deal with Howard. Howard was then brought in by the Texans and the deal was completed Friday.
Howard brings experience and production to a tight end room short on both at the NFL level. Second year man Brevin Jordan played just nine games as a rookie last season, starting two. He finished last season with 20 receptions for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns. Veteran Pharaoh Brown has spent the last two seasons in Houston, starting 21 games, but has been known as a blocking tight end. Brown has accumulated 37 catches for 334 yards and 2 scores over those two seasons. Howard represents an immediate upgrade over both players.
Now a full season removed from his Achilles injury, Howard could quickly assume the TE1 position, and give the Texans a legitimate pass catching threat at the tight end position for the first time since 2016, when CJ Fiedorowicz (54/559/4) and Ryan Griffin (50/442/2) combined for over 100 catches and over 1000 yards. No Texans tight end has reached 440 receiving yards since.
Howard’s abilities as a red zone target and chain mover should complement the Texans passing game with Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins, giving Houston another weapon to keep drives alive and finish them with touchdowns.