Three years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. A year later, we started the Why Slide? series, and this year, it is back. Feel free to email me requests for "Why the Slide?" and "Why Undrafted?" at [email protected]. I can't promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely respond.
Some draft prospects became risers after the end of the college football season, and that was the case with Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. Howard was a star in Alabama's National Championship win over Clemson at the end of this past season, and there were other games in which the junior flashed a tremendous skill set of size, speed and athleticism. While he went underutilized by the Crimson Tide, Howard was one of the most impressive players at the Senior Bowl and continued his great offseason at the combine, plus further impressed during interviews and private workouts. Many teams and pundits thought Howard could be the rare tight end who goes in the top 10 and was very likely to go in the top half of the first round. However in the 2017 NFL Draft, Howard slid all the way to the 19th pick before he was selected by Tampa Bay.
Sources say that Howard slid mainly because teams typically don't take tight ends that high and there just weren't many teams with a big need at tight end. Here's how one source with Tampa Bay explained the way things unfolded. "[Mitchell] Trubisky going 2 and then the other two QBs going in the top 12 pushed guys down. There wasn't as much need for tight ends with teams ahead of us, and typically tight ends don't go that high. We were lucky. If O.J. had been taken right before us, Dalvin [Cook] would've been the pick."
The Buccaneers are a great landing spot for Howard. He is a great fit as a mismatch weapon in Dirk Koetter's offense as the Bucs have wanted to have a dangerous double-tight end set. Howard also has one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL to work with in Jameis Winston. Winston is entering the prime of his career, and Howard and he could form a special tandem for many years to come. With big-play wide receivers like Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson on the outside, Howard should see a lot of single coverage down the middle seam. Howard is too fast for linebackers and too big for safeties, so he could quickly be a favorite of the intelligent Winston, who is very good at anticipating coverages and mismatch options. It wouldn't be a surprise if Howard makes a quick impact and proves to be one of the top value picks of the top 20 in the 2017 NFL Draft.