A tight end is a young quarterback's best friend and there is no question that the Denver Broncos are in need of a significant upgrade at the position. While the team has Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman and A.J. Derby as their top three options on their roster, they combined for some of the worst production the team has had at the position in a decade. The Broncos could certainly do better, and in a draft filled with a myriad of quality prospects at the position, it's a virtual certainty that the team will address the position somewhere, if not very early, in this year's NFL Draft.
Top 2017 TE prospects— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 23, 2017
1. O.J. Howard
2. David Njoku
3. Gerald Everett
4. Evan Engram pic.twitter.com/Jg32tYwhpE
The crème de la crème of this year's crop of prospects is senior tight end O.J. Howard of Alabama. In his four years with the Crimson Tide (two of them as a starter), Howard amassed 114 receptions for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged an astonishing 15.1 yards per catch and proved to be a clutch player who made the big-time catches when his team needed him the most. His production as a senior earned him 2nd Team All-SEC honors and in 2015, he was Alabam's National Championship Offensive MVP.
Some may balk at those numbers and not be impressed. Some may even point to other prospects available in this year's draft who had far better production. However, one could argue that Howard wasn't utilized as well as he could have been as a receiver, an often was used as an in-line tight end who helped block and bolster Alabama's bread and butter which is the running game.
14-of-16 scouts vote O.J. Howard as top TE https://t.co/5kIhXw6ZvM— Rotoworld Football (@Rotoworld_FB) April 23, 2017
Very few prospects have the talent and athleticism Howard brings to the table, which is why he is a sure-fire first round selection, and likely Top 15 pick in this year's NFL Draft. If the Broncos are serious about acquiring his services, they will likely have to trade up for him. It's rare that I ever advocate for moving up in the draft, which mortgages draft pick capital, but a player as special as Howard is certainly worth moving up for if the price is right.
Tight End, Senior — Alabama
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 251 lbs. | Arm Length: 33 3/4" | Hands: 10"
40 Yard Dash: 4.51 seconds | Bench Press: 22 reps | Vertical: 30" | Broad Jump: 121"
3 Cone Drill: 6.85 seconds | 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.16 seconds
Film Room and Highlights
Hart's Scouting Report
Positives: Has elite traits and measurables that NFL teams covet. Was one of the top performers at this year's NFL Combine and arguably was the most impressive player on the field at the Senior Bowl. A true tight end who has experience as an in-line blocker and flexed on the outside. Polished route runner who will prove to be a mismatch against NFL linebackers and safeties in coverage. Tremendous speed and acceleration will allow him to beat teams deep down the field. One of collegiate football's best run blockers. Play seemed to improve when the stakes of the game were higher.
Negatives: Scouts question his love of football and whether or not he has the desire to become the elite and transcendent player he should be with his God-given talent. Production level never seemed to match his overall caliber of talent. Occasional lapses in concentration lead to drops on easy passes. Overall YAC production could be improved upon.
Overall: Top 15 Prospect. Rare talent who has the ability to be an absolute game-changing player at the NFL level if he is coached up and finds the fire and desire inside of him to reach the pinnacle of success. Squeaky-clean prospect with very few concerns who should make an immediate impact as a rookie and ability to be a ten to fifteen year starter.
Hart’s Pro Comparison: Jimmy Graham / Shannon Sharpe
Does O.J. Howard make sense for the Broncos?
Absolutely. The crop of talent the Broncos have at the tight end position is mediocre at best. Virgil Green has never developed into the player the team hoped for after drafting and signing him to a multi-year extension. Jeff Heuerman, while talented, has struggled with injuries and hasn't seen a lot of playing time. A.J. Derby was a decent in-season acquisition, but isn't a dynamic player.
If the Broncos are serious about upgrading their offense, getting a playmaker at the tight end position needs to be one of their highest draft priorities. Snagging Howard would be one of the best things the Broncos could do to help out their team, and would give Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian the safety-valve and big play target they are currently lacking. When it is all said and done, Howard will probably be beyond the team's reach unless they move up into the Top 15, so a contingency plan that involves other prospects like David Njoku, Evan Engram or Bucky Hodges should be developed.