I’m not a boisterous advocate of pushing draft-eligible sophomores and juniors out the door at big-time programs, especially if/when players cite “championships” or “diplomas” as their primary reasons for staying in school.
But O.J. Howard might be a special case here:
**As a freshman (2013) and sophomore (2014), Howard didn’t register more than three receptions in a single game.
**And for his junior campaign, Howard didn’t find the end zone until his title-game explosion against Clemson, rolling for five catches, 208 yards and two touchdowns.
The pessimist might chalk up Howard’s Monday-night breakout as a high-profile fluke, since Howard’s scores came against porous (or nonexistent) coverage.
However, the optimist would point to how the Alabama coaches finally devised a way to make Howard (6-foot-6, 242 pounds) viable in the offensive game plan. With that size and speed … the task shouldn’t be too daunting, right?
Either way, Howard has earned the right to explore the notion of going pro — before Monday’s national deadline.
The positives of joining the NFL right away, money aside, are fairly academic:
a) Howard likely won’t replicate the single-game insanity of 200-plus yards and two touchdowns as a senior. As such, it makes sense to turn pro off his career-best outing (the Costanza-esque high note).
b) Using the Eye Test, Howard has the size, speed, athleticism and after-the-catch running ability of a potential Pro Bowler (down the road) — even if the overall collegiate production doesn’t reflect it.
c) The 2016 class of NFL-worthy tight ends isn’t particularly deep, with Arkansas’ Hunter Henry, Stanford’s Austin Hooper, Ohio State’s Nick Vannett, Western Kentucky’s Tyler Higbee and East Carolina’s Bryce Williams ranking as the top prospects — should they all become available for the draft.
With Howard, the lack of blue-chip tight ends might motivate an NFL franchise to snag him late in Round 1 or midway through Round 2 (upside pick). And frankly, the Prattville, Ala. native should hope for being a second-round selection — as it would grant him some pressure-free time to assimilate into the NFL culture, even as a pro “redshirt.”
Here’s why: It makes zero sense for NFL teams to invest first-round picks at the tight end spot. Rob Gronkowski (5,555 receiving yards, 66 TDs through six seasons) remains the gold standard at this position … and he fell to Round 2 in 2010 (partially due to injury).
And Gronk certainly had the numbers in college, totaling 16 touchdowns in two seasons with Arizona.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.