Bucs take Alabama TE O.J. Howard in first round of draft

The Bucs were so sure that Howard wouldn't be available by thier turn in the draft that they didn't include him among the 30 players who visited One Buc Place during the predraft process.

Published April 28 2017
Updated April 28 2017

TAMPA — He was still standing there, wide open and all alone.

Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, at 6 feet 6 and 251 pounds, was very hard to miss when the Bucs scanned the field of players available with the 19th overall pick in the draft Thursday.

"It was a little bit of a pipe dream," general manager Jason Licht said. "I have no other words right now. I'm kind of shaken."

The Bucs were so sure that Howard wouldn't be available for them that they didn't include him among the 30 players who visited One Buc Place during the predraft process.

Howard said he wasn't too surprised by the selection.

"Well, the way the draft started off, I could kind of see it happening," he said. "But my (selection) range was from six to 20. That's what my agent told me. And it was right before that, so it didn't shock me."

Say this about the Bucs: It's going to be very hard to stop quarterback Jameis Winston and their passing game next season.

"(Howard) can get down the field intermediate and deep," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "He's tough enough to catch the ball in the crowd. He can catch the ball in-line, and he can catch the ball from a displaced position. There aren't many of those guys around anymore."

The Bucs already had a budding superstar in receiver Mike Evans and added free agent receiver DeSean Jackson. The Bucs' Cameron Brate led all tight ends with eight touchdown receptions last season.

"That was the most excited I've seen the entire room since we picked Jameis," Licht said of drafting Howard.

You can imagine that coach Dirk Koetter already is diagramming an offense to incorporate all four eligible receivers in the same formation.

Licht said that shortly after the pick, he received a message from Winston.

"I got a text with about a million smiley faces," Licht said.

With Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, a presumptive favorite of Winston's, still available, the Bucs went with one of the cleanest players in the draft.

Howard is a complete tight end who has improved as an in-line blocker and was underutilized by Alabama in the passing game.

But when the bright lights came on in two national title games, Howard shined. Two years ago, he had five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson. In January, Howard caught four passes for 106 yards and one touchdown in a national title-game loss to the Tigers.

"I think you're going to get a great receiver, but you're also going to get a complete guy that can block well," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Howard during the Tide's pro day.

Howard is the first tight end to be drafted by the Bucs in the first round.

Considering the targets the Bucs have added, Winston can only be better for it.

"Well, it looks pretty good on paper right now," Licht said. "So I know we've added some targets I know he's going to like. I would venture to say (Winston) got better."

While tight end wasn't the biggest need entering the draft for the Bucs, they don't have a lot of depth at the position. Brandon Myers is a free agent. They return Luke Stocker, Alan Cross and Brate.

"We always like to stick where player and need meet, and we felt we had a need at tight end," Licht said. "You can't get through a season with just a couple. We feel like he's going to develop into a good in-line blocker. He … can stretch the field."

Things broke pretty well for the Bucs on Thursday. A run on quarterbacks also helped push some good players down to them.

The Bears jumped up one spot in a trade with the 49ers to get to No. 2 to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Somewhere Mike Glennon, who left the Bucs as a free agent this offseason to sign with Chicago, broke a mirror, walked under a ladder and saw a black cat.

The Chiefs traded with the Bills to get up from No. 27 to No. 10 to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Then the Texans gave up the No. 25 overall pick and their first-rounder in 2018 to the Browns to get up to No. 12 to select Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Two running backs came off the board quickly. LSU's Leonard Fournette went No. 4 to the Jaguars. Four picks later, the Panthers selected Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who can hurt you as a runner, receiver and kick returner. The Bucs will see a lot of him over the next few years.

A pass rusher the Bucs had targeted, Tennessee's Derek Barnett, went to the Eagles at No. 14. The Colts took Ohio State safety Malik Hooker at 15, and the Ravens followed with Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey at 16.

Licht said Cook was a consideration. But in character and upside, Howard was too good to pass up.

"We like Dalvin, but we're concentrating on O.J.," Licht said.