Anthony Becht knows the challenge of being a tight end drafted in the first round, and he called an Alabama game last year as an ESPN analyst, so he's well-equipped to evaluate the merits of Bucs first-round pick O.J. Howard, the tight end from Alabama.
"He by far was the best tight end -- I thought there was a gap between him and the rest of a deep class that was available," Becht said Friday morning. "The size and speed and athleticism factor -- some guys have the size but OK speed. All those things, he's top-tier plus. He's got the height at 6-6, a 250 frame. The kid's yoked up, with a little more room to fill in. The speed element to stretch the field, he'll become one of the elite downfield runners out of all the tight ends that are in the NFL. That's the element he brings."
Becht said Howard came back for his senior year in part to improve his blocking and has made progress to become "serviceable," but he'll continue to improve in the NFL. His downfield blocking in space, against linebackers or safeties, is much stronger and will be an asset for his size, he said. Off the field? Even better, Becht says.
"He is a premium human being," Becht said. "This kid is dialed into football. I called a game last season at Alabama and Nick (Saban) told me he was his favorite player. He would love to have used him more. He almost had a sense of anger that he couldn't. They asked him to do so much in that offense."
Becht said Howard hasn't needed to run a full route tree as he will in the NFL, but he can pick that up quickly. Combine him with Cameron Brate, who tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season, and the Bucs have quite a combination.
"Realistically, this might be the best 1-2 punch, as far as guys that can stretch the field," Becht said. "This is an exciting combination to have for the future."