According to The Athletic’s Mike Lombardi on “The GM Shuffle” podcast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be attempting to trade tight end O.J. Howard in the coming days as the NFL Draft quickly approaches (via a league source).
It raises the question of whether the tight end needy Indianapolis Colts could be potentially interested?
The former 19th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has never quite lived up to his draft billing, as he’s coming off a 3rd-year season in which he had just 34 receptions for 459 receiving yards (13.5 ypr. avg) and a touchdown reception in 14 starts this past year.
He has shown flashes though—including 6 touchdown receptions in his rookie season in 2017, but has struggled finding consistency—losing playing time to fellow Bucs tight end Cameron Brate and hasn’t been utilized as much since head coach Bruce Arians assumed Tampa Bay’s head coaching duties in 2019.
The thought was that with former New England Patriots’ legendary quarterback Tom Brady coming down to Tampa Bay that Arians would tailor his offense to better utilize two tight end sets—as Brady has had success with top tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, etc. in the past.
Apparently, that will no longer be the case.
For what it’s worth, the Bucs were seeking a second round pick for Howard at last year’s trade deadline but found no takers.
Still only 25 years old, the 6’6”, 251 pound former prized tight end out of Alabama has great athletic gifts—having posted a 4.51 forty time, 6.85 second 3 cone drill, and 22 bench press reps as a rookie at the NFL Combine.
He’s shown impressive athleticism as well as soft hands in the NFL, but he doesn’t offer much as a blocker—and his production has never met his natural physical ability.
The Colts have taken a chance on a former top pick at tight end in the past, Eric Ebron—albeit in free agency, who became a Pro Bowler in Indianapolis before departing to the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason.
Perhaps Howard could be worth a similar roll of the dice—and just requires a much needed change of scenery and a fresh start.
The Colts do have a major need as their receiving TE2 now, and Howard could present mismatch problems in the slot and as a big red zone target—as Ebron didn’t block much to begin with. Starting tight end Jack Doyle and backup Mo Alie-Cox could handle the majority of the in-line blocking duties.
It’s worth noting that Colts new veteran starting quarterback Philip Rivers has historically loved throwing to his tight ends too (See: Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry), and head coach Frank Reich utilizes an offense that prominently features them.
Helping Howard’s cause to the Colts is that this is a relatively weak tight end draft class at the top, although it still has quality prospects available in the middle rounds.
Surely the Colts wouldn’t surrender a 2nd or maybe even 3rd round pick for Howard, but something less than that might just be worth the gamble. Howard has one year left on his rookie deal—but also a 5th-year option that can be picked up until May 4th for the 2021 season.
If the Colts can’t land one of the best rookie tight ends, trading a mid-round pick for Howard may not be a bad bet—as he could potentially offer a far more dynamic receiving threat than any prospect they could find in the draft’s middle rounds thereafter.