Tight ends are not typically first-round picks. Since 2010, only three have gone in the opening round, two of which were picked by Cincinnati. The Bengals drafted Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert 21st overall in 2010 and 2013, respectively.
Gresham moved on after the 2014 season and Eifert’s four-year career has been filled with the highest of highs (13 touchdowns in 2015) and the lowest of lows (getting injured in the Pro Bowl).
Tight ends going in the top 10 is even more of a rarity. The last was Eric Ebron to the Lions in 2014. Before him, the last was in 2006 when Vernon Davis went to San Francisco sixth overall.
But the Bengals could be the next team to go after the position in the top 10. Alabama tight end O.J. Howard has gained traction, with plenty of media supporting the pick, including Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson’s mock draft in mid-March.
Howard doesn’t have highlighted college stats working for him. In his first two years at Alabama, he caught 31 passes. In his final two, he tallied 83 receptions for 1,197 yards and five touchdowns.
Howard has a similar build to Eifert. Both are 6’6” and Howard is listed at 251 pounds, just 16 ounces higher than Eifert.
Just like adding a first-round wide receiver, drafting Howard would have an immediate impact on Cincinnati’s offense. At the combine, Howard ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds and would be a tough matchup for linebackers along with Eifert.
Howard’s ability was on full display in January 2016 when he caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns in a National Championship victory over Clemson.
NFL.com’s scouting report of Howard – full analysis here.
Exceptionally gifted athlete. Has long arms and massive hands for his position. Tremendous acceleration into his routes. Has tools to torment defenses on second and third level. Play speed resembles a wide receiver’s when the ball is in the air. Linebackers have no shot against him in space. Can turn a short throw into a long gain. Light on his feet and smooth out of his breaks
Will need more muscle and mass to be an in-line blocker as a pro. Appears passive. Doesn’t have the field demeanor of most Alabama players. Needs better hand strength to sustain his blocks. Can do a better job of working feet into position after contact. Needs urgency in his routes to tilt defenders and get them guessing
Howard would be joining a stout group of tight ends already on the roster. Alongside Eifert, Tyler Kroft has filled in nicely when given the opportunity. Over two years, he’s caught 21 passes and averaged over 10 yards per reception.
Many view Howard as an NFL-ready prospect, so he could be a safe pick for the Bengals at nine. But Cincinnati drafting the Crimson Tide product could depend on how the first eight picks fall. Many have also been high on either Western Michigan’s Corey Davis or Clemson’s Mike Williams.
At the end of the day, Cincinnati should have a chance to add an elite partner for A.J. Green in the receiving corps, or a reliable associate to team up with Eifert at tight end. Either option instantly excels the Bengals’ offense in 2017.