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Can O.J. Howard Become an Elite TE? (2019 Fantasy Football)

Jul 23, 2019

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Your computer is fully charged, your documents and rankings are carefully laid out, and your lucky Spider-Man underpants are still warm from the dryer. You, my friend, are ready for your fantasy football draft. But like a TV junkie aimlessly perusing Netflix’s endless menu of options, it helps to enter the fray with a few specific targets in mind. Given the sheer volume of players to choose from, a focused game plan will help you avoid nerve-wracking crunch time decisions and allow you to maximize value from round-to-round. This is especially true for fantasy’s most volatile position, tight end.

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I’ve made my thoughts on the top three guys-Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittlequite clear. Under the right circumstances, they provide the best positional advantage from week-to-week of any player group. But tight end fantasy production comes in all shapes and sizes. As Jared Smola of Draft Sharks pointed out recently, 40.2 percent of top 12 TE weeks last season came from guys drafted outside the first 16 rounds. There’s a ton of variance here.

So if you’re waiting out the top three, might I humbly suggest O.J. Howard? The former first-round pick was last year’s TE6 from Weeks 1-11 before injuries ended his season. Interestingly, he managed to threaten the top five despite an inexplicable lack of volume.

Howard ranked 17th among tight ends in snaps per game (43.6) last season. Former head coach Dirk Koetter weirdly refused to fully integrate him into the offense during his bumpy tenure. In what world does it makes sense for one of your most physically gifted pass-catchers to muster a measly 11 percent target share? Short answer, none. Even with the training wheels holding him back, Howard managed a top-10 TE finish in seven of his 10 games, a rate just behind Kelce and Ertz.

I know what you’re thinking. New head coach Bruce Arians has never had a tight end unit surpass a 20 percent target share in 12 seasons. That’s true-but Arians has also never had a tight end of Howard’s capabilities. The guy has scored 11 touchdowns in 24 career games and eclipsed 50 receiving yards in 13 of those outings. The consistency is there when he’s healthy, and despite a crowded offensive hierarchy, there are 179 targets up for grabs. He’s due for more work and it’ll come in what should be an elite environment.

Tampa Bay’s offense ranked 12th in points per game and third in yards per game last season. Arians’ arrival should only bolster those numbers. All five of his seasons with the Arizona Cardinals resulted in a top-10 scoring offense. As our own Mike Tagliere pointed out recently, the best bets for high-end fantasy production come from such teams.

Howard is reasonably priced and physically gifted. When healthy, he’s put together a track record of consistent TE1 production, and he finds himself in what should be one of the NFL’s most effective attacks. What’s not to like?

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Brandon Katz is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Brandon, check out his archive and follow him @great_katzby.

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