Howard was the top high school recruit in the country at tight end coming out of Prattville, Alabama, so it was no surprise that Nick Saban tried hard to keep him in-state. He started five times as a true freshman, leading the team with 19.2 yards per reception (14-269, two TD). Once again Howard was a big-play receiver in 2014, with six of 17 receptions going for 16 yards or more (17-260 for the year). But his true breakout season was in 2015, where he caught 38 passes for 602 yards and earned Offensive MVP honors in the national championship game with 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches. Howard was a factor in the passing game in his final year with the Tide (45-595, three TD), earning third-team All-American and second-team All-SEC honors.
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. Easy separator who creates instant throwing windows when he hits the gas. Natural pass catcher who plucks it away from his body. Can adjust to poorly thrown balls and secure contested catches. Shows no lack of toughness over the middle. Can be lined up all over the field. Monster championship game in 2015 season revealed true potential. Has elite ceiling as playmaker. Lands his hands inside the frame as a blocker. Operates with wide base and attempts to snap hips into his block.
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 better job of working feet into position after contact. Needs urgency in his routes to tilt defenders and get them guessing. Needs to show more elusiveness after the catch. Saw playing time diminish from junior to senior season. Explosive talent who doesn't make enough explosive plays. Scheme creates some wide-open deep-ball catches at time. Scouts question his competitive nature.
Sources Tell Us
"Alabama recruited a shiny toy but (Lane) Kiffin never really knew what to do with it. I don't worry about the talent at all. He could be an all-pro. I just need to know if he loves football." -- NFC general manager
Howard has struggled to live up to hype that has come with his play-making ability while at Alabama, but some scouts put the blame on the staff and scheme. He has elite athletic traits and raw talent, but must add polish to go along with those attributes. Should become substantially more productive as a pro, but the difference between "potential weapon" and "elite tight end" will likely be tied to his desire and overall football character.