Just a few days before Alabama tight end O.J. Howard closes his college career in the College Football Playoff Championship Game against Clemson, the senior is being compared to one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
"He's arguably the best tight end in the class," the scout said. "His upside and potential are great. A very, very good athlete who's still learning the tricks of the trade. He's also a better blocker than people give him credit for."
Howard (6-foot-6, 242 pounds) has 41 catches for 489 yards and two touchdowns this season. Graham (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) has been a key target for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson this year, catching 65 passes for 923 yards and six scores. Like Graham, Howard has shown the ability to play from the slot position and stretch defenses with his athleticism, although he can play the more traditional in-line role for the Crimson Tide, as well. A College Football 24/7 poll of five NFL executives asked to judge Howard's draft value against that of Michigan TE Jake Butt resulted in a voting sweep for Howard.
Graham was a third-round selection by the New Orleans Saints in the 2010 draft and played only year of college football (he played basketball for Miami previously).
Howard was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and got immediate playing time as a freshman in 2013, although his blocking needed work early in his career. After steadily improving in that area, he's become one of the top tight ends in college football, albeit one who isn't consistently targeted in Alabama's passing attack. While Howard's skill set might have some similarities to Graham's, an NFC general manager suggested that former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin didn't get as much production from Howard as he could have.
Still, Howard has had his moments.
He picked an ideal time for a career-best game last year in catching five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns in a national championship win over Clemson, earning offensive MVP honors. With a rematch with the Tigers coming Monday night, you can bet Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables will do all he can to make sure Clemson's defense isn't on the wrong end of Howard's highlight reel once again.