With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and the departure of O.J. Howard the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end group is in full flux. They have added Kyle Rudolph and drafted two others for the group but the addition of Bug Howard could add the needed depth for the 2022 season.
Coming out of Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Georgia Howard was recruited to play wide receiver for the North Carolina Tar Heels. In his freshman year, he immediately saw playing time appearing in 10 total games. Ultimately, he would carry this momentum throughout his time as a Tar Heel playing all four years. In total, he amassed 146 receptions, 2,048 yards, and 18 touchdowns. During this time he averaged 14 yards a reception. Respectable numbers considering he was not wide receiver one. The biggest stat, and arguably one that the Buccaneers keyed in on, is in four years he only dropped four total passes. Add this to his ability to catch contested passes and Jason Licht and the Buccaneers could be on to something.
Howard came in at 6’4″ and 221 pounds in 2017 giving him decent size for the NFL but his average speed (4.58 in the 40) didn’t impress. NFL draft analysts graded Howard as a priority free agent signing. Subsequently he went undrafted.
After going undrafted Howard was signed by the Colts but cut by the end of preseason. The Browns swooped and signed him, placing him on their practice squad for the entirety of the year. In 2018 Howard moved south and signed with the Panthers only to be cut on the final roster moves and would spend the rest of the year with the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football. The Broncos gave him another chance in 2019 but it didn’t pan out. 2020 Howard joined the Jaguars and Bills in 2021. Each season ended with the same outcome.
Position Change and Resurgence
Joining the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League (USFL) Howard moved inside to tight end. Here his size, speed, and hands create a threat. Utilizing these traits Howard finished seventh among all tight ends and receivers for yards and tied for second in touchdowns in the entire league. His targets equate to and average of 12.4 yards a reception. His size and ability to out match smaller corners and line backers made him a red zone target.
This, though late, break out does come from lesser competition in the USFL but is good enough to draw attention.
With the departure of Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard the tight end room is going through a shake up. The Buccaneers especially need to replace Gronkowski’s production and may have done so with the addition of Kyle Rudolph but they still need depth.
Last season the Buccaneers carried three tight ends on the active roster and had appearances by two on the practice squad. Assuming they’ll do the same this year it looks fairly set the Rudolph, Brate, and second-round pick Cade Otton will make the final 53 roster. But every strong team needs depth. Currently Tampa also has sixth-round pick Ko Kieft, as well as J.J. Howland, and Ben Beise. Adding Howard creates more competition.
Howard isn’t going to crack the 53 man roster, not at first any way. The Buccaneers, now with a position that needs attention, will carry a tight end on the practice squad. The fight for that spot will come down between Kieft and Howard. The decision may come down to what the Buccaneers value more, a blocking tight end (Kieft) or a pass catching tight end (Howard). Howard will have an edge and will win that last spot. With the uncertainty of injuries or a game that may require a fourth tight end Howard may finally see NFL action this season and can be an added weapon in the red zone. For now, we’ll wait and see how he does in camp.