Now that Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo Bills have officially agreed to a reunion, it makes this April’s early round draft strategy a bit more clear. The team needs playmakers in the passing game on both sides of the ball and figures to have a few solid options available at #10.
With Clemson QB Deshaun Watson no longer the favorite among mock drafts for the Bills to target in the first round, Alabama TE O.J. Howard has taking that spot in more than one publication. Part of that can be attributed to reports about Buffalo being enamored with the 6’6, athletic pass catcher dating back to the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine, but also because Buffalo needs weapons for Taylor to target.
No doubt O.J. Howard is a physical specimen with a lot of ability, but here are 3 reasons the Buffalo Bills shouldn’t draft the Alabama tight end at #10 overall:
Bigger needs: The Bills have more pressing holes to fill at other positions. Upgrading its tight end spot with a big playmaker sounds great but will it help the team win more games?
Buffalo’s run-heavy offense averaged 24.9 points per game in 2016 (T-10th best in NFL) with Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary getting a majority of the snaps at the position. Between the two, they were targeted roughly 6.6 times per game. It’s easy to see Howard immediately competing for starting snaps, but hard to envision a dramatic uptick in targets to tight ends in this offense that would justify using the tenth pick on him.
For its first overall selection, the Bills need a day one starter at a thinner position like S/CB/LB or WR that can make an impact as soon as he lands. The defense could use some help after losing 3/4 of its secondary and with receivers Bob Woods and Flash Goodwin going going back back to Cali Cali, there’s a void at that position too.
This quote by Pro Football Focus analyst Josh Liskiewitz basically sums up my thoughts for Buffalo at #10 (minus the George Kettle part):
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) March 9, 2017
Charle$ Clay: The Bills are already locked into paying its prized-tight end big bucks for the foreseeable future. Clay has a cap hit of $9 Million in each of the next three seasons and if Buffalo wanted to release him anytime soon, the team would be on the hook for too much dead money.
To be exact, $13.9 Million dead cap in 2017 and $9 Million dead cap in 2018, essentially make it impossible for the Bills to part ways with the former sixth-round draft pick under his current deal. And to boot, Clay has been seemingly underutilized in his two seasons with Buffalo at the high price tag. All of this relates to O.J. Howard because while he’s a different player physically than #85, it’s hard to imagine the Bills investing a top-10 pick in a tight end when they already employ the #4th highest paid player at that position.
As Jeff Hunter from Buffalo Rumblings tweeted, “There are several reasons the Bills shouldn’t draft O.J. Howard. That (Nick O’Leary) is not one of them.” Backup tight end Nick O’Leary is most certainly not a reason to keep the former Alabama tight end away from Buffalo, but Charles Clay and his current contract just might be.
Elite Tight Ends are rare: I will have no problem eating crow if Howard turns into the next big thing at tight end, but how often do players at that position have an elite impact on the game? There’s always going to be outliers and I’ll certainly be pulling for just that if Howard gets drafted to the Bills. However, rarely do tight ends produce like Rob Gronkowski or an Antonio Gates/Jimmy Graham-in-their-prime.
Unlike at another position such as wide receiver, where there are around 10 elite players or so in the league, TE has maybe 2-3 guys that belong in that category. Take a look at the numbers. In 2016, T.Y. Hilton led the NFL in receiving with 1,448 yards while Jordy Nelson caught the most touchdowns (14). Compare that to the tight end leaders Travis Kelce (1,125 receiving yards) and Cameron Brate/Hunter Henry (8 touchdowns) and its easy to see what position is being utilized more often. Now, these figures are obviously related to modern American Football and the offensive systems coaches run but the point is across the league tight ends are rarely used enough to be considered elite.