Austin Hooper: 16 games/7 starts, 71/88 receptions, 660 yards, 4 TDs, 41.3 YPG
Benjamin Watson: 16 games/4 starts, 35/46 receptions, 400 yards, 2 TDs, 25.0 YPG
Greg Olsen: 9 games/9 starts, 27/38 receptions, 291 yards, 4 TDs, 32.3 YPG
O.J. Howard: 10 games/8 starts, 34/48 receptions, 565 yards, 5 TDs, 56.5 YPG
For the purposes of this comparison, we’ll rely heavily on what each tight end brings to the receiving game, given that blocking ability and in-game impact are a little bit tougher to qualify. It’s also worth noting that tight end O.J. Howard had his season cut short due to injury and therefore only played in 10 games during the 2018 season. You’ll see that doesn’t end up mattering much, though.
Having a tight end that is equal parts receiver and blocker allows for a lot of creativity in an offense. Howard has been working furiously in the offseason to get better in his blocking capabilities but his pass-catching abilities were on full display last season. In the Bucs’ home opener, Howard recorded a career-long 75-yard reception down the sideline during Tampa Bay’s rout of Philadelphia at home. It was the second-longest reception by any tight end last season behind only an 85-yard grab by San Francisco’s George Kittle. Howard ended the season tied for the sixth-most receiving touchdowns with five in just 10 games played. As a side note, Howard’s fellow tight end, Cameron Brate, finished his season with six receiving touchdowns, nearly all of them coming from inside the red zone, tying him for fourth-most in the league. Given that there are two Tampa Bay tight ends that are heavily involved in the passing game, the fact that Howard’s stats are as gaudy as they are becomes even more impressive.
What further sets Howard apart is his yards-per-reception average of 16.6. It’s the highest mark in the league and a little bit better of an indicator to his receiving ability given that he didn’t play a full season last year. The next-closest tight end to that mark in the NFC South is the New Orleans Saints’ Benjamin Watson, who averages 11.4 yards per catch. His overall production, even over the course of 16 games isn’t near what Howard’s was last year, as you can see above. Watson is entering his 15th year in the league though, which is no small feat in itself.
Another well-vested veteran in the NFC South tight end group is Carolina’s Greg Olsen. Entering his 13th NFL season, Olsen was limited last season again due to injury, playing in just nine games. Yet, he was the Panthers’ most productive player at the position, still managing four receiving touchdowns, besting teammate Ian Thomas’ two touchdowns, though Thomas had more yards on the season with 333 on 36 receptions in 16 games. Still, Olsen manages to be one of the most notorious tight ends in the league, known for his grittiness and reliability. How he does in 2019 will depend on his health.
That brings us to Atlanta’s Austin Hooper – Howard’s stiffest competition in the division. While Hooper may have had just over 100 more yards than Howard last season, it took him over double the receptions and all 16 games of the season to do so. He got into the end zone one less time than Howard and here’s the kicker: Hooper made the 2019 Pro Bowl. Granted, Hooper was targeted 88 times, where Howard was only on pace for around 77 targets should he have finished out the season. Therefore, it seems Atlanta simply utilizes Hooper more. That’s where the downside of having two utility tight ends comes in – the only downside, really. When you take into consideration that the Bucs had 11 of their 29 receiving touchdowns come from tight ends, you realize how strong the position is for the Buccaneers. The fact that Howard can stack up against his NFC South peers on his own is even more impressive.
View pictures from the Hyundai Youth Football Camp at the AdventHealth Training Center led by Tight End O.J. Howard.