Around the NFL writer Marc Sessler put together an all-star roster of the top players under the age of 25 on NFL.com on Wednesday. Tampa Bay tight end O.J. Howard headlined the tight end class as defensive tackle Vita Vea earned a mention as who is effective against both the run and the pass.
“Before you ask, San Francisco's George Kittle already hit the quarter-century mark in October,” Sessler said in the article. “Howard, however, fits here -- and remains my choice over the also-inviting David Njoku (22) -- after a tantalizing second season that saw him emerge as a strong-handed pass-catcher who now owns 60 receptions, 997 yards and 11 touchdowns over 24 tilts. In a post-Gronk universe, Howard is a candidate to fill that unfillable space. Questions linger over his usage in an offense led by Bruce Arians, who has historically deemphasized tight ends, but the Bucs coach never housed a toy like this in Arizona.”
Howard, 23, was having a career season last year before it was cut short due to injury where he missed the last six games. During his first 10 though, Howard managed 565 receiving yards with five receiving touchdowns. For the second straight year, he had a 16.6 yard-per-reception average, good for the best mark in the league last year among tight ends. Howard also set a new career long reception of 75 yards last season, which came in a win against the Philadelphia Eagles during the Bucs’ home opener. He also managed a top-ten performance in average yards after the catch (6.1), catch percentage (70.8) and total touchdowns despite playing only 10 games.
As for defensive tackle Vita Vea, 24, he came on strong toward the end of last season after battling through a calf injury early in his rookie season. As an interior defensive linemen, most of Vea’s contributions don’t show up on a stat sheet. They come in the form of pressures or occupying blockers so others can get through. During college, Vea was a force against the run and it’s going to be something the Bucs will look for him to do in his sophomore season. The good news is that he is extraordinarily athletic for a guy who is 340 pounds. As someone who has seen Vea chase down (and catch) a running back in practice this offseason firsthand, I have no trouble believing he’ll be able to make that jump to run-stopper extraordinaire in 2019.
“More people should know [Kenny] Clark, the somewhat anonymous Green Bay anchor who played well against the run and pass in 2018,” Sessler said of his initial pick for defensive tackle. “Tampa's Vita Vea (24) deserves a mention here, too, while Chris Jones (turning 25 in July), Leonard Williams (turning 25 in June), DeForest Buckner (25) and Sheldon Rankins (25) all missed out due to age.”
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