2017 NFL Draft: Why Miami Dolphins must consider TE O.J. Howard

FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2016, file photo, Alabama's O.J. Howard tries to get past Clemson's T.J. Green after a catch during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game, in Glendale, Ariz. Whoever emerges as Alabama's quarterback will have targets galore, starting with star receiver Calvin Ridley and tight end O.J. Howard. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Alabama’s O.J. Howard tries to get past Clemson’s T.J. Green after a catch during the second half of an NCAA college football playoff championship game. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

MOBILE, Ala. — The Miami Dolphins hold the 22nd pick in April’s NFL Draft and it’s going to be hard to pass on the opportunity to select a much-needed linebacker, defensive lineman or defensive tackle.

But if this graceful, explosive, dynamic, pass-catching machine making one-handed catches and showing himself to be a willing blocker is available, the Dolphins owe it to themselves and head coach/play-caller Adam Gase to seize the opportunity to draft the shiniest of complete tight end toys.

O.J. Howard.

Howard showed up at the Senior Bowl and practiced and participated, when, frankly, he didn’t need to. And Howard wowed fans, coaches, scouts and media in attendance.

The former Alabama tight end, who many felt was underutilized in Alabama’s offense, showed to be a future star. Just imagine, please imagine, what Gase could do with a tight end who’s been compared to Jimmy Graham and Greg Olson (two former ‘Canes) as well as former Denver Broncos Shannon Sharpe and Julius Thomas.

“I have really good speed,” Howard said after a Senior Bowl practice. “That really helps me out a lot. I can separate from defenders. I try to make a play on the ball at all times and tuck it away after the catch.”

Howard, who is 6-feet-6, 249 pounds, is the perfectly-built, modern-day tight end. And he wants to be like Graham.

“I like the way (Graham) uses his body,” Howard said. “He always goes up and gets the ball. He is a big red-area threat. He is a big target. Always physical. And he’s going to go get the ball.”

Tight ends have traditionally flourished in Gase’s offense.

In 2015, Gase led a Chicago Bears offense that saw Martellus Bennett put up 53 catches for 439 yards.

In 2014, Gase led a Denver Broncos offense that saw Julius Thomas put up 43 catches for 489 yards.

But last season, Miami’s leading tight end threat was pending free agent Dion Sims, with 26 catches for 256 yards.

It was clear that Ryan Tannehill felt comfortable throwing to tight ends such as Sims and MarQueis Gray this season. It was clear that tight end should be a major threat in Gase’s offense.

But by the end of the season, it was also clear that there were 38 NFL tight ends with more catches than Sims.

There needs to be, and it figures there will be in the future, more production from Miami’s tight end position.

Howard is a complete tight end. Not only is he an exciting pass-catcher and play-maker, but has been groomed in a physical, run-first Pro Style offense at Alabama that has prepared him for the NFL.

Howard also shined on the brightest of stages, securing MVP honors in a national championship game victory when he was a junior. In fact, Howard scored a touchdown in each of the last two national championship games.

There’s no reason Howard can’t ease the burden of pass-catching if wide receiver Kenny Stills were to depart via free agency And there’s no reason Howard can’t effectively block for Jay Ajayi.

“I think run blocking at the tight end position is what separates a lot of tight ends from others,” Howard said. “If I can be dominant in the run game that would be really good.”

Howard said when he arrived at Alabama as an 18-year-old, preparation for NFL life immediately began.

“Just discipline. And structure. The way we practice every day,” Howard said of life under Saban. “And the way they coach us. They always tell us this is how it’s going to be at the next level so you guys better start now.”

NFL scouts felt Howard’s Senior Bowl week could not have gone any better. And not only is he an outstanding player, but he is charming and engaging in interviews.

According to ESPN’s Todd McShay, Howard is “rising fast.”

According to NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, Howard is “a phenomenal athlete” with “all the tools to be an elite player at his position.”

Scouts feel Howard has reliable hands, vertical speed, the size and speed to create unfair mismatches, a desire to compete on blocks in the running game and an overall smoothness that speaks to future stardom.

If Howard somehow falls to No. 22, the tempation for Miami to draft him will be extraordinary.

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