Unquestionably, the most disappointing aspect of the Denver Broncos’ play last season was the vanilla and somewhat sluggish approach to the offensive side of the ball. Despite having one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Denver’s offense sputtered in a majority of their games.
Though the offense has many areas of improvement ahead of the 2017 season, a key to giving their offense “swagger,” which head coach Vance Joseph has clearly made a priority of, the Broncos will need to find a viable No. 3 weapon to help their starting quarterback.
Addressing the problem in the form of a tight end would be an ideal situation for Denver.
In 2016, Virgil Green led Broncos’ tight ends with only 237 receiving yards. The need for a tight end is clear, but where do the Broncos look now?
With the bulk of free agents signed with teams, the draft will be the next source of talent that teams improve through. And luckily for the Broncos, there happens to be elite talent at the tight end position in the early rounds of this year’s draft.
Top prospect O.J. Howard could be the missing piece to jumpstart the Broncos’ currently stagnant offense.
The 6-foot-6 stud from Alabama has been widely regarded as the best tight end in a draft class that some are considering to be the best draft class for tight ends in quite some time.
In the 2016 College Football National Championship game, Howard torched Clemson’s defense for 208 yards on five receptions with two touchdowns. In the 2017 edition, he had 106 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Numbers like that on college football’s biggest stage should have NFL fans excited to see what Howard can do on the pro level.
At the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, Howard’s numbers spoke for themselves. Howard posted a 4.51 40-yard dash, 30-inch vertical jump, and 4.16 second 20-yard shuttle. Howard also bench pressed 225 lbs 22 times, showing scouts improved upper-body strength needed for run blocking in the NFL.
The last elite tight end to wear a Denver Broncos uniform was Julius Thomas, who helped Peyton Manning lead a historically great 2013 offense. Ironically, scouting reports peg Howard’s NFL comparison to Thomas, citing tremendous size and athleticism.
Howard’s athleticism would be a huge asset to the Broncos’ offense in both the red zone and on critical third down situations.
Howard’s place in the upcoming draft varies with each mock draft projection. Some draft analysts have Howard as high as being selected No. 4 overall to Jacksonville. Some actually have Howard sliding back to the Broncos at No. 20.
A common spot for Howard is No. 12, where the Cleveland Browns are currently slated to pick. The Broncos, who hold the 20th pick in this year’s draft, have 10 total picks in the 2017 draft.
That bodes well for having the compensation necessary to make a deal with Cleveland, or a team ahead of them.
Usually known for staying put and taking the best player available, general manager John Elway has traded up in back-to-back drafts, selecting outside linebacker Shane Ray in 2015 and quarterback Paxton Lynch in 2016.
If Elway likens Howard to that of which he valued Ray and Lynch as prospects, he won’t be afraid to make a move.