theScore’s Pick Your Prospect series takes an in-depth, head-to-head look at some of the top players leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft.
Howard vs. Njoku
This year’s tight-end class is the best in recent memory. There’s not only great depth, but outstanding top talents in the form of O.J. Howard and David Njoku. Both represent the new athletic breed of tight end and can handle the workload of a No. 2 receiver – even maybe a No. 1 if they land in the right situations.
Let’s explore which prospect is better by comparing them in multiple categories:
It defies logic that Howard can move the way he does. The 6-foot-6, 251-pounder has outstanding burst in and out of his routes and the agility to make defenders miss in the open field. His straight-line speed is also ludicrous for a man his size.
Howard would normally stand alone in terms of athleticism and speed, but Njoku is one of the best athletes in this year’s draft too. The Miami product’s quickness is great, though he’s only above average in terms of top speed when compared to Howard.
The ex-Alabama standout edges Njoku because of his top gear and burst off the line, but pray for any NFL linebacker that has to try covering either of these two down the seam.
Here’s the first win for Njoku, though not by much. Howard is taller, but Njoku averaged 3 yards per catch more than his fellow tight end and will likely excel as a vertical threat early in his career.
Njoku boasts tremendous length and leaping ability, and he’s such an elite athlete that he should still be able to dominate NFL-level defenders in 50-50 situations and in the red zone.
Howard’s extra weight and height help him in other areas – he looks like he was created in a lab as a prototype of the perfect tight end. However, Njoku is the more capable big-play threat and his size is more than good enough.
This is a wash. Neither player is a particularly accomplished route-runner and both relied too much on their speed and size to gain separation, though that’s understandable considering they’re much better athletes than most of the competition they’ve faced.
This may be the most lopsided victory in this contest. Howard is a natural pass-catcher who consistently snags the ball away from his body and only had three drops over three seasons.
Njoku struggled with drops, though impressed when he actually caught the ball. The former Hurricane had eight drops over the past two seasons, and they were mostly because he looked upfield too early and didn’t see the ball into his hands.
These issues should be fixable, as Njoku could learn how to play with more composure and patience. Still, at this point in time, Howard is superior – he might have some of the best hands in this class.
Howard has been lauded for his all-around skill set. Many have said he’s as good a blocker as he is a receiver, but that isn’t quite right. Howard is solid, but could play with more aggression and physicality.
The former Alabama star still wins, though; Njoku is your typical receiving tight end who tries as a run blocker but is ultimately just not very good at it. He lacks the strength and bulk to move opponents. He could improve in that department by adding some weight, but that’d likely take away from his skills as a receiver.
Fifteen years ago, both players’ deficiencies in this area would’ve been a significant concern. But in today’s NFL, having a tight end who is a decent blocker is just an added bonus.
Njoku is one of the best tight-end prospects to come out in years, and normally, he’d be the first tight end off the board.
Unfortunately for him, he’s in a class with Howard, who’s simply a more well-rounded player right now. Njoku arguably possesses a slightly higher ceiling, however, thanks to his ability downfield.
While Howard comes out the clear victor, both players should become at least perennial Pro Bowlers if they land with the right teams.
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