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Does Alabama TE O.J. Howard Make Sense for Titans?


INDIANAPOLIS — Alabama tight end O.J. Howard is considered a difference maker.

Does it make any difference the Titans already have one of those at the tight end position?

At least some draft observers aren't ruling out an against-the-grain pick pairing the Titans and Howard in the first round of April's NFL Draft. Heck, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. has Howard landing in Tennessee, with the 18th overall pick.

Howard isn't paying attention to mock drafts, of course. He was asked about one team after the next on Friday, and didn't flinch. He's preparing himself for the next level, and he vowed to be ready to make a difference wherever he's picked.

"I think (I can make an impact) right away,'' Howard said. "I feel I'm intelligent enough to come in and learn the playbook right away. I'm a guy that's going to work hard, and that's what it takes. Come in, learn the playbook, and work hard.

"(Teams) think I'm a three-down tight end. I can stay in the game to run block and pass catch. I take pride in (my blocking). I think a lot of scouts understand I'll get in there, stick my nose in, and block. They always mention that in the meetings so far this week. I don't think it's underrated or overlooked or anything, but I do take a lot of pride in blocking."

Take a look at Howard and he looks like a perfect fit for the Titans.

He's a playmaker at a position the team values under coach Mike Mularkey, a former NFL tight end himself. Plus, he's considered a superb blocker, which is critical on a team that runs the football.

Howard registered 595 yards on 45 catches and three touchdowns last season at Alabama, and he was college football's best blocking tight end, according to Pro Football Focus.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock loves the guy.

"O.J. Howard is my No. 1 tight end," Mayock said. "I don't think he gets to the end of the first round. He can block. He's a really good pass receiver, he comes out of that Alabama program that (teams) respect."

But do the Titans love him?  And does drafting him make any sense?

Examine the needs of the Titans, and receiver and secondary help immediately come to mind.

Tight end Delanie Walker is playing at a high level, coming off his second Pro Bowl season. He said recently he has another 4-5 seasons in him. He is 32, however, which puts him among the most experienced in the league at his position.

Veteran Anthony Fasano, who's also 32, has an expiring contract. And Phillip Supernaw is a restricted free agent.

While the Titans also have Jace Amaro on the roster after claiming him last season, he'll need to prove himself further heading into his second season with the team.

Mularkey said the team won't force a selection at the position. Titans general manager Jon Robinson is evaluating all the tight ends in this year's draft class, which also includes talented players like Miami's David Njoku, Michigan's Jake Butt, South Alabama's Gerald Everett and Evan Engram from Ole Miss.

"If you go in with that thought process, just trying to get younger, then you're maybe reaching,'' Mularkey said. "Our tight end position has been very productive. It was again last year. We're happy with our current roster, the way it is with our guys. We're looking at all positions. You know that. And that's just another one we're looking at. If it happens that way, it happens that way."

Howard has had informal meetings with all 32 teams, but on Friday he said his only official meetings have been with the Giants, the Rams and the Dolphins. Nothing with the Titans, at least not yet.

This much is certain: Howard is a physical specimen at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, and he's one of the top playmakers in the draft. He can run, and he catches the ball well.

Where will he end up in the draft?

Howard has no idea. He sounds thrilled to be in the position he's in.

"I have a lot of respect for the guys in the tight end class,'' Howard said. "We have a deep class, a lot of great talent. To be the first guy off the board would be a tremendous accomplishment. But, I'm far from that. I have a lot of work to do."

Titans GM Jon Robinson, head coach Mike Mularkey make their media rounds at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. (Photos: Gary Glenn)

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