Alabama Team News

Tight ends O.J. Howard, Evan Engram could make SEC draft history

Evan Engram O.J. Howard
PHOTOS BY USA TODAY SPORTS

Year after year, draft after draft, the SEC annually produces the most first-round draft picks. But that has not applied at tight end. In fact, the SEC has produced just two first-round picks at the position in the past 30 years.

This year, though, Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Mississippi’s Evan Engram could double that total.

Both players are coming off superb NFL Scouting Combine performances, which has them flying up draft boards. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s most recent mock draft has Howard coming off the board at No. 4, which would make Howard the highest-drafted tight end in the modern era. NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Engram going 28th overall in his most recent mock draft.

The SEC has produced multiple first-round picks at tight end just once in the same draft, in 1978. Alabama’s Ozzie Newsome went 23rd to Cleveland and Auburn’s Reese McCall 25th to the then-Baltimore Colts.

RELATED: ESPN’s Todd McShay: Alabama’s Reuben Foster is ‘best pure football player’ in draft

Howard will be the first SEC tight end selected in the first round since Georgia’s Benjamin Watson was drafted 32nd overall by New England in 2004, and most likely be the highest-drafted SEC tight end since LSU’s David Lafleur was drafted 22nd overall by Dallas in 1997.

Howard’s stock has been on an upward trajectory since his great weekend at the Senior Bowl. Howard had 114 receptions and seven touchdowns during his four years in Tuscaloosa, but he always seemed capable of much more production because of his obvious physical talents.

It appears NFL scouts have come to the same conclusion. His 4.51 40-yard dash and a position-best time of 6.85 in the 3-cone drill at the combine in Indianapolis cemented him as the top prospect in a deep tight end class.

Engram had nearly 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. He averaged just over 14 yards per catch on 162 career receptions for the Rebels. He exceeded all expectations at the combine after he clocked a 4.42 40 and had a 36-inch vertical.

Not to be overlooked is that he had 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. While he does not have the size or blocking skills of a traditional NFL tight end, he is not afraid to get physical.

RELATED: Ole Miss WR coach Jacob Peeler working to fix inconsistent unit

Against Texas A&M, Engram did an admirable job against Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall in run blocking and pass protection. His speed and ability to stretch the field will be tempting for a team in round one.

Overall, if at least two tight ends go in the first round, it will be the first time since 2006 that has happened and just the eighth time in the past 30 years.

History says three first-round picks may be one too many. Only one draft since 1987 has produced at least three first-round draft picks at the tight end position: 2002, with Jeremy Shockey, Daniel Graham and Jerramy Stevens.

(You can follow Chris Reier on Twitter @seeryer)

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