None of the tight ends from the 2017 incoming rookie class have played a down in the NFL yet. However, they are already being called the best class of tight ends ever. Up there with the 1983 QB class and the 2014 WR class. The top two guys are pretty much cemented as OJ Howard and David Njoku. TFA writers Zack Marmer and James Koutoulas have differing opinions on who should be the top player in the class. We ran a twitter poll to see who our followers preferred, and the results were close enough that we felt it definitely warranted a full article. Here are the arguments from both sides:
By Zack Marmer Follow @leagueedge
Weight: 251 lbs
Hand size: 10″
40 time: 4.51 seconds
Bench press reps: 22
3-cone time: 6.85
Vertical leap: 30″
Broad jump: 121″
Howard is touted as a solid all-around blocker. He has successfully blocked projected number one overall pick Myles Garrett against Texas A&M. OJ was used as a blocker more often than not at Alabama, and the coaching staff in Tuscaloosa trusted him with these duties amidst NFL caliber offensive lineman. That should speak enough volumes about his blocking ability which will allow him to stay on the field in all situations very early in his career.
Howard turned some heads at the combine when he ran in the 4.51 range for the forty yard dash. This was significantly faster than Njoku’s 4.64 forty time. While a 4.64 is nothing to sneeze at, a 4.51 is elite for the tight end position. Njoku has been labeled as a “freak” athlete, but Howard is extremely athletic in his own right. His speed shows up on film as a difference maker in the big guy’s game.
Howards 10″ hands allow him to catch the ball with ease. On film, he is often wide open, but the ball sticks to his hands like glue nonetheless. He doesn’t fight the ball and catches naturally with his hands.
While Howard is above average at route running for an incoming tight end, he still has plenty of work to do to polish up this part of his game. On film, you can see that he rounds off routes sometimes. In true man to man situations, he would have some trouble creating separation from some of the better cover safeties in the NFL. His 3-cone drill gives much optimism towards his ability to learn how to become a precise route-runner. This is a scary possibility for opposing defenses.
To me, Production isn’t so much a weakness as it is an indicator of Howard’s usage. His numbers won’t impress anyone, but Alabama is essentially the NFL’s 33rd team. Virtually every player who starts for Alabama will get a shot at the next level. When you have that much talent on your roster, there are too many mouths to feed. Howard was relied on heavily as a blocker but flashed his ability as a receiver when called upon. Nick Saban’s teams just don’t feature tight ends in the passing game.
Howard, to me, is one of the best prospects ever at tight end. He can start and produce right away and is the total package. He may not be as athletic as Njoku, but when it comes to completeness as a prospect, the easy answer is Howard. I really hate to do this, but Howard compares favorably to a faster Rob Gronkowski due to his completeness as a tight end, and I believe that is his true upside.
By James Koutoulas Follow @FFpsychic
Weight: 246 lbs
Hand size: 10″
40 time: 4.64 seconds
Bench press reps: 21
3-cone time: 6.97
Vertical leap: 37.5″
Broad jump: 133″
First off, Njoku is crazy athletic. His measurables at the combine should be off the charts. More importantly, you can see his supreme agility when watching Njoku on film.
This GIF here shows Njoku making a grab, breaking a tackle and showing his elite athletic ability hurdling over a defender to find the end zone.
Another thing in Njoku’s favor is age. Us Dynasty owners are always looking at age. It’s one of the most important factors in scouting; taking into account the optimal amount of years a player has to provide us with top level production. Njoku is 20. Howard is 22. This may not seem like a huge difference on the surface but if one Njoku was 22 and Howard was 24 (the difference of 2 years still) we would definitely be making a bigger deal of this. Njoku has an extra 2 years to produce, and even some extra time to develop to the NFL game if needed.
The weakness I probably hear most about Njoku is his blocking. While it would be foolish of me to argue that Njoku is a better blocker than Howard, (which he is not) I would say that Njoku is a better blocking tight end than he is given credit for. The reason blocking is so important, even in fantasy for tight ends, is opportunity. The more you can do, the more playing time you will see. The more playing time you see, the greater opportunity to put up fantasy points for your squad.
In the GIF above we see Njoku hold his own and even get some movement on his run block here. This is something that you see more often than not when watching Njoku: good effort and an ability to hold up at the point of attack. Here’s the thing to remember, though; Njoku is 20 years old! He still has plenty of time to develop into a better run blocker and natural growth into his frame will only help with this.
David Njoku is a generational talent. I’m not going to try to argue that Njoku is a more complete tight end than O.J.Howard. Howard is a better blocker and is going to make a fine safety valve for a team at tight end. There are several reasons I do however believe Njoku is a better fantasy prospect than Howard.
Both Njoku and Howard will be good tight ends for NFL squads for years to come. Njoku’s elite athleticism, soft hands, and age just makes him a more appealing fantasy prospect.