I know in the past that tight ends in a Bruce Arians offense do not usually put up big numbers. Most of the time they are asked to block, or in others words become the very last option. In spite of this, I believe that OJ Howard could very well be a top 5 tight end this season.
Arians was an offensive coordinator for three different teams in a span of 11 years. The Pittsburgh Steelers from 2007-2011, the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 and the Arizona Cardinals from 2013 to 2017. However we must remember that Bruce Arians will not be calling the plays this season. Sure he will have some input in decision making but his title his head coach. The duties of calling the offense will go to first year coordinator, Byron Leftwich, former Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. Leftwich did call plays for the Cardinals for nine games after the firing of then offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, but this will be his first full year at the helm of an offense. Though much of the scheme will be developed by the head coach Bruce Arians will give Leftwich control on that side of the ball.
When Arians was in Arizona, he had a 60/40 run to pass ratio, but you must consider that his running back was one David Johnson and currently the Tampa Bay running game is still a toss up right now. So at this time it stands to reason that they will take to the air.
Back when Arians was calling the plays in Arizona he had such names as Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, and the speed of John Brown and JJ Nelson. It did help that you could dump the ball off to David Johnson. The Cardinals tight ends were such big names as Jermaine Gresham, John Carlson and Rob Housler (okay, not really big names, lol). To be quite honest he had no real faith in them. However with Tampa Bay he has OJ Howard and Cameron Brate at his disposal.
It is possible that Brate could eat into his production and I am sure Leftwich will use both tight ends, as he should. Last season Howard finished 38 receptions for 565 yards and 5 touchdowns but you must remember he was hurt twice last season with the last injury putting him on the shelf for the season. His full season pace would have had him finish with a 54/904/8 line, good enough for TE5 in both Standard and PPR scoring. He averages 16.6 yards per catch. The only other Buccaneers’ receiver that came close was Adam Humphries, and he is now in Tennessee. Arians loves to stretch the field and he can certainly do that with Howard more so than with Brate.
Another positive is that last season Howard and Winston showed a lot of chemistry, especially near the red zone. This could bring his TD numbers up even more if that chemistry can continue to grow. I think that Howard will line up in the slot more so to take advantage of any mismatches. The last time Arians had a tight end this talented was Heath Miller back in his Pittsburgh days. Heath nearly average 600 yards and 4 touchdowns under Bruce Arians and Howard is a better athlete and receiver than Miller.
Howard’s big issue is whether he can stay healthy, because he had injuries his first two years in the NFL. I look for Howard to become a second option for Winston this season. Leftwich will find ways to get the ball to him. With that all said, I project Howard to get anywhere from 800 to 850 yards and 9 or 10 touchdowns. Certainly in most fantasy leagues that should have him near the top of the scoring for tight ends.