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O.J. Howard among safest options for Bengals in Round 1

The former star Alabama tight end has been called one of the only complete players in the draft.

CFP National Championship Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When the Bengals are on the clock with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, they will want to make sure they find an impact player. The best way to do that is to pick a player with lots of production and very little downside. There are only two players who fit that bill in this year’s draft class, one of which is Alabama tight end O.J. Howard.

“The two safest guys in this draft are Myles Garrett, the end from A&M, and probably O.J. Howard, the tight end from Alabama,” writer Geoff Hobson told Lance McAllister on his podcast. “After that, it’s what do you like? What’s your flavor? Where do you have them ranked? I think if O.J. Howard is the top guy there, and you’ve already got Tyler Eifert, if you’re true to your board, you take O.J. Howard. It’s like I say, what the hell is wrong with having two good tight ends?”

It’s hard to argue with his logic. After all, the Bengals are known for sticking by their board and picking the player whom they believe is the best available, regardless of their positional needs at the time.

“What they mean by staying true to your board is – if you have a guy ranked, and he’s fifth, don’t go down and get the eighth guy because he fills a need,” Hobson said. “For years they did that. They would look at the depth chart and go, ‘well, we need a safety. Ok, whose the top rated safety? It wouldn’t matter where he was ranked at the players.’ Duke’s (director of player personnel Duke Tobin) done a great job with that.”

For example, one of the Bengals’ biggest needs going into this draft is a pass rusher. Given the recent struggles of Michael Johnson, the Bengals could use a new starting defensive end to pair with Carlos Dunlap. Most analysts agree the best defensive end likely to be available at that point in the draft is Derek Barnett, but he might not be the best choice if a virtual can’t-miss guy like Howard is still around.

The Bengals are simply focused on finding a player who is truly a game-changer at No. 9. After all, a big part of the appeal of having a top-10 draft pick is the ability to pick up a player whom everyone knows is going to be great and a game changer in the NFL.

“You just can’t force a pass rusher there. If you don’t think Derek Barnett can run fast enough and you got a guy like Howard staring at you,” Hobson said. “If you don’t think that Barnett is big enough, fast enough, then at nine you have to get the surest thing.”

Then again, if one of the teams who picks ahead of the Bengals picks Howard up and Barnett looks like the best player available, we can expect the Bengals to go in that direction. It is all based on how the Bengals feel about that particular player at that particular point in the draft.

“At No. 9, you’re gonna get a guy that gets five sacks a year? It’s not a walk. He’s a good player, he’d do well for you,” Hobson said. “But, is there somebody a little bit more explosive or athletic ahead of you? Who knows? Howard could be gone, and then maybe they do end up with Barnett. It all depends on where he’s ranked.”

Just about any drafted player is going to come with some level of risk.

“That’s really the crux of this draft, because there is not a drop-dead, knock-down, gotta have that guy at number nine,” Hobson said. “There’s about three or four very good players that are probably going to be high on everyone’s draft board. That would be the kid from A&M – [Myles Garrett], the safety from LSU - Jamal Adams, and I think maybe the defensive lineman – Solomon Thomas.”

However, even guys like Thomas are not free from scrutiny. If he was available for the Bengals to pick at No. 9, there is a chance the team would not select him because there is doubt he would fit with the Bengals’ 4-3 scheme. However, you simply can’t avoid being intrigued by the possibilities of pairing Howard with Tyler Eifert. The Bengals have never had a truly solid two-tight end system, even though they have tried to implement one from time to time. His presence could be exactly what the Bengals need to revitalize their increasingly stale offensive attack.