Bruce Arians calls out tight end O.J. Howard: 'He can play a heck of a lot better'

Ben WeinribYahoo Sports Contributor

Tight end O.J. Howard was on the field for 54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 59 offensive snaps in Thursday’s win over the Carolina Panthers but didn’t see a single target.

Fantasy owners — especially those who couldn’t watch the game on Spectrum — were puzzled why he put up a big goose egg in a primetime game, but Bucs head coach Bruce Arians didn’t offer much of a reassuring response.

"You'd probably have to ask him," Arians said, via NFL.com. "He's got so much talent and he can play a heck of a lot better than he's playing."

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Howard has been nonexistent through Week 2

Howard started to fulfill his potential as a 2017 first-round pick last season when he picked up 565 yards through the first 10 games of 2018. He particularly haunted the Panthers by catching two touchdowns in a Week 9 matchup.

Expectations were already high, even with him missing the last six weeks of the season with foot and ankle injuries. Now it’s unclear where he stands with the team.

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Howard picked up 32 yards on four receptions in a Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, but he also fumbled once and tipped another pass that was intercepted. That Jameis Winston didn’t so much as look his way the following week raises all kinds of red flags.

The Bucs’ offense has remained prolific under Arians, but targets have gone anywhere but to tight ends. Backup receiver Breshad Perriman and running back Dare Ogunbowale have combined for more than three times as many targets as Howard has received, and even fellow tight end Cameron Brate has disappeared.

Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard has been mysteriously absent through two games this season. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard has been mysteriously absent through two games this season. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Howard still has the potential to be a star

There’s still hope for Howard, as the season is young and he only turns 25 in November. Most importantly, he has all the tools to succeed if he’s used properly and plays to his potential.

Howard was a rare first-round tight end because he has unusual skills for the position. He had the fastest three-cone time (6.85 seconds) and shuttle time (4.16 seconds) and second-fastest 40-yard time (4.51 seconds), while tying for fourth in bench press reps (22).

Howard has already shown he can be a difference maker, so this may just come down to finding a new role in a new offense. With DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries gone, there will be plenty of targets available this season, and he is as capable as anyone of capitalizing.

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