Alabama's OJ Howard's stock on the rise after NFL Combine Performance

Steven King  Icon Sportswire

Steven King Icon Sportswire

The Ole Miss tight end sat up in his chair and matter-of-factly opined he could be the offensive weapon to bring the Broncos back to championship contention.

The complicated art of scouting at the National Football League level is again at the forefront as coaches, executives and scouts from all 32 teams were in Indianapolis this week to evaluate more than 330 prospective National Football League players attending the annual scouting combine. This much is certain: Howard is a physical specimen at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, and he's one of the top playmakers in the draft. And not the oft-injured version of Thomas.

Howard has been compared to Julius Thomas, who recorded 12 receiving touchdowns in both 2013 and 2014 with Peyton Manning at quarterback. "I was a leader on that team, I'm a captain, I love that university, and just the kind of player I am, I would never sit out of a game".

Howard also turned in a 121-inch broad jump, which was seventh-best among tight ends, and a 30-inch vertical jump.

Getting a third weapon on the inside - whether at slot receiver, tight end or both - is important for Denver as it looks to take pressure off wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. At least some draft observers aren't ruling out an against-the-grain pick pairing the Titans and Howard in the first round of April's NFL Draft.

Howard's 4.51 was the second-fastest time among the tight ends on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

So what makes each one special? On Friday, Howard did 22 repetitions with the 225-pound weight, which was tied for the third-most among tight ends. Evan Engram has proven his undeniable athletic ability and that he can be a major mismatch in the passing game. Being very versatile, I can go out wide. He ran a 4.51 40 here, second best among tight ends. Njoku has more college production as a receiver than Howard, albeit with less blocking ability.

Notice that Njoku says "a record", not "the record".

A high jump champion in high school, Njoku (6-4, 245 pouunds) didn't have the eye-popping combine numbers many expected him to have but he still projects well.

But for as impressive as Howard and Njoku might be, the intrigue of this particular class lies in its depth.

There are even some "sleeper" players like Adam Shaheen of Ashland and George Kittle from Iowa. Veteran Virgil Green is productive as a blocker, but injuries sabotaged his 2016 season, and he's in the final year of his contract. Last season at Miami he averaged 16.2 yards per catch and his eight touchdowns came at a rate of close to one every five receptions.

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