SDS talent evaluators Jon Cooper and Brad Crawford spent several months breaking down last year’s highlights, incoming talent and projected 2014 impact following spring practice to compile a list of the SEC’s Top 100 players heading into fall. Athletes were selected by position then ranked overall counting down to No. 1.
Stick with SDS throughout summer and get in on the action using the hashtag #SDSTop100 as we unveil a new player daily leading up to opening night on Aug. 28.
96. OJ Howard, Soph., TE, Alabama
Tight ends with athletic frames are the new hot commodity in college football and Alabama has itself a near Jimmy Graham clone in O.J. Howard, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound rising sophomore with soft hands. Imagine trying to defend Howard in the low post, a player with strength and tremendous reach. It’s the same predicament opposing defensive backs will find themselves in this season matched up against a rising un-guardable force in the SEC.
The best friend of running back Derrick Henry, the former five star’s part of the future for the Alabama offense under Lane Kiffin. As a true freshman, Howard played in every game and caught 14 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Nick Saban salivated from the sideline during Alabama’s win over LSU after Howard took a quick slant and sprinted 52 yards past the Tigers’ secondary for a second-quarter touchdown.
It was a showcase moment, a glimpse into Howard’s limitless potential.
Like the Saints utilize Graham, the Crimson Tide split Howard to the outside several times against undersized corners last fall with instant results. He’ll become a favorite in Kiffin’s pro-style system, an offense that targets the tight end often. Look for Howard to become Alabama’s top red-zone threat, a matchup nightmare and over-sized bullseye for potential starting quarterback Jacob Coker.
2013 statistics: 14 catches, 269 yds, 2 TD
2014 projection: 36 catches, 480 yds, 5 TD