When the Bills signed tight end O.J. Howard to a one-year, $3,500,000 contract this off-season, it raised some eyebrows. Buffalo already has their No. 1 tight end in Dawson Knox, and the team simply didn’t utilize two tight end sets under former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Last year, Daboll and crew ran 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) least of any team at just eight percent of their snaps. As for 02 personnel (no running backs, two tight ends), they ran that a grand total of one time…all season! So, what sort of usage can we expect from Howard as he joins first-time play-caller Ken Dorsey in the Bills’ offense?
We should expect Josh Allen to see 12 personnel more often to start. Before Dorsey came to Buffalo in 2019, his teams often utilized a second tight end. This started back when he was the quarterback of a national championship team in college, and he had Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow to throw to on those 2001 Miami Hurricanes.
Fast forward to his start in the NFL, where he was a quarterback coach with the Panthers from 2013 to 2017. Carolina always had a running mate for Greg Olsen, who dominated the #1 TE snaps the way we expect Dawson Knox to. During those five years, the Panthers’ offense ran a second tight end onto the field for over 50-percent of the snaps in four out of five seasons.
Now that we know a little about where the Bills were in 2021 and what Dorsey could be bringing in 2022, let’s examine what Howard brings to the table. We got a glimpse into that from the former first-round pick’s media availability last week.
One thing we’ve seen Josh Allen excel at as he’s matured as a signal caller is utilizing pre-snap motion and audibles to take advantage of the defense’s personnel. Howard, who’s known for his physical traits at Alabama (6’6″ 251lbs), was asked how he sees himself being used so far.
“Being ready to be able to do more than one position is what I’ve noticed. Everybody has to be in different positions at any time and be able to play any position on the offense at any time. Being able to play any position on the offense so you can be utilized.”
That answer lets us know that Dorsey is echoing stuff we’ve heard from Sean McDermott for years – players need to be versatile. Just because your roster designation reads “tight end” doesn’t mean you won’t be motioned to the backfield or an audible won’t put you out wide. As Howard becomes more comfortable in the offense, his skillset will make him more valuable, and the snaps will go up with 12 personnel being muddied into whatever Dorsey and Allen can draw up in the dirt.
Another way that Howard will find playing time is through blocking, arguably his best asset for the Buccaneers a season ago. The 19th pick in 2017 scored a plus pass blocking grade from PFF in all except three games in 2021 and a plus run blocking grade in 15 of 17 games. He was considered 92.3% efficient, allowing one hurry, one hit, and one sack in Tampa Bay’s 17 games.
Howard was used as an inline tight end 311 times last year. Buffalo utilizing him in that role will free Dawson Knox to exploit weaknesses in the opponent’s back seven. The best part for Bills fans is that the newest member of the team has not only proven he is a willing blocker, but he is also ready to keep that trend up in Buffalo saying, “I love the game, so when you love the game you will do what it takes to get out there and do what you love. A lot of times it may not be pretty. you may be run blocking, you may be the garbage man that week. When you love what you do nothing else matters. So, for me, I just have that mindset and then at the end of the day if you stay positive the good things will come.”
That quote sounds like something McDermott would write in a book after he retires, so you know he loves to hear it from his newest weapon.
The scariest part for the opposition could very well be seeing the Bills run Josh Allen onto the field along with a package of Howard, Knox, Cook, Diggs, and Davis. You can picture Buffalo in a two-minute drill where Allen starts tight just to spread these guys out five-wide. Or they’re up late and go to this 12 personnel package so the defense counters with a smaller unit just to see Allen audible into a tight formation and grind down the clock.
The quicker the new guys can get up to speed, the quicker they can be this mean to opponents. That is where work with Allen and Dorsey comes in handy.
Howard was asked about the team being multiple and his talks with Dorsey and said, “We (tight ends) want to be able to do everything that receivers do. That makes our offense better. That makes it hard for teams to adjust to us. Get matchups with linebackers and safeties on the field and that is good matchups for us.”
It could be great for the Super Bowl favorites as they enter 2022 with arguably the most dangerous offense in the NFL.