Two of the Bucs’ rising young stars are beginning to receive some notice on a national stage. NFL.com writer Marc Sessler has put together a team of the top NFL players under the age of 25 at each position, and tight end O.J. Howard was named to the list with defensive tackle Vita Vea earning an honorable mention.
The Bucs seemed to have hit on their first-round picks of Howard in 2017 and Vea in 2018, respectively. Howard was taken 19th overall while Vea was taken 12th after the Bucs traded back from the No. 7 spot with the Buffalo Bills. Each player has had a promising start to his career at the young age of 24, and now Sessler is rewarding them in this spotlight.
In two years, Howard has progressed at a high level each season, and has many believing he will continue to break out even more in 2019. He has 60 receptions for 997 yards and 11 touchdowns so far during his time on the Bucs. He has the rare athleticism with the frame of a tight end but the speed of a receiver, making him a difficult match-up for opposing defenses.
Howard was well on his way to being in the Pro Bowl conversation last season before a leg injury suffered in week 11 against the Giants put him out for the rest of the year. In 2019, he is on the radar of numerous analysts as a player that will end up making that Pro Bowl this time around.
Vea got off to slower start in his rookie year last season. He sustained a calf injury early on in training camp that sidelined him for the first three games of the regular season, making his career debut in Week Four at Chicago. It took a few games for Vea to get acclimated to the competition at the NFL level, but a breakout game in Week Eight against the 49ers got him off to the races.
In that game, he had one sack and three tackles for a loss, and he hasn’t stopped producing since. Vea ended up with three sacks and 28 tackles on the year, which was the same amount of sacks as Warren Sapp and Gerald McCoy had in their rookie seasons, and one more tackle than the two of them as well.
Here was Sessler’s analysis for putting Howard on the list, alongside his acknowledgement of Vea, who was runner up to Kenny Clark of the Green Bay Packers.
“Tight end: O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (24 as of Sept. 5). Before you ask, San Francisco’s George Kittle already hit the quarter-century mark in October. Howard, however, fits here — and remains my choice over the also-inviting David Njoku (22) — after a tantalizing second season that saw him emerge as a strong-handed pass-catcher who now owns 60 receptions, 997 yards and 11 touchdowns over 24 tilts. In a post-Gronk universe, Howard is a candidate to fill that unfillable space. Questions linger over his usage in an offense led by Bruce Arians, who has historically de-emphasized tight ends, but the Bucs coach never housed a toy like this in Arizona.”
“Defensive tackle: Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers (23 as of Sept. 5). More people should know Clark, the somewhat anonymous Green Bay anchor who played well against the run and pass in 2018. Tampa’s Vita Vea (24) deserves a mention here, too, while Chris Jones (turning 25 in July), Leonard Williams (turning 25 in June), DeForest Buckner (25) and Sheldon Rankins (25) all missed out due to age.” – Marc Sessler, NFL.com