Photo Credit: NYDN
The 2013 season was filled with ups and downs. One of the shining stars was OT Austin Howard. The play of the offensive line has dipped significantly since the 2009 season. That line was anchored by a young star at center in Nick Mangold and was bracketed by two of the top tackles in Damien Woody and D'brickashaw Ferguson. Since then the OL has been in flux, with Mangold and Ferguson representing the only remaining starters. One of the rising cornerstones of this new look Jets line is RT Austin Howard.
Howard is 26, a product of Davenport, IA. He committed locally to the small school of Northern Iowa. Northern Iowa participates in the Missouri Valley Conference, same as Southern Illinois University, where I lived, and Bart Scott played. The level of competition is subpar to say the least. Bart Scott compared it to his senior year in high school for 4 years. Howard began his college career in the TE position. He redshirted his freshman year in football, but played forward that season for Northern Iowa's basketball team. As a TE he was more of a blocker than a receiving threat. He started all 13 games of the 2007 season as a TE. In all of 2007 he recorded only 5 catches for under 40 yards and a single touchdown.
In 2008 he transitioned to the tackle position. It became apparent that this was a more natural position for him. He was named MVFC Offensive Lineman of the week due to his stellar performance against Missouri State in November. By the end of the season he had was elected second team all MVFC. An honor he repeated in 2009 as a 5th year senior.
Howard came out after 2009 with little fanfare. According to SI, he was graded out as a 2.22 prospect. In case you're wondering what the scale is, it looks something like this:
8.5-9.0: Pro bowl player, a true difference maker. Top-10 selection.
8.0-8.4: Highly productive starting player. First round selection.
7.0-7.9: Very good starting player. Second round selection.
6.5-6.9: Very good starting player. Third round selection.
6.0-6.4: Solid starter/very productive backup. Third round selection.
5.5-5.9: Very good backup and very good special teams player. Fourth round selection.
5.0-5.4: Quality backup and good special teams player. Fifth round selection.
4.5-4.9: Backup player/special teams player and project players. Sixth round selection.
4.0-4.4: Backup player and special teams player and project development players. Seventh round selection and high priority free agents.
3.9: Priority free agent.
3.7-3.8: Players with one or more limitations. Backup/special teams-type player. Solid free agent.
3.6: Not recommended as draftable or should only be considered as an adequate free agent signing.
Why was he ranked this way? According to SI, some of his negatives included:
Negatives: He gets lazy with his hands at times and does not stick them int
o defenders.. Does not finish blocks and tends to fall off defenders. Must improve his overall body strength.
Howard went undrafted in 2010. He landed an UDFA contract with the Eagles. He remained on the roster until the next season when he was one of the last cuts in September. He wasn't out of work long, as he was picked up by the Ravens as a practice squadder. Shortly after, in November, he was signed to the Jets active roster. Howard was considered depth behind Wayne Hunter, who at the time was being pumped up by his coach. We all know those words didn't help Hunter, as he fell quickly from grace. He was benched in August of 2012 in favor of Howard. This was more a PR move to satisfy the fans and the media than it was a vote of confidence in the Northern Iowa product.
In his first action as a starter in 2012 he was shaky at best. He allowed a total of 13.5 sacks and was penalized 3 times. His fellow tackle, D'Brick, allowed only 4 sacks and was penalized only once. The numbers seem even more lopsided when it is taken into account that Ferguson plays the QB's blindside. That side is considered more vital in pass protection, as teams will often place their best pass rushers on that side so they can approach the QB unseen. There was still hope, that with a season under his belt, Howard would be able to make a big step in the off season. Throughout the summer Jets fans waited with bated breath while visions of Wayne Hunters danced in their heads. Then came 2013.
This was a season when the line play continued to struggle. This was partially caused by the great upheaval of the starting line. Howard would no longer play next to the always solid Brandon Moore. He was playing next to newcomer Willie Colon. Colon was not the only newcomer. The season started with Vlad Ducasse playing LG. A few weeks in he was replaced by rookie Brian Winters. While Colon was a solid starter, the complete turn over at the guard position could easily create havoc on an offensive line. This was very much not the case. In a year that saw Ferguson's sacks allowed almost double, Howard allowed only 2. This is also with a rookie QB who had a penchant for holding onto the ball for far too long. Week in and week out, Howard was shutting down pass rushers. He finished the season 3rd in sacks allowed among the starters. He fell behind only the Bronx Bomber, Willie Colon, and Valhalla's favorite son, Nick Mangold.
oward is now entering free agency. He will be an unrestricted free agent this off season. Howard played for a hair over 2mil this season. That was 18th most out of any right tackle in the league. Howard will be looking to get a pay increase this season. With many holes in the roster, and significant money to spend, the Jets would be taking a significant risk allowing Howard hit the open market. So long as he is re-signed, Howard looks to continue to be on the rise. It is not far fetched to name him on the short list of top right tackles in the league in the upcoming seasons.