Number of tight ends selected in the top five since the NFL started the Common Draft Era in 1967: One.

 

Denver selected the University of Houston’s Riley Odoms fifth overall in 1972.

That became noteworthy Wednesday when ESPN analyst Todd McShay rolled out his latest mock draft and had the Jaguars selecting Alabama tight end O.J. Howard with the fourth pick.

“It might be a stretch,” McShay admitted during a conference call.

A stretch? Yes.

A good call? Possibly.

The Jaguars are thin at tight end after they traded Julius Thomas to Miami for a seventh-round draft pick. They have professed confidence in third-year players Ben Koyack and Neal Sterling to team with veteran Marcedes Lewis.

But be it at No. 4 or in a trade-down scenario, Howard does make sense. He had 114 catches for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns in 57 games for the Crimson Tide.

“The maturing he went through, the ability to stretch the field vertically, the ability to create after the catch, the improvements he’s made as a run blocker and a pass protector at times – he’s one of the most complete prospects [in the draft],” McShay said.

Since 1996, only 21 tight ends have been drafted in the first round. No tight ends went in the first round of the last two drafts and only two – Eric Ebron in 2014 (No. 10 to Detroit) and Tyler Eifert in 2013 (No. 21 to Cincinnati) – have been selected since 2011.

In the last 20 years, only four tight ends have been drafted in the top 10: Ebron, Vernon Davis (No. 6 to San Francisco in 2006), Kellen Winslow (No. 6 to Cleveland in 2004) and Rickey Dudley (No. 9 to Oakland in 1996).

Most mock drafts have projected the Jaguars going defensive line – Stanford’s Solomon Thomas or Alabama’s Jonathan Allen – but McShay went the other way because he thinks quarterback Blake Bortles will rebound this year.

“I really think Bortles is going to be back [this] year,” McShay said. “I think he’ll be healthy and hopefully he can get some of the mechanical tweaks [ironed out] I thought he had worked out. Jacksonville needs to get better weapons around Bortles for him to have success. If it’s [LSU tailback Leonard] Fournette, I get it.”

McShay said he could also “easily see,” the Jaguars drafting Allen, too.

Howard surprised just about everybody by staying at Alabama after his junior year (2015) when nine of his 38 catches went for at least 20 yards and he had a career-long 63-yard catch in the national title game win over Clemson. But he chose to return for his senior year.

Howard increased his catch total to 45, but his yardage total dropped from 602 to 595. He finished strong, catching 31 passes in the last eight games.

At the Combine earlier this month, Howard said he likes to compare himself to Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.

“I think Greg does a great job of blocking and he’s a three-down tight end,” Howard said. “He runs great routes and has great hands.

“I can go out wide, I can go in the slot – you can put a tight end in so many places on the field, it’s hard to key [on him]. It’s a huge asset that I have.”

Howard set a goal of running 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash and he exceeded that – his time of 4.51 seconds was second-fastest among the tight ends that ran. Mississippi’s Evan Engram ran 4.42 but is 17 pounds lighter than Howard (6-foot-6, 251 pounds).

“[Howard] had a great week at the Senior Bowl and a great showing at the NFL Combine,” McShay said. “He’s nailed the process. He was great in both national title games and has a chance to really be a difference maker at the tight end position.”