While it took some time for the Miami product to make a big impact at Ohio State, Travis Howard was finally able earn the starting job in 2011 and put his draft stock on the map.
Has Howard done enough to put himself in the conversation to be a mid-round draft pick?
+ Long arms, good height for the position.
+ Solid ball skills.
+ Big-time hitter.
+ Fills gaps in the run game.
- Stiff hips.
- Lack of awareness in zone.
- Poor change-of-direction ability.
- Struggles to anticipate routes.
Howard has excellent size and length for the position, standing at 6'1" with 32.5" arms. He has a bit of a lanky build at 200 pounds, but he has an excellent frame to add weight to if necessary. His frame, however, makes it difficult for him to turn and run due to his tighter hips.
There are some concerns about his long speed, as he carries a 4.63 40 time, which is a time more typical for a safety than that of a cornerback.
The highly touted prospect out of Miami took until his junior season to claim a starting job at Ohio State. He was also found guilty of receiving benefits and was suspended by the NCAA for one game:
RT @mcmurphycbs: Ohio St suspends RB Jordan Hall, DB Corey Brown and DB Travis Howard from Akron game for receiving impermissible benefits— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 1, 2011
Howard spent the majority of his time lining up far away from the line of scrimmage in "off" coverage, but he was also used as a press-man corner for significant time.
Playing the Ball
Outside of his length and height, Howard's ability to make plays on the ball is what will help him get drafted more than anything else. He has great hands, which, when combined with his long arms and height, allow him to reach contested balls much easier than other cornerbacks are able to do.
He has great awareness when the ball is in the air and is a tough competitor for jump balls. The fact that he spent so much time in zone coverage with the play in front him only makes it easier to see how he ended up with four interceptions as a senior.
Against the Run
Howard lives to make big-time hits in the run game, as sitting in a deeper zone allows him to fly downfield like a safety to do so. Howard can fill holes like a linebacker and takes his responsibilities as a run defender as seriously as his duties in coverage.
However, as with most aggressive hitters, Howard is prone to miss his share of tackles, yielding big plays. Because of his relatively stiff hips, he has trouble controlling his momentum when running at high speeds.
Howard is going to be drafted on the premise that he can be coached into a quality press-man corner because of his length and size. He has a good, low stance, but the longer that he is asked to stay in coverage, the more likely that he is to lose track of his man.
He has a tight backpedal and can cover shorter routes, but he struggles when having to turn and run. Not only does he lack the top-end speed to run with receivers by himself for long periods, but he struggles tracking his receiver and lacks the instinctual awareness to read routes and keep his receiver in check when looking for the ball.
He also struggles with his agility and explosion. He finds himself guessing on a lot of routes and lacks the quickness to quickly recover.
While Howard is comfortable sitting in a zone and coming in to stop the run, he struggles mightily when asked to cover receivers suddenly crossing into his zone.
Here, Howard is in zone coverage, being responsible for the deeper part of the field with linebackers taking care of underneath assignments.
The receiver is running a deep out, but Howard is playing inside technique, evidenced by the way that his feet are facing; he is ready to make a burst inside while the receiver is easily able to gain separation by going outside.
Howard's lack of flexibility makes matters worse, as he is unable to simply burst off in the other direction (the red line). Instead, he makes a 180-degree turn to change direction (the blue line), creating even more separation. Had Howard been more efficient with his movement, he may have been able to catch up to what was a somewhat errant pass.
As a result, Howard is about five yards away from the completion but is fortunate that a bad pass limited the damage.
Travis has a good stance playing up in the press, but there are footwork issues aplenty when he is out in coverage. Too often, he is not square to the line of scrimmage, and he does not have the lateral movement and flexibility to recover.
As a result, Howard is often off-balance when trying to recover. As you can see in this screenshot, Howard is beat by a simple curl route, as he falls over himself trying to recover.
Luckily for him, the ball is thrown out of bounds, but Travis must learn to have more balance in order to hang with NFL receivers.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Howard's game is ripe with issues in technique and awareness, but long, tall corners with the ability to catch the football and get their noses dirty in the run game tend to get drafted.
Because of his inability to turn and run in man coverage, Howard could be a prime candidate to make the move to safety. However, because of his average awareness in zone coverage, perhaps putting on a good 10 to 15 pounds would allow him to embrace more of an in-the-box role as a strong safety.
In either case, Howard is a very raw player who is going to take some time to develop to get the most out of his skill set.