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Alabama coach Nick Saban says TE O.J. Howard much better than statistics show, will be success in NFL

The numbers don’t add up for Alabama tight end O.J. Howard.

In four seasons with the Crimson Tide, he caught 114 passes for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns. Solid numbers for sure, yet nothing that screams top-10 pick.

“The production had nothing to do with him,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told The Chronicle-Telegram in a phone interview Thursday.

Saban blamed the pedestrian statistics on quarterback play and game plans.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Saban said of Howard. “He could’ve had a signature year.

“He’s a great athlete, has good hands, is fast, can run. He’s a mismatch kind of nightmare on the right team.”

Howard (6-foot-6, 241 pounds) is considered the clear No. 1 prospect in a deep tight end class, and Saban said the production will match the talent when he’s a key piece of an NFL offense.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Howard’s best games came on the biggest stage. He was MVP of the national title game victory over Clemson after the 2015 season with five catches for 208 yards and the only two touchdowns of his junior season. In the title game rematch loss this year, he had four catches for 106 yards.

For his senior season, he caught 45 passes for 595 yards, a 13.2 average and three touchdowns. He was third-team Associated Press All-American and first-team Profootballfocus All-American.

Howard solidified his spot atop the tight end class by running a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.

“He’s extremely talented,” said Alabama radio analyst Phil Savage, a former Browns general manager. “He has the prototype height, weight, speed and hands and his blocking has improved.

“He was underused as a receiver. It’s a shame. He should’ve caught double the passes.”

Saban said Howard is also a clean prospect off the field.

“O.J. is, first of all, a great person,” he said. “Good, classy guy, great family. I don’t…

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