Defensive tackle was a position of need for Maryland heading into this recruiting cycle. The Terps were in search of at least two defensive tackles from the '15 class and landed a commitment from a high-priority local one from Oxon Hill, Keiron Howard. Let's take a look at his film.
The Recruit: Keiron Howard
High School: Potomac High School, Oxon Hill, Md.
Position: Defensive tackle
247sports composite: Howard is considered a three-star prospect, the 51st-best defensive tackle in the nation and the 18th-best player in the state of Maryland. Rivals likes him a little more, rating him the 29th best DT and the No. 12 player in Maryland. Either way, his commitment gives Maryland commitments from three of the top 20 players in the state (Howard, E.J. Donahue and Ellis McKennie) -- one more than they had in the entire class of 2014.
Measurables: Howard is listed at 6-3 or 6-4, depending on where you look, and weighs in at about 295 pounds. I can't find any listed numbers for 40 time or bench press, but the film is pretty revealing about both his speed and strength, which we'll get to below.
Junior season: Howard's Potomac Wolverines finished 5-5 and missed the playoffs. They appeared to be a reasonably sound defensive team, holding opponents to one touchdown or less four different weeks.
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Offers: Howard had a decent offer list that also included Tennessee, which was long considered to be the favorite to earm his pledge. Others to offer included Temple, Buffalo, Marshall, New Mexico and Old Dominion
On film: There tends to be two types of defensive tackles, and two New England Patriot names we're all pretty familiar with can serve as examples -- Vince Wilfork and Joe Vellano. Wilfork is the prototype run-stuffing, space eating bull DT, while Vellano is much smaller but more mobile and can be used to slide through gaps and get penetration. Howard, based on this film, is a candidate to go either way. His Wilfork-esque (if you will) attributes are that he's big, he appears strong and he's, let's say, a tad on the slow side. But then he does have some Vellano-like movement and tackling tendencies too. He does have other tricks up his sleeve beyond just commanding double-teams and bulldozing the interior trenches. In several clips we can see him either getting around the edge or slashing through the middle to get into the backfield. Howard is a bull, but he isn't just a bull in this film, he's the matador sometimes too and eludes guys so he can make football plays which is really nice to see from a big fella.
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I do have a couple of questions about Howard based on the film. First is simply how well he moves. He's very deliberate around the line and could even be accused of being stiff at times. His feet are busy and take the right steps to get him where he needs to go, but his pace could be better. That's something that can be worked on by the strength and conditioning staff if he's going to become a Vellano, but at his current speed (or lack thereof) he'd probably need to go the Wilfork way and bulk up so he can really bang in the middle. The other area where I'd say he needs some work is a common issue for 3-star type of high school linemen -- he really needs to work on his pad level. He has a tendency to start off low, but then go upright quickly upon contact. Staying low is a vital skill for all linemen but particularly for defensive tackles, who really need to keep their pads down in order wrestle inside and eat up blockers.
My favorite thing about Keiron Howard is simply the passion he plays with. You can tell that he loves football, loves contact and loves being a lineman. He's hungry to find the ball, he really mixes it up to get there, and if you're a high school running back in PG County, you don't enjoy being tackled by him. That's because he really throws his weight around and finishes with authority. He tackles hard and lets you know who just knocked you down. Then, after he makes a play he'll show a little emotion and fire, too, which is always welcome.
2015 outlook: I have no idea what specific reasons ultimately swayed Howard into choosing the Terps over Tennessee or anyone else on his list, but looking at the depth chart, you could hardly blame him or any DT recruit for liking Maryland based on the possibility of early playing time. As things stand right now, Nate Clarke is the only experienced scholarship DT who will still be in College Park when Howard arrives in the fall of 2015, but he gave up his playing career and will not be on the field any longer. David Shaw projects to be in the mix at DT, but he hasn't played a down of football at Maryland yet so he's tough to quantify. There will probably be another DT candidate (or two) in Howard's class, and then you've got some guys like Kingsley Opara who play other positions on the line but have the body type to possibly slide inside if there's a need. All that being said, DT seems to be a position where someone like Howard -- provided he puts in the work and learns fast -- could see snaps as a true freshman. Right now, he appears to me to be someone who could stand a redshirt year, but 2015 is still a long way out and who knows what both Howard and Maryland's defensive front are going to look like when it gets here. The numbers are thin right now, so the picture is cloudy. As things stand today, the Terps would need to put him to use quickly.
Longterm outlook: I really liked this commitment from a Maryland perspective. Keiron Howard is one of those local kids that you just don't want to see leave the area. He's big, strong and athletic enough, so he's definitely a good gamble football-wise, but then politically he's arguably not a gamble at all so much as he's a must-have. A kid like Howard, if he turns into a Maryland starter or, better yet, an NFL player, that's a narrative you want every young football player around the DMV to witness. Nothing will validate the State Pride movement Randy Edsall is promoting better than actual in-state kids staying home and succeeding with the Terps. Keiron Howard now has the opportunity to follow that path. So c'mon up the road to College Park, Keiron. Let's fit you into some UA gear, get you going in the program and put you to work in the trenches.
How do you feel about Howard's prospects for early playing time?