Sam Howell - QB - UNC
Welcome to the rookie profile for Sam Howell.
Howell out of UNC and Spencer Rattler out of Oklahoma was tied together following the 2020 season as the two that would battle it out for the top spot in this quarterback class. With Rattler returning to college and transferring to South Carolina, it is just Howell left for this year’s draft. But, he also had a fall from grace himself and isn’t considered the defacto QB1 in this class. While he took a step back in terms of performance from 2020 to 2021, we have to keep in mind that he lost a lot of offensive weapons to the NFL from that 2020 team. Did he regress that much? Or was he just a product of the loaded team that surrounded him?
Height: 6′ 1″
Weight: 218 lbs
40-yard dash: DNP
3-cone drill: DNP
20-yard shuttle: DNP
Vertical Jump: DNP
Broad Jump: DNP
Bench Press: DNP
Sam Howell was born and raised in North Carolina, attended high school in-state, and eventually committed to the University of North Carolina as a 4-star dual-threat quarterback. As a true freshman, Sam Howell won the starting gig and became the first true freshman to start a season opener for UNC. He was immediately put on scout’s radars following his freshman year posting over 3600 passing yards and 38 touchdowns with only 7 interceptions. Right off the bat, Howell won ACC Rookie of the Year, ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, and USA Today Freshman All-American. As a sophomore, Howell only became more efficient with about 80 fewer passes, but still posted close to the same yardage, touchdowns, and interceptions. The team became a more balanced front utilizing both Javonte Williams and Michael Carter in the rushing/receiving game.
Following the 2020 season, there was a mass exodus of players to the NFL, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Tarheel’s lost two 1000 yard rushers in Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, along with 4 out of 5 of their leading receivers (Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Michael Carter, and Javonte Williams). Howell was tasked with picking up a lot of slack and putting the offense on his shoulders, which he did. He took a step back in his efficiency, but saw a huge uptick in his rushing numbers, hitting 800+ yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Without the pieces around Howell, the offense started to sputter around slightly bland offensive playcalling that became overly predictable. Following the completion of the 2021 season, Howell decided to declare for the draft as an early entry.
Sam Howell looked like the most NFL-ready quarterback in this class a year ago. Some has changed, but despite losing most of his offensive weapons, he showed poise to lead the Tarheels this past season. His pocket presence is unmatched, willing to stand in the pocket and deliver strikes in the face of pressure or while getting hit. He’s a tough player and that also translates to his rushing ability that we saw a lot more of in 2021. He has solid power in his rushing and showed the grit to fight for touchdowns or first downs. While he isn’t Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray in the rushing attack, he displayed the ability to pick up 10-20 yards when given the opportunity.
Howell has really good accuracy at all levels of the field paired with the arm strength to deliver any throw. He displayed good touch to hit loft the ball between defenders and didn’t throw it 100mph every throw. Additionally, he sees the field well and works through his progressions efficiently and consistently. His best moments are when he has time in the pocket to survey the field and make concise decisions. In 2021, we saw him increase his mobility which allowed us to see his ability to make off-platform throws. Paired with his quick release, he was able to create more off-script plays than was shown in the 2020 season.
While Howell showed his rushing ability this year, he isn’t an overly elusive runner. In the backfield, he struggled to extend plays with his legs, often trying to evade defenders but taking sacks. When the play breaks down is when Howell really starts to struggle. He excels when he has time and can survey the field, but when things go off-script, it’s easy to see him struggle with his decision-making. The game needs to continue to slow down for him in those situations. It didn’t help that the Tarheels did not evolve their offense to their new personnel from 2020 to 2021. Mac Brown’s system featured too much RPO with a ton of QB draws that became repetitive and easy to expect. That compounded with the exodus of offensive talent the last offseason was not a great situation for Howell to be locked into.
Pre Draft Analysis
Expected Draft Capital- Round 1
This time last year Howell seemed like a lock to be the top one or two quarterbacks taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. Now there are about four to five different guys that could go as the first quarterback off the board, and most likely none of them will be the first player selected in the upcoming draft. There’s a good cluster of teams with quarterback needs in the middle of the first round with the Washington Commanders, New Orleans Saints, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Saints and Steelers are both looking to replace all-time great quarterbacks, and that’s a lot to put on a rookie’s shoulders. But all three of these teams have a lot of pieces to surround Howell with to contribute to his early success.
Honorable mention to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now that Tom Brady has retired. With this quarterback class, Howell could fall to the end of round 1 where the Bucs could pick him up. Trask seems like a long shot to be the future of that franchise, but the rest of that team is set to win now. That might mean the Bucs will have a veteran quarterback by the time the draft rolls around, but without many dire needs, they could view this as a luxury pick.
Post Draft Analysis
Washington Commanders- Round 5, Pick 1
Despite falling down to the fifth round, Howell lands in a fairly favorable spot in terms of startability in the near future. Wentz is a veteran presence in front of him but is new to the team and on his third team in just as many years. There’s no guarantee with Wentz being on the team past the 2022 season with a $0 dead cap hit after this season. They also went through the Heinicki experiment last season and brought in a quarterback through the trade market and the NFL Draft, clearly showing disinterest in continuing down the Heinicki path. That leaves the Commanders in a rough spot at quarterback looking past this season if Wentz doesn’t impress the coaching staff. But Howell has an opportunity to take a step forward and present himself as a candidate for the quarterback of the future.
Howell has at least a path forward to the starting position that is feasible. Likely – not so much. But even if everything goes in his favor, he impresses the coaches while Wentz simultaneously disappoints and Howell looks to be the favorite to be the starter going into the 2023 season. What caliber of a team is Howell looking at? He should still have Terry McLaurin assuming the Commanders resign him. He might have Curtis Samuel still around and hopefully, Jahan Dotson takes a step forward as a promising rookie. Logan Thomas is aging, but maybe Cole Turner takes a step forward as another promising tight-end prospect. It’s a lot of projecting and guessing, but his ADP reflects that in dynasty drafts. He’s a decent dart throw in the fourth round of dynasty Superflex leagues. If it’s a 1QB dynasty league, leave him for the waivers. In redraft, he’s also a player that should be left on waivers.
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Image Credit: Bob Donnan – USA TODAY Sports