By Adam Aniba
As draft evaluations get underway, the quarterback position seems to be the most talked about topic. This year's QB draft projections have been all over the map, particularly with the top 5 signal callers. The consensus #4 overall quarterback in this draft class set the UNC career passing record with 10,283 yards, total career touchdowns with 109 and broke the single season touchdown record with 38 as a freshman in '19.
Despite UNC's roster turnover, Sam Howell has been resilient. After losing his top receivers, Dyami Brown (WAS) & Daz Newsome (CHI) from 2020, the UNC offense was forced to adjust. Add in the loss of running backs Javonte Williams (DEN) and Michael Carter (NYJ), and the Tar Heels offense was starting from scratch in many ways. Howell set career records for UNC. In fact, in '21 Howell was one of three Power 5 quarterbacks to throw for at least 20 touchdowns and rush for 10 (ranked 9th in the nation 323.7 yards of offense per game).
With the loss of his primary weapons, UNC signal caller had to improvise a lot more with his legs, becoming the 3rd quarterback in the playoff era with five games of 300+ yards passing and 5 games with at least 100 yards rushing. Howell is in impressive company with only former Louisville QB Lamar Jackson (BAL) as the only other quarterback to register back-to-back games with 300+ passing yards and 100+ rushing yards. In those games, Howell made a lot of big throws while leaving the pocket, which also led to long runs with defensive breakdowns.
6'0" 221 lbs | QB | UNC
Draft Proj Late 1st Rd
Career Stats (37 games)*Passing- 713/1117 10,283 yds 92 tds & 23 ints
*Rushing- 369 att 1,009 yds 17 tds
2021 (12 games) *Passing- 217/347 3,056 yds 24 td's & 9 ints
*Rushing- 183 att 828 yards 11 tds
Howell grew up in Waynesville, NC and attended Sun Valley HS in Monroe. Howell was a two sport star in baseball and football. He would shatter the North Carolina record for total yards with 17,036 (12,415 passing yards 145 tds & 3,621 rushing 60 tds). He'd also finish second in state history in career passing yards on the way to being named the 2018 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year.
Howell was ranked the #3 pro-style quarterback in the nation during his senior year. He was one of the most sought after high school signal callers in the nation in 2018, impressing at the All-American Bowl. Offers came from multiple power 5 schools, including Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, and FSU. Howell committed to Florida State, but that would quickly change. The Sun Valley QB would decommit from FSU, after learning FSU OC Walt Bell would be leaving the program to be the HC with UMass.
Howell would commit to his hometown Tar Heels in '19 and make his mark in Chapel Hill immediately, throwing for 3,641 yards 38 tds with only 7 ints. His performance as a freshman didn't go unnoticed, earning him ACC Rookie of the Year, ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, USA Today Freshman All-American and Military Bowl MVP.
Howell's feel for pressure in the pocket and situational awareness stood out this season. Improvisation and making plays with his feet became his hallmark in 2021. Although some knew the UNC quarterback could be a threat as a runner when needed, rushing for 828 yards and 11 tds was unexpected. For context, in the previous two seasons combined, Howell only rushed for 181 yards and 6 tds.
Many ranked the UNC signal caller as a potential top 25 QB coming into '21, but now many have Howell slotted in the second round. Although Howell needs to clean up some mechanical issues, he added more intrigue becoming a true dual threat signal caller this season.
Accurate passer with good arm strength
Developed into a legit dual threat in '21
As a former baseball player, understands throwing velocity and might throw the best touch pass in this draft class
Ability as a passer and football IQ make him scheme versatile (not limited to UNC's spread scheme)
Throws with impressive anticipation, especially vs zone coverage
Field general with an innate understanding of situational football (started as freshman)
Tends to force things when trying to play hero ball (player turnover in '21 on offense led to this)
Will need refinement on the next level with windup throw
Although Howell shouldn't be limited to a system, he'll endure growing pains while adjusting to some NFL concepts while facing innovative defensive schemes
Setting his feet and widening his base need refinement (minor concern)
Bad habit of locking in on his initial read
Needs to be more decisive in the red-zone
As a passer, Howell has all the tools to be a successful franchise signal caller on the next level. Displaying his ability as a productive scrambler only helped his draft stock, especially for teams looking to run spread and RPO/Zone Read concepts.
His ability as a tempo signal caller with a quick release translates to the next level. Now, teams will have to have a solid run game and pass protection in place for Howell. Not to say that the UNC quarterback can't be a year 1 starter, but a team with a veteran QB presence will be imperative.
Some have even compared Howell to Browns QB Baker Mayfield. Although some of the measurables and unscripted plays might be comparable, make no mistake; Howell is a better athlete , throws with much more zip/anticipation and comes with no durability concerns.
The evolution of Howell in '21 with a new supporting offensive cast can't be understated. Howell's perseverance with a new offensive cast and the loss of his star weapons, made his accomplishments that much more impressive.
Howell is an ideal signal caller for a team that runs a balanced offensive attack with a solid run game already in place. Learning the ropes from a veteran for a season would be ideal, while Howell continues to develop as a passer.
Howell should continue to show quarterback needy teams his gains through the evaluation process. Regardless if he's selected as the 3rd, 4th or even 5th quarterback, his draft position won't matter once he puts it all together on the field as a franchise signal caller.
*Games Watched- 9/3 vs Va Tech, 9/11 vs Georgia St, 9/18 vs Virginia, 9/25 vs Ga Tech, 10/2 vs Duke, 10/9 vs FSU, 10/16 vs Miami, 10/30 vs ND, 11/6 vs WF, 11/11 vs Pitt, 11/26 vs NC State and 12/30 vs S.Car (Duke's Mayo Bowl)
*Team Fits- WFT, HOU, PHI, DEN, DET, CAR, Saints, ATL, MIN, SEA, LV
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