Despite losing a multitude of talent around him, North Carolina QB Sam Howell put together another solid season in 2021 and kept his name among the first quarterbacks deserving to go off the board come April in the 2022 NFL Draft. As we look around the NFL for potential landing spots and their fantasy football impact, how will Howell fit in the NFL, and are there any injury concerns which could worry teams?
Sam Howell’s strengths, weaknesses, and more
It is well documented the 2022 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks is somewhat lacking. With that said, it is a far cry from the 2013 group. That was arguably the worst one of all time. While there is no Joe Burrow, Andrew Luck, or Joe Burrow, we also didn’t project guys like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Justin Herbert to take off the way they have.
I say this to remind ourselves that just because a quarterback isn’t in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick does not mean they can’t become something an NFL or fantasy team covets. Enter Sam Howell.
Howell’s collegiate trajectory
At the start of the 2020 college season, Howell was considered one of, if not the top choice at QB. The 6’0 1/4″, 221-pound QB was coming off a sensational year where North Carolina took the ACC and nation by surprise. The Tar Heels went 8-4, with Howell completing 237 of his 348 passes (68.1%) for 3,586 yards with 30 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also rushed 92 times for 146 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Despite losing Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dazz Newsome, and Dyami Brown, Howell put together another statistically solid season in 2021. While his completion rate did drop to 62.5% (217-of-347), Howell still posted 3,056 yards with a 30:9 TD-to-INT ratio.
Where we saw a marked improvement was in his efficiency on the ground. Rushing 183 times across 12 games, Howell totaled 872 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns. He finished third among FBS QBs in rushing behind only Malik Cunningham of Louisville (1,031) and Malik Willis of Liberty (878).
While he does not possess any elite physical traits, Howell is a player who is likely to elevate his draft stock should he have a great outing at the Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine, and upcoming Pro Days.
The first trait I have noted as a strength for Howell after film study is his quick and snappy release. Howell is a former baseball player, and it shows in his efficiency of movement. He can get the ball out with pace from a multitude of angles, similar to a shortstop backhanding and firing to second base to start a 6-4-3 double play.
We have to add in his increased rushing upside for the NFL and fantasy. Over the past three years, 19 of the top 30 QBs in fantasy scoring had a minimum of 250 yards rushing. It’s almost a prerequisite for upside unless you have a sensational arm like Aaron Rodgers, who had three straight top-10 seasons with less than 200 rushing yards in each. Whether it was intentional or not, at least Howell showed us that element of his game exists.
His competitive toughness must be noted, along with his leadership capabilities. Howell was a starter from almost the moment he walked on campus at Chapel Hill and carried himself as such. He is a fiery leader on the field — he’s willing to stand in the pocket under duress, get hit, and then get up and do it again. There is an easy comparison from a build, play-style, and competitive drive standpoint: Baker Mayfield in his final year at Oklahoma.
While Howell does not have the strongest arm of the class, he more than makes up for it with accuracy and ball placement. Make no mistake, though — he can fire the ball around the field and hit the far-hash-to-sideline throws that are a requirement of an NFL-caliber QB.
While I don’t know if I would call this an innate weakness, Howell doesn’t have any elite traits. He isn’t No. 1 in a single category but is good in almost all of them. As I said, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but he doesn’t have anything that sets him apart.
Howell’s pocket awareness will be something coaches work on in the NFL. While the poor OL play of UNC in 2021 did him no favors, Howell at times lacked feel in the pocket, sometimes drifting to a side when it moved rather than stepping up into it, which changes the angles of defenders.
Howell also gets a bit bouncy at the top of his drop, which in turn affects his base and, subsequently, ball placement. It is a subtle mechanical tendency that, when fixed, will help out everything else down the chain of the play.
General consistency with ball placement needs to be worked on as well. While Howell has throws that wow you, you’ll find several examples of missed targets. Also, Howell locks onto his first read at times and can force a ball into traffic.
As mentioned when referencing his toughness, it should come as no surprise to know Howell rarely ever missed a game. In fact, he only missed one game due to injury his entire collegiate career.
Howell missed a contest against FCS Wofford in the Tar Heels’ final home game of the season thanks to a shoulder injury he suffered the week before. He’d come back to play two rivalry games, first against North Carolina State in the final regular-season contest and against South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. In an era where more and more players are choosing to opt out of bowl games, Howell showed his drive by going out with his team one final time.l
Top fantasy fits for Sam Howell in the NFL
A likely Day 2 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Howell could have the chance to land with nearly every NFL team. But who should fantasy managers be the most excited about when it comes to landing spots?
The Panthers have some soul searching to do. Not only was Matt Rhule set to right the ship as he did at Temple and Baylor, but Joe Brady was going to come in as OC and revolutionize the offense as he did at LSU. Well, Brady was fired midseason, and the Sam Darnold reclamation project has clearly turned south, leaving Rhule to figure it all out from here.
The first step is to address the QB. The Panthers picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option, buying them time to evaluate him and give Howell reps if this is his landing spot. I honestly think Howell could develop into a starting quarterback in the right scheme, and from a personnel standpoint, the Panthers have the weapons.
He is not enough of a rushing threat to take away from Christian McCaffrey, but Howell would benefit from the little wins that come from dump-offs. Then you have an elite WR1 in DJ Moore, who is the only WR with three straight years of 1,200 yards or more. Robby Anderson is a volume receiver, and second-year Terrace Marshall has the skills to become the No. 2.
The talent is there to support Howell even if he steps in during the latter half of the year. From a fantasy standpoint, I genuinely like this fit for Howell. Plus, it’s only a two-hour drive on I-85 to Charlotte from Chapel Hill. At least he’d save on moving costs.
The Vikings are a team in transition. Mike Zimmer is out as the Vikings head coach, and while we do not have a new hire yet, it seems more and more likely that newly hired GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will poach Jim Harbaugh from Michigan.
From a competitive toughness standpoint, Harbaugh would fall in love with Howell. He attacks the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. Then you have Kirk Cousins, who is in the twilight of his career. Minnesota is stuck with his laughably high cap hit of $45 million in 2021, but he is a free agent in 2022.
Howell would be under no pressure as a rookie. Cousins could captain the ship, and after he rides into the sunset, Howell would have the keys to the franchise. When you have a rookie, you need a running game to rely on, a WR who can help him out on bad throws, and a tight end to operate over the middle to be an easy target. Insert Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Irv Smith Jr.
We would need to see who the head coach is before making a definitive statement on Howell’s fantasy upside. Nevertheless, if it is Harbaugh or any other offensive-minded HC, I’d feel great about this landing spot for Howell. I honestly don’t believe there would be a massive drop-off in production for Cook, Jefferson, or Thielen from the version of Cousins we see on Sundays right now. That’s both a compliment for Howell and a bit of a slight to Cousins.
I don’t need to tell you how bad things are for the Steelers at quarterback. You know it, I know it, and so does your cousin Frank with the fry stains on his shirt. Ben Roethlisberger is off to retirement, and left in his wake are first-round bust Dwayne Haskins and Mason Rudolph.
While Mike Tomlin might not want to trust a rookie out of the gates, Pittsburgh might not have a choice. Granted, they could go with whoever wins the job out of camp. With that said, it wouldn’t take long for every Yinzer to be calling for Howell to be under center.
There is far too much talent among Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freiermuth to let it go to waste. The OL needs improvement, but you don’t win without a QB.
You need to have a certain mentality to play football in the AFC North. It is as blue-collar as it gets. The games are tough — borderline dirty at times — and you play to the second or maybe even third whistle. Howell has the mentality to fit in with this style of football. The Steelers wouldn’t need to reinvent their offense. Yet, they would instantly have a QB with a better arm and mobility than Big Ben. Yeah, I know it’s a low bar.
Howell has the intangibles. He just needs the mental reps and knowledge to go with it. Only time can give him that. Fantasy managers should be hoping for this landing spot. Otherwise, we could see a drastic drop in value across the board for Harris, Johnson, Claypool, and Freiermuth.