Since he emerged as a freshman in 2019, Sam Howell has been a presumptive early-round quarterback prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft. With the ghost of Mitchell Trubisky still haunting the reputation of North Carolina quarterbacks, does Howell have what it takes to be successful at the next level? He’s already set multiple North Carolina QB records, but let’s look beyond the numbers with Howell’s scouting report.
Sam Howell NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Quarterback
- School: North Carolina
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’1 1/4″
- Weight: 225 pounds
Sam Howell Scouting Report
Even as a high school recruit, Howell received comparisons to former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. At 6’1 1/4″ and 225 pounds, it’s an easy comparison to make. They are both shorter, stocky quarterbacks that play the game with competitive toughness. Howell demonstrates excellent toughness in multiple ways. He can hang tough in the pocket when needed and isn’t afraid of contact as a runner.
Although he won’t earn any Lamar Jackson comparisons as a dual-threat quarterback, Howell possesses decent athletic ability. He evades pressure in the pocket and uses his legs to extend plays. There were various examples last season of him utilizing his athleticism and toughness to find the end zone. Howell also showcases impressive ability to throw on the run, keeping his eyes downfield as he evades pressure.
From a passing perspective, Howell does an exceptional job of reading the defense pre-snap. This allows him to routinely get the ball out of his hands with incredible quickness. Howell generates amazing zip on short throws, firing the ball to his receivers with little effort. He can make all the throws and flashes outstanding accuracy on intermediate and long throws, putting his receivers in an ideal position to succeed.
Areas for improvement
Although he exhibits great accuracy, Howell needs to be more consistent. There were too many examples in the games studied where he underthrew, overthrew, or was wide of his intended target. This is potentially due to him trying too hard to generate velocity on passes, particularly further down the field and when trying to thread passes into tighter windows.
If he is to develop into a top-tier quarterback at the NFL level, Howell will need to read the entire field. He often locks onto one side, which results in him forcing throws to receivers that aren’t viable options.
Howell’s Player Profile
Howell’s journey to the NFL Draft began as a hyper-productive high school quarterback in Indian Trail, North Carolina. A four-year starter for Sun Valley High School, Howell began to attract early attention with a fantastic freshman campaign. During the 2015 season, he threw for 3,586 passing yards and 35 touchdowns while adding another 6 scores on the ground.
There were no signs of a sophomore slump in 2016. Howell led Sun Valley to the playoffs and adding another 3,217 yards and 38 touchdowns to his résumé. In addition to impressing with his arm, his skill as a dual-threat quarterback developed, doubling his rushing touchdown total from the previous season. The upward trajectory continued in his junior campaign, with 1,594 rushing yards and 24 scores.
Howell took Sun Valley to the North Carolina 3AA Regional Final in 2017 as a junior. He secured his third consecutive season of 3,000+ passing yards and 30+ passing touchdowns. Naturally, national attention followed.
Howell was a four-star quarterback by 247 Sports, ranked as the No. 3 dual-threat in the 2019 class and a top-100 player nationally. He received offers from over 30 programs, but in April 2018, he committed to Florida State ahead of his senior season.
Howell dominates in senior season and flips his commitment late in the process
Already highly regarded, Howell dominated in his senior season. He was named the 2018 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, the North Carolina Offensive Player of the Year, and earned first-team All-State honors.
With another productive season, he took his career total to 13,415 passing yards, the second-most in state history. Furthermore, his 3,621 rushing yards ensured Howell would finish his Sun Valley career with a North Carolina state record for all-purpose yardage.
With his high school career complete, all eyes turned to national signing day. The assumption was that Howell would affirm his commitment to the Seminoles and join Florida State in the spring. However, there were significant changes at FSU following a dismal season. For instance, Walt Bell, who had led Howell’s recruitment, was no longer in Tallahassee.
Meanwhile, Mack Brown had returned for his second tenure at North Carolina. Adding Phil Longo to his coaching staff made the Tar Heels an appealing destination for a young QB. Additionally, Longo was part of the Ole Miss team trying to recruit Howell.
With the opportunity to play in an exciting offense and stay close to his father, Howell flipped his commitment to UNC, giving Brown the first recruit of his second stint with the Tar Heels.
Howell’s career at North Carolina
The combination of Longo and Howell, alongside some dynamic playmakers, made the North Carolina offense one of the most explosive in the nation. When Howell debuted against South Carolina, the young quarterback became the first-ever true freshman to start a season opener under center for the Tar Heels. He began his career with 2 touchdowns and 245 passing yards in a win.
Howell developed an early reputation for his accuracy, not throwing an interception in his first three games. Once Howell found his comfort level as a college quarterback, he opened up his game to devastating effect. Against Georgia Tech, he set program records for passing attempts (51), completions (33), and passing yardage (371). Howell followed up with 5 touchdowns against Virginia Tech — a program record for a freshman.
Howell had six games with over 300 passing yards as a freshman, totaling 3,641 yards. His 38 passing touchdowns in 2019 set an FBS record for passes by a true freshman. The accolades rolled in as Howell was named the ACC Offensive and Rookie Player of the Year and earned FWAA Freshman All-American honors.
Howell cements his NFL Draft stock in superb sophomore season
Much like at Sun Valley, there was no sophomore slump for Howell last season. Despite a reduced schedule due to the global situation, Howell came up just 55 yards short of his 2019 yardage total. He saw increases in both his completion percentage and yards per attempt. Furthermore, Howell improved as a dual-threat with an uptick in both rushing yards and touchdowns.
Howell’s 30 passing touchdowns led the ACC, with his 68 touchdown passes through two seasons being the most in conference history. Six of those came in an awe-inspiring performance against Wake Forest, where Howell strapped the team to his back late in the game. He added a rushing touchdown and 571 total yards, part of a school-record 742 total yards of offense. The performance earned Howell the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week award and the ACC QB of the Week.
Not content with throwing and rushing for touchdowns, Howell became the first UNC player since 2014 to pass, rush, and receive a touchdown when he tallied the trifecta in a regular-season concluding victory over Miami. Howell finished the season as a second-team All-ACC honoree and Manning Award finalist, as well as 2022 NFL Draft watchlists as a potential first-round pick.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.