In what will likely be the final game of his collegiate career, Sam Howell and The North Carolina Tar Heels fell to the South Carolina Gamecocks 38-21 in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Where does his 2022 NFL Draft stock stand?
Quarterback Sam Howell was looking to go out with a bang to close out the 2021 season and likely his time at North Carolina. Instead, the Tar Heels suffered yet another disappointing loss, finishing a season that saw them ranked top ten in the preseason AP poll, a meager 6-7.
Despite the loss, Howell was efficient throwing the football, finishing the game with 12 completions on 20 attempts for 205 yards and a touchdown. He also had several NFL caliber throws, including a 34-yard touch pass to Josh Downs and a 27-yard back-shoulder throw to Antoine Green. Howell was aided by his receivers on both plays but still showed excellent ball placement on those particular throws.
The Tar Heels’ passing attack was hampered by their offensive line. Howell took four sacks and was chased out of the pocket on several other occasions. This made it harder for North Carolina to get into a rhythm and stalled multiple drives.
Howell finished his third season in Chapel Hill with 3,056 passing yards, 35 total touchdowns (24 passing), and nine interceptions. Although Howell had a solid season, it fell short of many expectations, especially for those paying attention to the 2022 NFL Draft. He threw the fewest passing touchdowns of his career while also throwing the most interceptions. There was also a noticeable dip in completion percentage from 68.1 in 2020, to 62.5 this year, as well as yards per attempt, which fell from 10.3 to 8.8.
Where does Sam Howell fall as a prospect?
If Howell makes the decision to enter the pro ranks, he is expected to be a first-round selection. There isn’t a clear-cut QB1 in the 2022 NFL Draft, and that could help someone like Howell go earlier than he would in prior years.
Howell has three years of productive play at the quarterback position and was one of the best players in power five football at his position during his freshman and sophomore seasons. He has great arm strength and is an above-average athlete.
Although he has shown solid ball placement, Howell needs to be more consistent with his accuracy at the next level. North Carolina’s offense hasn’t required Howell to go through his progressions very often, but he has made enough throws beyond his primary read to show he is at least capable of doing so.
The consensus pro comparison for Howell has been Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. This comparison was seen much more favorably before the start of the season, but if Howell can provide the production Mayfield did his first three years in Cleveland, he is worthy of a high pick.
One of the main concerns with Howell is the lack of growth. He has maintained high level play through his entire career at North Carolina, but there hasn’t been as much growth many would like. It also didn’t help that Howell lost several of his best weapons from 2020 to the draft. Outside of Josh Downs, the Tar Heels offense featured a rather underwhelming group of pass-catchers, and that combined with the aforementioned offensive line play didn’t do their quarterback any favors.
There are certainly enough flashes on tape to be excited about the potential of Sam Howell. Although undersized, he meets NFL standards in both arm strength and mobility. The ultimate question is if Howell’s lack of growth resulted from his supporting cast getting substantially worse or opposing defenses getting more accustomed to his tendencies and Howell not adjusting. Howell does pretty much everything well, but I’m not sure if there is anything he does exceptionally.
Still, he checks enough of the boxes that it’s hard to imagine him falling out of the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and the further he falls on the first night, the better the chance he has of going to a more favorable situation with a better supporting cast.