Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina: 2022 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Breaking down the game of UNC quarterback Sam Howell in this 2022 NFL Draft scouting report.

Sam Howell has been on the NFL’s radar for some time. After he burst onto the scene after a stellar freshman campaign, he was being mocked as a potential top-five pick. But a lot can change in a couple of years. While guys like Matt Corral and Kenny Pickett took leaps and bounds this season, Howell’s production stagnated in 2021. With the 2022 NFL Draft just a few months away, Howell’s draft status remains as much of a mystery as ever.

Name: Sam Howell

Position: QB

School: North Carolina

Height: 6’1

Weight: 220 pounds

Background 

Howell was a four-star recruit out of Sun Valley High School in Monroe, North Carolina. Along with being a star football player, he was also a decorated baseball player and received all-state honors. After initially committing to Florida State, Howell decided to stay home and play football for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels and enrolled in the fall of 2019.

Howell wasted no time making a name for himself in Chapel Hill, winning the starting job as a true freshman and throwing for 3,641 yards, 38 touchdowns, and seven interceptions on a 62.5 completion percentage. As a sophomore, Howell threw for 3,586 yards, 30 touchdowns, and seven interceptions on a 68.1 completion percentage.

Going into the 2021 season, Howell was one of the betting favorites for the Heisman trophy. However, he was unable to live up to expectations and career lows in yards with 3,056, touchdowns with 24, and a career-high nine interceptions, all on a 62.5 completion percentage. The only major improvement from Howell in 2021 was his rushing game. After rushing for a combined total of 181 yards in his first two seasons, North Carolina’s offense put much more emphasis on Howell’s rushing game, finishing the year with 828 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

Despite having a disappointing 2021, Howell declared for the 2022 NFL Draft shortly after his bowl game and is still viewed as one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Scouting report

At 6’1 220 pounds, Sam Howell doesn’t quite meet the prototypical size for the position, but he’s no smaller than other first-round candidates, Matt Corral and Malik Willis. Howell has no trouble seeing the field, and his stockier build helps him absorb contact.

Howell has an NFL arm and can drive the ball into tight windows when needed. He can make throws downfield and to the opposite hash comfortably. I wouldn’t consider Howell’s arm to be extraordinary, but it’s definitely on the higher end for quarterbacks in the class and shouldn’t be a concern at the next level.

Howell has solid accuracy, but there is certainly room for improvement. There are times that he seems so worried about overthrowing his receiver he ends up under-throwing him instead. Howell also has made some nice anticipatory throws, which isn’t all that common from college quarterbacks. Howell has no shortage of throws that make you say “wow,” but like many prospects, he will need to have more consistent accuracy, especially on his deep ball at the next level.

There shouldn’t be many concerns surrounding Howell’s decision-making. In 35 games and 1,117 passing attempts, he threw a total of 23 interceptions. That’s about one interception every 50 throws. The one critique I have in this area is that Howell locks onto his first read a bit too often. This tendency rarely resulted in turnovers, but it did lead to some missed opportunities.

North Carolina’s offense didn’t ask Howell to work through three or more reads very often. He wasn’t given enough opportunities to work through his progressions to accurately gauge where he is in that department. As mentioned before, he does lock onto his primary area from time to time, but this is something that can be fixed at the next level. Processing is a big question mark for me.

Pocket presence is one of the biggest concerns with Howell. Far too often, he’ll put his head down and run instead of keeping his eyes downfield. Howell’s footwork is also shaky at times and makes it harder for him to maneuver the pocket. Growth in this area will be essential to Howell’s NFL success.

One of the tougher parts of Howell’s evaluation is his rushing ability. He obviously was a productive runner in college, but I’m not sure how well it will translate to the next level. Howell doesn’t run like most quarterbacks. He uses physicality to compensate for his average straight-line speed and fights for yards after contact. I’m not sure if Howell has the size and strength to obtain this power running style at the next level. Additionally, Most NFL teams won’t want their quarterback taking unnecessary hits and will encourage sliding.

I usually exclude leadership and toughness from scouting reports because they are often too subjective and immeasurable to be useful. I made an exception with Howell, though. He plays with a competitive fire and has no problem taking hits from much bigger players. There is no questioning how badly he wants to be out there, and the energy he brings to the field is infectious.

Final thoughts

I think Howell was much better in 2021 than most people give him credit for. Quarterback is a situation-dependent position, and as Howell’s situation got significantly worse this season, it would be understandable that his production would take a step back. Pro football focus, an analytics-driven company that focuses on grading players on a play-for-play basis, gave Howell a 90.9 grade in 2021 compared to the 92.3 he received in 2020.

This data shows that Howell’s individual play this season was comparable to 2020, and the regression statistically has more to do with Howell’s supporting cast than Howell himself. He dealt with one of the worst offensive lines in the ACC and didn’t have reliable pass catchers outside of Josh Downs.

The unavoidable comparison for Howell is Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. Recency bias may cloud people’s judgment, but Mayfield was a very promising prospect coming out of college, and comparing him to Howell should be seen as a compliment.

Sam Howell isn’t likely to blow many scouts away with either his film or production, but he does enough things well to feel like he could have success at the next level. The 2022 NFL Draft seems to lack a clear QB1, and there is a real chance that Howell is that guy.