Preseason Scouting: North Carolina Quarterback Sam Howell
Our preseason scouting series begins today with a first look at quarterback Sam Howell. The Tar Heel has scouts and coaches in the NFL excited, but what does he bring to the table as a potential franchise passer?
**This post is available free to all readers. If you love the NFL draft and want the best inside information, rumors, scouting reports and mock drafts, please consider subscribing for just $7/month or $70/year. And don’t forget—starting September 1, the Draft Scout moves to $10/month for seasonal readers.**
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell returns for his junior season and third year as a starter; and for some scouts and media evaluators he enters the year as QB1 atop NFL draft big boards.
That’s where he sits for me. In this early breakdown of Howell, we’ll take a look at what makes him special, what concerns there are heading into what’s likely his final year of college, and how he projects to the next level as a quarterback.
SAM HOWELL, JUNIOR, QUARTERBACK, NORTH CAROLINA
Height: 6’1 1/4”
Weight: 225 lbs
Jersey: No. 7
High School Star Rating: 4*
Career Stats: 25 starts | 64.4% Comp. | 68 TD | 14 INT | 6 rushing TD
Howell is an accurate, quick-thinking, quick-moving thrower who can easily reach all levels of the field with a compact, strong arm. For a smaller quarterback, Howell has a juicy arm with excellent velocity to dial up heat on quick throws and when windows are closing in coverage. He’s also able to generate arc and power to stretch the field vertically to stress defenses on deep routes. When asked to throw outside the hashes, Howell has no issues. He keeps passes on a line and doesn’t let the nose of the football dip or sail passes—a sign that his arm angle, feet and body are working together. As a runner, Howell is used often in an RPO game and has shown the ability to be a tough runner and escape artist in the passing game when the pocket breaks down; but he does use his agility and mobility more to extend the play than break open large rushes.
The UNC offense is not very complex and already scouts we’ve spoken to worry about Howell getting to second-and-third-progressions; which is something that shows up on tape. In the RPO-heavy offense, Howell has a tendency to lock on to his first target and not work his eyes to secondary options. You’ll also see him force the ball to that first target regardless of the coverage. His aggressiveness can be a weakness and could lead to early turnovers in the NFL against faster, smarter coverage. While standing just over 6’1”, Howell is below the ideal height for NFL quarterbacks and it does show up when defenders are able to tip passes at the line of scrimmage or when he struggles to see over the middle of the field.
Howell is a smart, poised, accurate quarterback who on tape oozes confidence and leadership abilities. He throws a heater and can easily dial up all the velocity needed which will endear him to multiple NFL offensive systems thanks to his experience in the RPO game, his arm strength, and his character. Howell will enter the NFL with an expected 35+ starts, putting him on the high-side of experience in today’s game. If he can cut down on some aggressive decisions that led to interceptions but keep the fiery mentality he has as a leader, Howell could go wire-to-wire as QB1 in the 2022 draft class.
NFL Comparison: Baker Mayfield
This is a comparison you’ll hear early and often for Sam Howell. From their body type, to their play-style, even the bearded look—Howell could pass for Mayfield’s younger brother. Outside of their body and play types, they’re also similar in their profiles as passers. Howell, like Mayfield, doesn’t have an elite trait like Patrick Mahomes’ arm strength or Lamar Jackson’s running ability. Instead, he’s a quarterback that grades out at above-average on most traits (accuracy, arm strength, mobility, field vision). Some may see that and love that he’s proficient in every area where others see quarterbacks needing an elite trait.
NFL Projection: Round 1 pick / early starter
Given Howell’s experience and traits, it’s hard to see NFL teams bailing on him as a draft prospect unless he seriously struggles with his top two receivers and top two running backs gone to the NFL in the ‘21 draft. Howell has all the tools to be viewed as a pro-ready starting quarterback based on his first two seasons of tape.
Key 2021 Matchups: Oct. 16 vs. Miami; Oct. 30 @ Notre Dame
If you want to get a taste for what Howell can do against top-level defenses, these are the games to watch. Miami is loaded with NFL speed throughout the defense and Notre Dame features the nation’s best safety (Kyle Hamilton). What we’ll be looking for this season is if Howell can elevate the young talent around him after having four elite skill players aiding him the last two years. These games will be the best test he faces this season.