Sam Howell has been nothing short of terrific since arriving at Chapel Hill. Starting as a true freshman, Howell has been part of the resurgence of the North Carolina football program. He has back-to-back years 30 or more touchdowns and seven interceptions and the Tar Heels coaching staff has put Howell in a great position to succeed. It’s not all coaching though, as Howell has an incredible arm and talent that could make him one of, if not the first, quarterback drafted in 2022. With another big season, the Sam Howell hype train will continue to keep chugging forward.
There isn’t a throw that Howell can’t make. He throws a beautiful deep ball that makes it very easy for his receivers to catch. His throwing motion is natural and he can throw the ball on a rope without much effort. He’ll never have any issues on throws outside of the hashes and he can make long throws look effortless. A huge part of North Carolina’s offense is RPO’s, where the slant route is usually the first option. He does an excellent job of fitting the ball through tight windows and fitting the ball into coverage.
Using His Legs
While he’s not a running quarterback, Howell does a great job of using his legs inside and outside of the pocket. Yes, there are some moments where he leaves the pocket too early, but in general, I think his footwork in the pocket is very good. There are moments where he can pick up a few yards with his mobility, but he’s not very fast. He is excellent at keeping plays alive and throwing on the run. Just because you aren’t a super athlete like so many of the quarterbacks nowadays doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t use your legs to your advantage. Howell does need to trust his offensive line a bit more, but with off-script plays becoming more and more important, he shows enough playmaking skill to succeed in the NFL.
Howell’s accuracy took a big leap as a sophomore. As a freshman, he was erratic and wasn’t looking as confident on tougher throws. As a sophomore, he was making tough throws look easy and hitting the open guys. The North Carolina offense is designed for a lot of short and easy throws, but when he was required to make a big play, Howell typically delivered. We saw his accuracy come into play on deep throws, where he did an excellent job of throwing to where only his guy can make the catch. Having all the arm talent in the world means nothing when you can’t hit your receiver. Luckily for Howell, this isn’t a problem.
Throwing Under Pressure
No quarterback is great at throwing under pressure, but some people are significantly worse. Any good quarterback can succeed with time to throw, but as we saw with guys like Jared Goff, you have to be able to do well with a defender in your face or you won’t last too long. Like I said earlier said, Howell can try to escape the pocket too early and needs to be comfortable being calm in the face of pressure. He isn’t the biggest quarterback in the world, so maybe he’s worried about durability issues on that end. However, he needs to show a little more poise, which can come with more strength and playing time.
Overrated Decision Making
When you look at Howell’s stats, you’ll see that he throws an interception once in every 55 attempts. That’s pretty good. However, a lot of his throws were short completions which inflated his stats. There will be times where he stares down his first option and telegraphs a throw. Other times, he’ll put too much juice on a pass and makes it tough for his receiver to catch. He’s still young, so expect him to take some steps this year in this regard. However, if he doesn’t show improvement in 2021 then the learning curve could be steeper than originally thought.
Needs To Prove He Can Play Without Elite Talent
This isn’t really a knock against him because he doesn’t control who he plays with nor should he be penalized for having good teammates. While this falls under the negative category, it’s not one. However, after losing his top two rushers and top two receivers, he’s going to have to pick up the slack in 2021. Will he elevate his teammates or will he struggle with an inexperienced supporting cast? We are going to get an answer for that this fall.
Howell is a very solid prospect and is probably the safest option at this point. While I’m not sold on him being an elite player, I expect him to be a good starter that you can rely on. When I watch his game, I see a little bit of Baker Mayfield and Matthew Stafford. He isn’t a great athlete, but he knows how to make plays and can use his arm to make just about any throw on the field. Because of this, I would expect to see Howell become a top-five pick and a guy you can depend upon to lead your franchise.