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After Rough Start, Sam Howell’s Draft Stock On The Rise

  • The Draft Network
  • November 16, 2021
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Sam Howell started the year off as the No. 1 or No. 2 quarterback prospect on most big boards. While he’s stayed in the top five of most, he’s quickly become one of the more polarizing prospects in a quarterback class in which no two analysts seem to have the same top prospect ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft.

In 2020, there was talk of how Howell may have been a product of a supporting cast helping elevate him. Since then, the script has been flipped as Howell’s offensive line and supporting cast both leave plenty to be desired. It now seems that Howell is one of the brightest spots on this Tar Heels team and is being more so held back by some of the shortcomings around him—it’s easy to get the sense that Howell wouldn’t be so polarizing after all if the rest of the offense was playing at a higher level.

Howell has shown a tremendous amount of grit this season, having to fight through no shortage of adversity to put UNC in the best possible position to win.

He and the Tar Heels came up just short this past weekend against an immensely talented Pittsburgh Panthers team that they lost 30-23 to in overtime. In that game, Howell completed 22-of-33 passes for 296 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He was a bit more limited than we’ve seen him on the ground lately, carrying the ball 17 times for 28 yards with one rushing touchdown.

Howell did a lot of nice things in this close loss—like the timing and placement on this touchdown pass.

https://twitter.com/PFF_College/status/1458996947197566976?s=20

This deep ball also had plenty to appreciate.

https://twitter.com/PFF_AustinGayle/status/1459001860271095821?s=20

And while this wasn’t the best documentation of just how much of a difference-maker he can be on the ground in addition to the efficiency he brings as a passer, the UNC offense has done well when they’ve used Howell substantially both in the air and on the ground.

In the four games preceding the contest against Pitt, Howell stayed around the century-mark as far as rushing totals are concerned (104 yards against Wake Forest, 91 yards against Notre Dame, 98 yards against Miami, and 108 yards against Florida State). As a passer, Howell mostly took care of business, completing nearly 62% of his passes against Wake Forest, over 77% against Notre Dame, over 65% against Miami, and struggling some in a wild Florida State game in which he completed just over 53% of his passes.

Heading into the game against the Panthers, Howell was knocking on the door for the record for most forced missed tackles in a single season among quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus—Howell’s totaled 52, behind just Lamar Jackson (53 in 2016) and Lynn Bowden Jr. (55 in 2019).

Howell made some mistakes early on this season and has steadily cleaned a lot of that up as the picture has become more clear that he’s doing as much as he can and that not all of UNC’s stumbles are on him. He’s playing some of his best football right now and will continue to be a quarterback to watch.

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