Howell's game took a big step forward in 2021 in this regard.
Howell’s mobility and success as a runner was a major storyline of the 2021 season and his evolution as a player. He showcased tremendous field vision and contact balance as he consistently ripped off large chunks of yardage as a runner. Howell is a good thrower on the run and his ability to use his legs is a weapon.
Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown praises him for his mastery and command of the offense.
Howell is a highly accomplished quarterback that immediately became North Carolina’s starting quarterback and started nearly every game since stepping foot on campus. He was able to maximize a dynamic supporting cast in 2020 and I am impressed with how he performed with an entirely new group of weapons in 2021. He’s a tough competitor and can set the tone for his team with a big-time throw or by weaponizing his legs.
Sets his receivers up well for after the catch efforts.
Howell is a mostly accurate quarterback that has his share of pinpoint throws down the field and dropping the football between zones. He consistently places the ball where he intends it to go and enables his targets to have opportunities to stay up and work after the catch. He isn’t without misfires but Howell is an accurate thrower of the football.
After a high school career that saw Sam Howell set the North Carolina record for total yards with 17,036, the highly-touted recruit took his talents to Chapel Hill, flipping from his original commitment to Florida State. Not only was Howell an outstanding high school quarterback, but he was also an all-state baseball player. Howell immediately became the Tar Heels’ starting quarterback as a true freshman and started all but one game since he stepped foot on campus.
Howell is an incredibly accomplished quarterback that quickly became one of the ACC’s top passers. Howell is an accurate quarterback with good arm strength and has developed into an outstanding runner where his vision and contact balance shine. He has mostly good mechanics and excels with touch throws between zones. Despite playing in a spread offense, Howell has shown plenty of anticipatory throws, second-window throws, and the ability to work full-field progressions. He adjusted well to a completely new supporting cast around him in 2021, which included an increased emphasis on weaponizing his legs which, in my opinion, makes him even more appealing as a prospect. Considering the structure of the North Carolina offense that features static alignments, binary reads, and plenty of manufactured throws, there is an acclimation period ahead for Howell as he adjusts to the next level which should temper any thought that he will be a day-one NFL starter.
With a sound infrastructure around him, I believe Howell has a chance to be a productive starting quarterback in the NFL, although I have little conviction that he actually profiles as a difference-maker at the position. Outside of the schematic adjustment ahead for Howell, my concerns for him when projecting him to the next level stem from instances where he can unravel on tape, his average pocket manipulation skills, and an overall modest package of physical traits. A commitment to Howell as a franchise quarterback must come with an understanding that a strong remainder of the team with a trusted veteran in the room is likely to be required for success.
Ideal Role: Developmental starting quarterback
Scheme Fit: Spread
Written by Joe Marino
Games watched: Virginia Tech (2021), Pittsburgh (2021), Notre Dame (2021), Florida State (2021), Miami (2021), Notre Dame (2020), Miami (2020), NC State (2020), Syracuse (2020), Florida State (2020)
Best Game Studied: Florida State (2020)
Worst Game Studied: Virginia Tech (2021)
Accuracy: See Above.
Decision Making: Howell is mostly sound with his decision-making. With that said, he can be over-committed to a predetermined read and there are times I want him to be more willing to come off as his primary option. There have been instances where he unravels a bit in the red zone where he is guilty of taking a bad sack, looking to scramble, and being riskier with the football.
Poise: Howell is a tough competitor and I appreciate how he battled throughout the 2021 season. He hangs tough in the pocket and keeps his eyes down the field to find options under duress. Like most quarterbacks, his production dips under pressure and he is guilty of drifting in the pocket. I do want to see even more consistency in the red zone.
Progressions: The North Carolina offense is mostly static with plenty of binary reads. With that said, I thought Howell’s ability to work progressions and scan the entire field became more evident in 2021 from my exposures. The are plenty of examples of anticipatory and second-window throws on his tape.
Release: Howell is guilty of patting the football to start his throwing motion. Once he gets done burping the baby, his motion is quick, compact, and snappy. He can find different arm slots and generate sufficient velocity on his passes.
Pocket Manipulation: Howell is a twitchy athlete in the pocket but his pocket awareness is occasionally lacking. He can be toesy in the pocket and his internal clock can sometimes be tardy. I like his movement within the pocket but the awareness component can fail him. There is too much drifting and I want him to be even more willing to climb.
Arm Strength: While Howell doesn’t have elite arm strength, he generates plenty of distance and control on his throws with enough velocity to drive the football outside the numbers even from the opposite hash. Even when he’s pressured or forced to speed up his process, Howell gets the ball out with sufficient zip. He checks the box.
Leadership: See Above.
Mechanics: Howell’s baseball background shows up in how he throws the football with the snappiness of his release and does a good job with alignment. With that said, he can be bouncy in the pocket, which can lead to irregularity with getting his feet set and that can impact his lower-body mechanics. I’d like to see him eliminate patting the football to shorten his throwing motion because everything after that is efficient.
TDN Consensus: 79.08/100 (Third Round Value)
Crabbs Grade: 78.00/100
Marino Grade: 80.00/100
Harris Grade: 78.00/100
Sanchez Grade: 79.50/100
Weissman Grade: 80.50/100
Parson Grade: 78.50/100