Dynasty Prospect Scouting Report: Sam Howell
Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Height: 6’ 1”
Howell passed on Combine testing after suffering a minor calf injury at the Senior Bowl. He did, however, post the highest throw velocity of any QB in Indy (59 MPH).
At North Carolina’s March 28 Pro Day, Howell talked about improving his footwork and play-action passing so that it was up to NFL standards.
At the event, UNC HC Mack Brown had this to say on Howell:
“He’s been the face of our program for the last 3 years,” Brown said via ESPN. “We wouldn’t have won as many games and had as good an offense in the first 3 years if it hadn’t been for him…we wouldn’t be where we are today without Sam Howell.”
Howell drew interest from Florida St., South Carolina, Maryland, Miami and a host of other major programs. But the 4-start recruit and Elite 11 participant opted to remain in-state and join the Tar Heels.
A smooth transition followed. Howell started all 13 games in 2019 en route to ACC and Rookie of the Year honors. His 38 TD passes ranked 4th most in the nation behind Joe Burrow, Anthony Gordon and Justin Fields.
2020 was a year of boosted efficiency. His completion rate jumped from 61.0% to 68.0%; his YPA shot up from 8.6 to 10.2. Pro Football Focus handed Howell a 91.5 passing grade — the best of his 3-year career. It ranked T-9th nationwide and T-1st among 2022 draft-eligible passers.
Clearly, this was a guy on the rise.
He was viewed as a Round 1 lock last fall...
And then came his toughest college season. UNC lost 4 key targets to the 2021 draft: Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. That group combined to account for ~66% of Howell's passing yardage.
Quite an offensive overhaul.
#1 WR Josh Downs, a ’21 sophomore, stands just 5’10, 180 pounds. He went from a 7-catch freshman year (4 games) to a massive 101-1,335-8 line (13 games). No other player caught more than 31 passes (6’2 senior Antoine Green).
Howell missed 1 late-season game with a minor shoulder injury. But the real story here was simply the fact that Howell couldn’t compensate for the drop in talent around him. The 21-year-old posted his lowest Pro Football Focus passing grade (81.1) while notching a career-low in adjusted completion rate (72.7%). He also absorbed 49 sacks — 1 every 9.4 dropbacks.
Time will tell if Howell was simply the product of an excellent situation — or a guy who merely hit a bump in the road.
One thing’s clear: Howell has the arm talent to play on Sundays.
Games watched: South Carolina (2021), Notre Dame (2021), Virginia Tech (2021), Virginia (2021), Syracuse (2020), Wake Forest (2020)
Let’s start with the arm strength. I mentioned his high-velocity throw at the Combine -- and it certainly shows up on tape. In this first clip, Howell rips an in-breaker -- a common NFL throw -- with relative ease. And it's in the strike zone...
Howell excelled on deep balls for most of his career. He has the arm and touch to put balls in tight spaces. We just saw regression in that area last year with several near misses, unlike the throw below (from 2020). Perhaps it was mostly the supporting cast. But, per PFF, Howell tallied an adjusted completion rate of 39.4% on deep balls in 2021; worst among 1st round QB contenders. He was at 53.3% in 2020; 48.9% in 2019. So the drop off is noteworthy...
Howell's not considered one of the best processors in this class. The tape doesn't show a guy who was forced to go to his 3rd+ option very often. In the next clip, though, we see him manipulate the MLB, which opens a throwing window over the middle. Again, he rips a pass to his target in stride.
Howell's athleticism doesn't put him on par with Malik Willis. But he's fearless as a scrambler, and it wasn't uncommon to see Howell carry the ball on designed runs.
His scramble rate really took off last fall -- perhaps due to a lack of trust in the supporting cast. Per PFF, his 13% scramble rate easily topped marks from 2020 (8.3) and 2019 (4.5).
Think of Howell as Baker Mayfield+ as a runner. There's no guarantee that this part of his game will translate into fantasy success. But it's a tool in his bag that could be fostered...
Howell generally performed well under pressure across his 3 starting seasons. Still, he was prone to some mental gaffes where he seemed to put too much trust in his arm.
Strictly looking at INTs, Howell did take good care of the ball overall. He exits school with a career INT rate of only 2.0%.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah believes Howell has "NFL-starter ability." That's a pretty safe comment based on Howell's arm talent and college production alone.
Funny enough, Jeremiah's colleague Lance Zierlein tossed out a Chase Daniel comp. Daniel's started 5 games across 12 pro seasons.
Now, recall that Daniel's final 2 seasons at Missouri were huge (4,306-33 and 4,335-39), although he ultimately went undrafted. The now-35-year-old never matched Howell in rushing production, providing a key distinction between the two.
Ultimately, team fit will be crucial for Howell, whose big-time arm figures to mesh well with a downfield attack. Chances are, he'll start no more than a few games in 2022 before potentially making the jump to a full-time starter in 2023.