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Sam Howell is the quarterback who is most likely to be drafted by the Seahawks
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Imagine if instead of entering the 2022 NFL Draft, Sam Howell entered the transfer portal and left his North Carolina college for a dream situation at a more prestigious football program with a chance to play behind the best offensive line in football. What if instead of being projected as a day two pick this year, Howell was instead preparing to be the next quarterback at Michigan, Florida, or Oregon?
What if out of nowhere Ohio State needed a quarterback to replace C.J. Stroud, and Howell stepped in? If Sam Howell had the chance to play for the best offense in college football next season, where would his draft stock be in 2023?
Because that’s pretty much the opportunity that once turned Russell Wilson from a decent baseball prospect out of NC State into a record-setting quarterback at Wisconsin in 2011. It’s a route that Howell could have taken after an underwhelming junior season with North Carolina in 2021. It’s what Spencer Rattler and Kedon Slovis are attempting to do at South Carolina and Pittsburgh, respectively.
But Howell is instead trying to re-boost his stock by linking with NFL coaches while the opportunity still exists, even if it means sacrificing the chance to be a top-five pick in 2023, which I think would have been a realistic goal had he chosen to give college football one more year. Because Howell is the only quarterback in this class under the age of 22, he’s got the pedigree of being a former four-star recruit, and he has the prettiest deep ball of any of his 2022 peers.
I’m not saying that Howell should be compared to Russell Wilson—because as a probable day two pick, those are not expectations that belong on his shoulders, especially since Wilson was a day two pick—but if the Seahawks are looking to fit a square peg into that square hole on the roster then Sam Howell is the closest comparison to Russell Wilson in this draft.
Something that we shouldn’t forget is that Russell Wilson’s draft stock took a major hit after posting career-worst numbers as a junior at NC State. After throwing 17 TD/1 INT as a freshman, then 31 TD/11 INT as a sophomore, Wilson ratcheted up pass attempts during his junior campaign and then posted career-high turnovers with a career-low yards per attempt:
If Wilson had entered the NFL Draft in 2011, would he have even been selected? Would Wilson be an NFL player right now, if not for his final season at Wisconsin?
Not playing with any future NFL talent at NC State (other than backup QB Mike Glennon), Wilson had a rare pre-portal opportunity to transfer to an FBS program without having to sit on the bench for a year. He slid into an offense that featured Travis Frederick, Kevin Zeitler, Ricky Wagner, and Peter Konz on the offensive line (with future Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein also getting action), a rare chance to basically play behind an NFL offensive line while still in college.
His running backs were Montee Ball and James White (over 2,600 combined rushing yards and 45 touchdowns) and he also had upgrades at wide receiver after transferring to the Big Ten. The results were a then-NCAA record 191.8 passer rating, a 33/4 TD:INT ratio, and lifting his adjusted Y/A from 6.6 to 11.8!
Now picture Sam Howell getting one more year but at a much better football program than what UNC could offer in 2021:
I don’t want to compare stats-to-stats because Wilson and Howell played in different eras, different situations, and against different defenses. What’s important to me is that Howell has been very good—if not great—and like Wilson, his junior season was unsatisfying compared to his first two campaigns. But that makes sense when you consider the talent that Howell lost in 2021.
UNC had two of the top-ranked running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft (Javonte Williams, Michael Carter) and they had combined to gain almost 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns in 2020. Howell also watched his top receiver, Dyami Brown, get drafted by the Commanders in the third round, and his second-best wideout, Dazz Newsome, get picked by the Bears in the sixth.
The Tar Heels had some decent talent last year, especially receiver Josh Downs, but the offense had to transform based on the departures in the draft. Ty Chandler led the team with 1,092 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, but the new “Michael Carter” was Howell himself: 183 carries, 828 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns.
North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo was anticipating that more of the offense would be flowing through tight end Garrett Walston last season to account for the losses at running back and receiver, but that never came to fruition. Walston finished with 18 catches for 184 yards and other than Downs, the offense lacked elite playmakers; senior receiver Antoine Green had a 20 YPC average but isn’t going to be confused for Dyami Brown.
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Howell had to burden a heavier workload on the offense by becoming a scrambling quarterback, but that didn’t stop him from throwing for over 290 yards in six of his 12 contests last season, as well as rushing for over 95 yards seven times. In a Week 9 loss to Notre Dame, Howell went 24-of-31 for 341 yards and rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries; Howell threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, completed a season-high 77-percent of his passes, and even added a perfect 35-yard pooch punt.
Comparing apples to Snapples, Desmond Ridder went 19-of-32 for 297 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for 26 yards on 10 carries against Notre Dame last season, while playing with a superior supporting cast to what Howell had at UNC.
It’s interesting that people talk so much about Malik Willis’s “dual threat” ability without mentioning the same for Howell, who was consistently a better runner against tougher competition in 2021.
It’s vital for fans to realize that the amount of attention paid to Willis’s pro day compared to Howell and the other 2022 QB prospects is a matter relating to the media, not an indication of how these guys compare as football players.
As a passer, Howell doesn’t suffer from the same “arm boring-ed-ness” of someone like Ridder, who lacks the strength and zip to consistently make those completed throws between 5 and 15 yards. His deep ball also doesn’t require the same amount of effort as what Willis has to give, as Willis often leaves his feet for those “impressive” bombs downfield. It’s not been heavily advertised, but even Dane Brugler, who has Howell as his fifth-ranked QB, conceded that he’s the best deep ball passer:
The Tar Heels’ scheme spread out the defense and gave Howell a chance to show off his mobility and toughness, as he accounted for seven 100-yard rushing games (not including lost sack yardage) in 2021. He is more of a see-it thrower and must develop his anticipation and read efficiency, but he is a confident passer with twitch in his delivery and arguably the best deep ball in the draft class. Overall, Howell needs to clean up his footwork and develop as a pocket passer, but he has NFL-quality arm strength, athleticism and work ethic and operates with a slow heartbeat. He projects as a low-end NFL starter, flashing similarities to Baker Mayfield.
I think the Baker Mayfield comp, which is the most common one that he gets, has more to do with his thick beard and stocky frame than playing style. It’s actually not even that close, and I am here to tell you that Howell=Mayfield is the single WORST comp of the 2022 NFL Draft.
If Sam Howell is to be compared to anyone in playing style, it’s not Mayfield. It’s Russell Wilson.
If 2022 was a good quarterback class, then the following statement wouldn’t be true, but Howell is arguably the only notable prospect who can already make some of these basic and necessary throws at the next level. This throw to Ty Chandler streaking out of the backfield could have been a touchdown if Howell hits him further downfield, but is still on the money where only Chandler (who drops it) can get it:
The strength to complete this throw to the sidelines is rare, especially in the 2022 draft class:
This is a limited sample size of plays from one of Howell’s best games of 2021 (even though it was a North Carolina loss against a superior football team that finished 11-2) but I think it gets us off to some important footing with regards to the best sleeper prospect in this quarterback class. Why would the Seattle Seahawks draft Sam Howell to be their next developmental quarterback in 2022?
He’s got the best deep ball in the class and as Nate Tice recently mentioned, the next phase of NFL offenses will be having that “death by a thousand cuts” checkdowns/short/intermediate throws, mixed in with bombs that take the top off of a 2-high defense as teams are forced to crowd the box. Seattle probably has the receivers, tight ends, and running backs necessary for such an attack, but not the tackles or the quarterback. Howell is one of the few QBs in this class who has the arm strength to connect on all of those throws in the future.
Malik Willis could have the arm strength, but he’s not nearly as pro ready and if his draft stock is actually as high as people think it is, then the Seahawks won’t pick him. Carson Strong has arm strength but doesn’t have any mobility and he has a scary injury history. Kenny Pickett doesn’t have the arm strength or the mobility. I’m not against Matt Corral, but Sam Howell is the better prospect because of his deep ball, as well as other factors.
He comes from an RPO spread offense that wouldn’t be that dissimilar from what worked so well for Pete Carroll and Wilson in 2012-2014. His mobility and scrambling ability, his toughness, his awareness to slide and avoid injury (also similar to Wilson) makes him a more attractive dual threat option than all of his competitors other than Willis, who again, is too raw, over-valued, and about three years older.
If the Seahawks do want a legitimate QB prospect out of this draft, then landing a player like Howell and sitting him for one year behind Geno Smith and/or Drew Lock could be the formula necessary that allows Seattle to use both of their first rounders in 2023 (a better all-around class) on players at other positions. If Howell is a complete and immediate bust, then the Seahawks could still look to draft a QB in 2023.
Too many analysts are overlooking or completely ignoring how much talent that Sam Howell has lost around him since 2019 and 2020. He might as well have had an entirely new offensive coordinator in 2021 (even though he didn’t) but he responded with what I would call a better college season than virtually all of his 2022 peers other than Pickett and Ridder: Howell threw a touchdown in all 12 games, he rushed for a touchdown in seven games, he had multiple touchdowns in 10 games, and he had at least three scores in eight games.
There is inconsistency. There are poor outings, bad decisions, throws he’d like to have back. Howell had three interceptions against Virginia and his worst game of the season may have been UNC’s 38-21 bowl game loss to South Carolina.
But Howell was lowkey the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl (Seahawks are always paying attention there) and he’s the only option in the second round of this draft (if not late first) that has the mix of arm talent and rushing ability that Pete Carroll and Shane Waldron are likely looking for in this class—IF they’re even looking that seriously at all.
Though I have been anti-drafting a QB since the day Russell Wilson was traded, it would be stupid of me to put blinders on and pretend like Seattle will only ever do what I want. Those blinders would keep me from seeing perhaps the most obvious fact of all when it comes to the 2023 draft class and the superior prospects next year: if Pete is unlikely to draft a quarterback in the first round right now, he might be just as unlikely to do it next April.
I keep telling you that Pete Carroll and John Schneider will not panic about the QB position and it’s not their style to take one in the first round, so who am I to then turn around and tell you that they’ll pick Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud in 2023? It really doesn’t make that much sense.
What makes more sense is that if Sam Howell is available to the Seahawks at a later point in the draft than how they value him—which might be pick 40 and it also might be pick 72 or somewhere in between—then THIS is the guy who Seattle will let compete against Smith and Lock for snaps in August and September.
As most of you know, there’s no quarterback in college football who I love more than Grayson McCall. And one of my favorite facts about McCall and the reason that I believe he’s been overlooked since his high school days is that he grew up in the same town as Howell, one of the most prized quarterback recruits in North Carolina history. Howell’s presence in Indian Trail, NC overshadowed McCall’s abilities as a triple-option quarterback and that led to my favorite QB going to Coastal Carolina instead of one of the major programs in the region.
Instead, it was Howell who got the scholarship offers, the accolades, and the attention after a stellar freshman season in 2019.
Ironically, it may have been Grayson McCall who overshadowed Sam Howell in my eyes over the last 12 months of preparing for this draft class. I kind of held it against Howell that he was getting more praise than McCall and maybe I wasn’t being fair to what his abilities actually are; I’ve long dreamed of the Seahawks picking McCall on day two of the draft and building an offense around what he does best.
Now there might be a scenario where Seattle picks the other kid from Indian Trail instead.
It makes too much sense.