Outside of Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who went to the Steelers with the 20th overall pick, the 2022 NFL Draft turned into one of those extremely rare exercises in which quarterbacks weren’t too cooked as draft prospects due to the overall value of the position.
Desmond Ridder went to the Falcons in the third round, with the 74th overall pick. Malik Willis went to the Titans in the third round, with the 86th overall pick. Matt Corral of Ole Miss went to the Panthers in the third round, with the 94th overall pick.
And Sam Howell of North Carolina was selected by the Washington Commanders in the fifth round, with the 144th overall pick.
That last quarterback? Perhaps the biggest surprise. If Howell had been available for the draft in 2021, having completed 68.1% of his passes and averaging 10.3 yards per attempt, throwing 30 touchdowns on seven interceptions, things could have been very different – especially after a 2019 season in which Howell completed 61.4% of his passes for 8.6 yards per attempt, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. At that point, Howell searched the world as the NFL’s next big prospect.
Then, before the 2021 season, Howell lost his two best running backs (Javonte Williams, Michael Carter) and his two best receivers (Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome) to the NFL, and he was left in the eye. of the hurricane. Howell responded by completing 62.5% of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
It feels like a drop from Howell’s previous efficiency and production until you look at what Howell had to work with and how he responded with more stuff in his skill set. Howell rushed for 181 yards and six touchdowns in his first two college seasons; he increased that to 828 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 183 carries.
“Yeah, it was a little different,” Howell said of the shift from staff he knew to staff he didn’t — not on the same level, at least. did different things last year. A lot more quarterback stuff last year, and not as much vertical passing play. We kind of got more involved in the middle passing game, so it’s still all in the same system, but definitely we did different things.
Asked about all those losses ahead of the 2021 season, Howell was stoic about it all.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a bit of a challenge, but to be honest with you, I think we had some really good players last year, and I wouldn’t have traded those guys for anyone in the world. Those are all really talented players and they work very, very hard. Obviously we haven’t achieved everything we wanted to achieve in the last year but we’ve learned so much throughout this one so for that, I wouldn’t trade this past year for anything.
Ultimately, Howell could be in better shape in 2022 than he was in 2021 from a global perspective. Commanders have Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke as their two quarterbacks with actual NFL experience, and those two quarterbacks have had more than enough up and down moments to leave things open to a greater or lesser degree. smaller in a competitive sense.
The Commanders weren’t looking for a quarterback in the draft, especially after trading for Wentz, but Howell proved too attractive to avoid — especially so far down the boards.
“Once we had Carson as a starter, we mostly jumped off the quarterback bandwagon,” head coach Ron Rivera said after the selection has been made. “For Sam to fall on us, we had to jump on it. We had a very high mark on him – he was, at that point, the highest guy left on our board… We think it was a home run for us.
It could be, and it could be a home run in the top of the inning. Based on Howell’s tape over the past two seasons, he shows the attributes you want in a young, developing rookie.
Howell’s connection with Dyami Brown.
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The then-Washington football team selected Dyami Brown in the third round of the 2021 draft, and Brown caught just 12 passes on 25 targets for 165 yards and no touchdowns. Brown showed a lot more on the court for the Tar Heels in 2020, when he caught a team-high 55 passes for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns. The bond between Howell and Brown was undeniable, and it mostly showed during deep plays. On that 37-yard touchdown pass against Virginia Tech, watch how Howell gets the ideal touch and arc on the ball, to make the catch pretty easy.
“He’s one of my best friends” Howell said of Brown after the two reunited. “We had so much fun in North Carolina, so I can’t wait to play with him again.”
The adjustment in Scott Turner’s attack.
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Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s ideal offense isn’t all that different from the offense his father, Norv Turner, put on NFL fields for decades. The “Turner Passing Game” features vertical three-figure concepts from the Don Coryell and Sid Gillman trees, accented with intense game action and (hopefully) dominant running play. Even in today’s fast-play era, you’re going to see more deep drops than the NFL average.
Last season, according to Sports Info Solutions, Heinicke gave up 168 in five and seven stages, completing 89 of 157 passes for 1,177 passing yards, 850 passing yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions. For the Colts in 2021, Wentz completed 71 of 128 passes on deeper drops for 1,222 yards, 856 passing yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
One of the reasons Commanders have gone all-in on Wentz is absolutely his big-play ability on plays that take longer to develop. Last season for the Tar Heels, Howell completed 16 passes on 36 attempts for 307 yards, 262 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. In 2020, when North Carolina was using more concepts on the field, Howell made five of 10 passes through for 81 yards, 63 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Howell is seen by some as just an RPO-based quarterback, which makes people think he’s not a great passer on the field, but in 2020 he completed 28 of 60 20-yard passes. aerial or more for 1,125 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Last season, he completed 23 of those 71 passes for 838 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
What does that tell you? This Howell can make accurate deep throws even without deep drops.
That fade touchdown last season against North Carolina State once again shows Howell’s ability to do more than throw fastballs – he has timing, touch and a good sense of location as well as deep speed. This is how we pass from the strength of the arms to the talent of the arms.
Elimination and isolation.
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Greg Cosell, who has worked for NFL Films since 1979 and helped invent film breakdown in a public sense with the show NFL Matchup in 1984, has a great line on quarterbacks. As Greg says, you want your quarterback to be able to take out what’s not there and isolate what’s there, quickly and consistently. Otherwise, there is too much noise on the pitch and mistakes will be made.
Another thing to point out about Howell is that he’s more than a one-time read guy. On that touchdown pass to Antoine Green against Pitt, Howell has a chance to check the backtrack and forward lunge option route. He might want Green to go all the way to the post in the corner, but you can see him tracking progress before he gets there – which also buys Green time to move close to the end zone. The ability to discern which is the best option is clear.
Howell needs work on this – he’s still at a stage in his development where he telegraphs things too often – but you can see how things can change over time.
Win as a runner.
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Howell isn’t just a good straight runner; he also has the ability to make precision throws while on the move in second reaction situations. On that 18-yard completion to Emery Simmons, Howell is kicked out of the pocket, but instead of making a random throw, he waits for the in-cut to develop on the switch release and makes the proper throw.
Which still needs work.
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There are times Howell will go for the hero ball when he really shouldn’t – while effective for the most part, this interception against Pitt is exactly what you don’t want your quarterback. It’s not quite”Carson Wentz throws spikes with his left hand“Stuff, but QB1 needs to know when it’s time to dodge YOLO bullets, and live for the next down. Commanders already have enough YOLOs with Wentz.
How far can Sam Howell go?
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Given Howell’s height (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) and occasional daredevil sand-pitch style, the automatic comparison has been with Baker Mayfield, and there’s obviously some physical resemblance. There are elements of Mayfield in Howell’s game, but I’d compare him to another mid-round draft pick who had to face a recently acquired veteran quarterback, and made it clear he was the guy to his rookie minicamp.
In 2012, the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a lucrative deal beyond anything Flynn had done on the field, and they also selected Russell Wilson in the third round. Halfway through preseason, everyone knew Wilson was The Guy, and Flynn wasn’t. Media, fans, coaches, teammates. It was as obvious as the proverbial nose on the face.
Not that Howell is throwing out of the box like Wilson has over time, but Wilson hasn’t been throwing that way either – if that was the case, Wilson would have been a top-five pick.
In that same draft, the then Washington Redskins took Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick, and Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. The decision to make Cousins the team’s eventual starter has a lot to do with Griffin’s injuries and Jay Gruden’s stubborn insistence on one type of quarterback over another, but the point remains. There are all kinds of opportunities for quarterbacks to exceed their projections immediately, and who’s to say Sam Howell couldn’t be an example? Based on his 2020 strip, he would have been QB1 in that class, and quite high in the much heavier 2021 class.
So in the “We don’t say, we just say” department…don’t be too surprised if Sam Howell becomes Commander-in-Chief Washington sooner than you think.