From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a quarterback prospect the Pittsburgh Steelers have shown interest in this fall and that could rank high on their board come Draft Day.
#7 Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina (Junior) – 6012, 220lb
Senior Bowl/Combine Invite:
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Sam Howell||6005, 218||9 1/8||30 3/4||75 5/8|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Has good speed and mobility out of the pocket, being able to create out of structure
— A legit threat in the option game and when flushed out of the pocket as a runner
— Has a sturdy frame and can be a physical runner when asked to take off, willing to go through defenders to pick up extra yardage
— Has some shake as a runner in the open field, being able to evade pressure as a runner or escape pressure when looking for the play down the field
— Has fantastic contact balance as a runner, bouncing off tackles and can play through contact to extend the play
— Quick hands in the RPO game when it comes from snap-to-pass or completing the option handoff to pull and pass
— Has impressive arm strength for his size, having the ball jump off his hand on deep shots
— Has great deep ball placement, possessing the arch and accuracy to drop it in the bucket
— Has the arm talent to create on-the-run and make the impressive off-platform throws
— Team leader and a competitor that will put his body on the line to make a play
— Willing to stand in the pocket and take a shot to deliver the ball downfield to his intended target
— Does a good job keeping his eyes downfield when he senses pressure as a passer
— Displays good ball placement down the field on some throws, dropping it into the bucket or into tight windows
— Showed a lot of improvement in going through his reads, accuracy, and decision making this season compared to 2020
— Lacks ideal height you look for in a traditional signal caller
— Footwork in the pocket can stand to improve and be more consistent by stepping into his throws
— Fails to set his feet on throws and will bounce around in the pocket as he waits for his receiver to break open
— Benefits from an offensive system that creates easy reads and mismatches against coverage
— Will lock onto his initial target at times and rely too much on his arm talent to try and fit it into tight coverage
— Will have balls sail on him over the head of intended receiver at times when pressured or skip passes at the feet of his intended target
— Junior prospect from Indian Trail, N.C.
— Consensus four-star prospect and No. 3 pro-style QB in the country
— Named 2018 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year following his senior year
— Set the North Carolina record for total yards with 17,036 in high school
— Originally committed to Florida State, but flipped his commitment to UNC
— Started all 13 games at quarterback as a true freshman, completing 259 of 422 passes (61.4%) for 3641 yards and 38 TDs with seven INTs while adding 94 carries for 35 yards (counting sacks) and a score on the ground
— Started 12 games as a true sophomore, completing 237 of 348 attempts (68.1%) for 3586 yards and 30 TDs with seven INTs while adding 92 carries for 146 yards and five scores on the ground
— Started 12 games as a junior, completing 217 of 347 passes (62.5%) for 3056 yards and 24 TDs with nine INTs, while throwing in 827 yards rushing and 11 scores
— Has four receptions for 24 yards and two scores on trick plays in two seasons in Chapel Hill, capable pooch kicker
— Owns most of the school records in passing categories and ranks third in ACC history with 92 passing TDs in a career
— Honorable Mention All-ACC in 2021, All-ACC Second Team in 2020, 2019 Freshman All-American, 2019 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, 2019 ACC All-Academic
Sam Howell has been touted as a top high school recruit in the state of North Carolina after rewriting the record books in the state of North Carolina. After a falling out with Florida State, he switched his commitment to the Tar Heels and then-new head coach Mack Brown. Howell picked up where he left off in high school making an immediate impact on the field in Chapel Hill as a talented passer. As reported by Pro Football Focus, Howell had 66 completions for 32 TDs on throws 20+ yards downfield in 2020 with both numbers being tops in college football.
You see that arm talent on this throw against Florida State where Howell takes the snap and delivers a strike to his receiver in the end zone for the score 40+ yards out, lofting it into the air in-between two defenders and allowing his big-bodied receiver to go up an make a play on the football.
Howell’s touch and ball placement on his deep throws are quite impressive, being able to drop into the bucket over-the-shoulder to his receiver #15 Beau Corrales in-stride like we see on this touchdown throw against Duke his freshman year.
Another example of Howell’s ball placement as a passer in his final collegiate game against the Gamecocks where Howell fakes the give and drops the ball over the shoulder to WR #11 Josh Downs as he works to the right sideline, dropping it in over the defender for only his receiver to make the play.
Howell’s arm strength as a passer is no joke as the ball tends to jump off his upon its release. He threw 64 yards at a high school combine event showcasing his arm strength going into his senior year it looks as if that throw power has improved in his two seasons at the collegiate level. Watch him take the snap here against Texas A&M at his own 20yd line and roll out to his left to evade pressure, setting his feet and delivering the ball nearly to the opposite 25yd line to his receiver in-stride for the walk-in TD.
Here is another play highlighting the arm talent of Howell. In this year’s bowl game against South Carolina, Howell takes the snap and drops back to pass, releasing the ball from the opposite hash and drives it to the opposite sideline to his receiver who reaches out to make the toe tap grab in-bounds for the first down. Throwing to the opposite hash is one of the most difficult passes to make for a quarterback, and Howell puts it on a rope where only his intended target could make the play.
Howell may not have elite athleticism, but he has good mobility for the QB position and understands how to avoid pressure when the pocket collapses. Here’s an example of Howell extending the play with his legs outside of the pocket where he immediately gets pressure coming off the edge and up the middle, flushing him out where he stiff-arms #21 Marvin Wilson as he runs to the sideline and gets off the pass while getting shoved out of bounds to Newsome who makes the diving catch near the line to gain. This gunslinger, off-platform throwing style has been a popular trait of QBs who have recently transitioned to the pros, and Howell has the same ability to keep the play alive when it breaks down.
When he decides to tuck the ball and run, Howell is effective at picking up yardage with his legs. Here against the Fighting Irish, we see Howell look to pass but has the linebacker baring down on him from up the middle, flushing him out of the pocket where he takes up field and sneaks past multiple defenders, shaking off one tackle attempt as he takes the scramble all the way to the end zone.
Howell has the ability to evade pressure as a passer to keep the play alive, but also the ability to escape the pocket and be a threat as a runner should the play break down. Here on the QB draw, the defensive tackle gets in Howell’s face almost immediately as the lineman releases early, nearly taking Howell down for the sack. However, Howell evades the pressure and escapes the pocket, weaving through defenders and running through tackle attempts as he sneaks his way into the end zone for the TD.
Here against the Aggies in the Orange Bowl last season, we see another impressive run by Howell on 4th-and-short in the empty formation where he takes the snap and runs the QB draw up the middle weaving his way through traffic to pick up the first down and even bounces off a tackle attempt by the safety, eventually getting wrapped up by another defender and brought down by multiple Aggies after a successful conversion.
As you noticed in the clip above, Howell is extremely dense for his size, being able to absorb contact and bounce off tackles like you would see from a running back. According to Pro Football Focus, Howell had the most forced missed tackles by a Power 5 QB in a season with 65 in 2021 and the highest rushing grade by a QB since 2014. Here is another example against Wake Forest where Howell keeps the ball on the option and takes off, meeting a defender at the five-yard line and bounces off the hit, having the defender fall to the ground as Howell stays upright and fights through another tackle attempt to get in for the score.
Many have questioned Howell’s leadership ability due to his quiet demeanor and somewhat loose feeling at times in the pocket. However, Howell shows he is willing to take shots as a passer and but his body on the line for the team as evidenced by this fun clip against NC State where he gets out in front on a running play to #25 Javonte Williams and throws a big block to de-cleat a defender and put him on his back. The mindset and effort you love to see in your quarterback.
Now for the not-so-good. While Howell has impressive arm talent, he often relies on said talent a little too much, having too much faith making the difficult throws instead of taking what is given to him. He will try and fit balls into places he has no reason to throw to, risking the turnover like we see here against Notre Dame where he tries to drop the ball over the shoulder of his intended target but doesn’t see the safety working his way over from center field, jumping in-front of the pass for the interception and taking it back the other way.
Howell also has a bad tendency to have balls sail on him over the head of his intended target when he gets pressure in front of him, causing him to throw early as sort of short arm the throw. Here against the demon Deacons, Howell takes the snap and fires the ball over the middle of the field, airing it over Downs’s head when he has a step of separation on the coverage defender.
Here’s another example of the same issue from the game against Florida State where Howell feels pressure coming and skies the ball over his intended target who is running wide open on the post concept but can’t get a hand on the football flying over his head.
Howell often struggled with his pocket awareness and anticipation to start his career, locking onto one target as he has been asked to execute a rather simple offensive system that benefits from having a lot of first-read throws and RPO options instead of making him read the entire field and go through his progressions. While Howell has shown considerable improvement in this facet of his game this season, there are still instances of situational awareness where he needs to make better decisions.
For example, as North Carolina is attempting to come back against the Hokies, Howell rolls to his right as pressure gets to him throwing the ball up for grabs as he gets tackled, having the ball get intercepted on an arid pass. Howell needs to recognize that he needs to live to play another down being that this play takes place on second-and-seven and that he should simply throw the ball away.
Overall, while Howell doesn’t have that elite size and has played in simplified offense in college, I see the traits Howell has as a potential franchise signal caller at the next level. He has impressive arm talent, mobility, ability to create outside of structure, and the competitive toughness you love to see in your QB. He is a prolific passer at the high school and collegiate level and has shown the ability to rack up impressive stats in 2020 with a full supporting cast of NFL talent around him as well as in 2021 when the cupboards were bare, and he was forced to create more on his own without much help.
Howell does trust his arm talent a little too much at times and will have to reel it in a bit to avoid the turnover-worthy plays that will occur at the next level, learning to pick-and-choose his battles. However, when comparing his 2021 tape to last season, you see improvement in his pocket awareness, footwork, and accuracy under pressure which I stated when scouting Howell this summer had to improve to be considered as a top quarterback prospect. He still has some key areas of development that need to occur, but the arm talent, mobility to create as both a passer and a runner, and instances of improvement provide a case he is up for the challenge.
Much like most of that national media, Howell reminds me a lot of Baker Mayfield coming out of Oklahoma as the two standing next to each other look eerily similar having the same stature and size, similar arm talent, mobility, and play style. I would personally say that Howell has the more impressive arm talent and is more of a threat with his legs and at extending plays than Mayfield. That led me to compare Howell’s game to that of Russell Wilson, and the two also share many similarities when it comes to being undersized passers with the arm talent to attack all quadrants of the field as well as the ability to escape the pocket and extend plays as a passer and runner.
Now Mayfield was selected with the first overall pick by Cleveland in the 2018 NFL Draft, there have been plenty of ups-and-downs since then as he broke the rookie passing TD record but is often seeing as a high-floor/low ceiling option at QB. Many forget that Russell Wilson was an afterthought in the draft process, falling to the third round due to his size and questions whether he could be a starting-caliber QB at the next level. Personally, Howell falls in-between the two as he possesses the arm talent and mobility needed to succeed in the NFL game but shares similar flaws that either must be ironed out by coaching or masked by scheme.
I do think that his upside as a passer can be greater than Mayfield coming out, and he showed this season that he worked on his weak points and made the most of a bad situation without his top talent available. Seeing as GM Kevin Colbert has already been on-campus to view Howell up close this fall and considering Mike Tomlin’s comments about wanting a QB with mobility that can execute Matt Canada’s offensive system, Howell appears to be a logical fit based off those remarks as well as what he put on tape. Expect Howell to go somewhere in the middle of Round One to early Round Two where he can sit initially and play look to start later on or in Year Two
Projection: Mid-to-Late Day One
Depot Draft Grade: 8.6 – Year One Quality Starter
Games Watched: at Florida St. (2020), vs Texas A&M (2020), at Virginia Tech (2021), vs Wake Forest (2021), vs South Carolina (2021), at Notre Dame (2021)