In our Scouting Reports, we will give you a quick debrief to get you the information you need to know. We’ll also take it a step further and provide an in-depth review showing off examples of what we like, and what we don’t. Included is a date from the initial scouting report, this is so new notes can be added as the year goes on. Those new notes will be dated as well. With that, welcome to the Sam Howell scouting report!
Today we’re looking at Sam Howell, starter at North Carolina since his true freshman year. He put up monster stats his first two years, but lost some of his most talented skill position players to the NFL.
Details: Sam Howell | QB | North Carolina #7
DOB: 09.16.2000 | 20 years old
H/W: 6’1” | 225 lbs
NFL Draft Projection:
Top 10 pick – Howell shows everything needed for an NFL QB to be successful. While he has some flaws too, I believe his “safe” nature as an extremely solid, heady, mechanically sound QB will lead him to be the first QB drafted, or near to it.
Dynasty Rookie Draft Projection – 1QB:
Mid 2nd round – Howell is likely to be drafted to a team in-need of an immediate starter. Being at or near the top of the QB projections means he will also be one of the top QBs drafted. In 1QB leagues, that’s typically going to be sometime in the 2nd round, after the highest value position picks are gone.
Dynasty Rookie Draft Projection – Superflex/2QB:
Top 3 pick – The rushing upside of Matt Corral and Malik Willis may push them over Howell in SF leagues. Howell does have decent athleticism of his own, when combined with the expectation that Howell will be taken by a team in-need of an immediate starter, Howell should still be a top 3 pick.
10.21.2021 edit: Projections were updated to include Dynasty Rookie Draft projections, in addition to NFL Draft projection.
Here’s the down-and-dirty version of our Sam Howell scouting report. After watching the top QBs projected for the 2022 draft I’m confident, at this point, there’s a clear top three. Of those three, Sam Howell leads the pack.
Howell has had pristine mechanics from the moment he stepped onto the field at UNC. If not for some nitpicking, he’d nearly be a lock to be the first QB off the board.
That’s not to say Howell is perfect, I’m a picky guy. Howell is occasionally late to react to pressure. This makes his generally poor throwing on-the-run an issue. Further, in UNC’s offensive scheme, he hasn’t showcased every throw due to a typically limited route tree for the outside receivers.
With that said, Howell was one of the most refined QBs to step onto a CFB field in 2019, and he did it as a freshman. More than that, Howell showed continued improvement in 2020. Along with solid foundational mechanics, Howell has shown excellent ball placement, outstanding field vision, an underrated ability to quickly read the whole field, a rapid-fire release, the ability to look off a safety or linebacker, and decent athleticism to boot.
Provided Howell stays healthy and otherwise doesn’t incur any setbacks, I expect he will be a top ten pick. More than that, I foresee Howell as the first QB called to the podium on draft day.
Now we get to the nitty gritty of the Sam Howell scouting report. Let’s kick things off by first touching on Howell’s foundational mechanics. Without a doubt, this is his greatest strength as it lends to his other plus physical traits: ball placement, arm talent and velocity. Beginning with the first film I watched from his 2019 season, it was clear that Howell was already incredibly refined as a Quarterback, even as a freshman. As I watched more I continued to see great technical traits, refinement in the little details, and – best of all – consistency in showcasing them.
In the below GIF (click to play), watch Howell’s feet. He does a great job of keeping his feet active while still maintaining his base. Watch as he nearly immediately resets his base in order to create a solid platform with which to throw this ball.
I chose this snippet because it also provides an opportunity to pick on a small flaw. While watching his feet, you may notice Howell bring his feet together just slightly as he navigates, a very slight heel click. This is one of only a few times I saw this from him, not nearly enough to be a concern.
Let’s keep reviewing Howell’s mechanics from the bottom-up. He regularly and consistently shows the ability to keep his body square and even, plant his cleats, drive into and through the throw, all while getting great rotational torque. Below watch Howell take the snap, then immediately plant strong and square waiting for the receiver to enter the throwing window. He drives off his back foot and throws into a miniscule window. On this play, if it weren’t for Isaiah Simmons, the 8th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, swatting this pass down, I would likely be talking about Howell’s tight-window accuracy here instead.
Working our way up, let’s next check out how well Howell drives through his throws. Something I noticed while watching Howell is that UNC doesn’t offer much opportunity to showcase mid-level out-routes to the sideline. I specifically look for these throws as they require both depth and velocity, and sometimes height as well. These are often underappreciated, but they are legit NFL caliber throws. They also showcase ball placement in ways that vertical routes and slants can’t. Thankfully, we’ve got one such throw right here.
In this next one watch Howell drive hard off his back foot, getting loads of torque from hip rotation into this throw. Also note the velocity here. Howell is throwing from the middle of the field at the 33 yard line, all the way to the sideline at the opponent 49. This ball travels ~26+ yards through the air on a rope. This is an outstanding throw on a tough-to-cover route, and this is one such throw that gets Saturday guys playing on Sunday.
Next-up we’re going to look at Howell’s release. Howell consistently shows an incredibly quick release, time and again. His ability to fire it off quick has shown to be the difference in getting the ball out on time and in rhythm. Below we can see how it helps him squeeze the ball through a tight window, as the linebacker closes in. This turns a simple quick slant into a 27 yard gain.
Let’s recap: so far we’ve seen active feet, a solid base, great drive through the throw, excellent rotational torque, and a lightning quick release. In short, Howell is deadly in a clean pocket. But what happens when things get messy?
As with anything there are times when things break down, and a sloppy pocket from a free rusher isn’t uncommon to see with UNC’s line. When under pressure, Howell typically does well to face-the-music, get the ball out accurately and with enough force for the ball to reach its target on-time. The snippet below is an excellent example.
Howell can also do well outside the pocket if provided with enough time and space to reset. Here’s one of the best plays I noted while watching his games. Watch as he goes through three reads on the right side (more on his vision later), identifies the pressure hitting the middle of his line, sees the space to the left of his line and heads that way keeping his eyes downfield.
That’s not any QB’s preferred sequence when starting a play.
Next watch as he reads the two routes on the left before coming back to his right. From here he squares up to set his feet, drives through the throw, and gets phenomenal rotational torque to fire this ball to his receiver. Be sure to check out the down and distance.
Alright, that’s enough Howell positivity. Now it’s time to take a look at his flaws.
I see two flaws in Howell’s game, the first and most common being how poorly his skills translate while on the run. When Howell gets outside the pocket and is unable to find time and space to reset, he loses velocity, accuracy and poise. From this, it seems to me as-if his strengths lie largely in his base and drive. This suggests that his arm, on its own, may just be mediocre. Let’s take a look at an example.
Above showed an example where Howell does well to identify and escape pressure, though that’s not always the case. That leads me to Howell’s second flaw, he is occasionally slow-to-react to pressure. It’s not a common occurrence, though there is a small sample-size of examples where Howell reacts too late or even completely misses pressure coming in. It seems as if he’s trying to do too much. See below where pressure breaks free up the middle right as he wants to step into his throw. He’s got two options: fire the ball or escape pressure. He incorrectly takes the third option; hold the ball and take the sack.
In other instances where Howell reacts poorly to pressure, it seems as-if he just plain misses it. In the snippet below, it looks to me like the right tackle misidentified his assignment. This left the running back, Javonte Williams, to block two inbound rushers.
Ok, pause. I’ve got to admit, this is an outstanding blitz. A zero with a backer robbing the middle, which happens to take away the only two potential routes. Even if the RT had identified and picked up his assignment, where is Howell going to go? Seriously, great blitz.
Ok, resume. Regardless of all that, Howell completely misses the free rusher with disastrous consequences. Good job Williams for bringing that extra hustle to get on top of the football.
Even after reviewing those two instances above, I want to be very clear. Howell only occasionally has issues with pressure. There are plenty of instances where he spots the pressure coming and does very well to navigate in the pocket. In fact he’s often shown an above-average ability to navigate within the pocket to buy time. Here’s a beautiful play showing Howell wade through the trash to create space, he works his way out of the pocket, opts not to run, and instead finds his RB leaking from the backfield to get the TD.
Here’s another instance where Howell reacts well to the pressure in his face. In the snippet below, Howell just barely squeaks out of the pocket and has an opportunity to showcase his athleticism. He’s not going to be outrunning an entire defense, and he’s not going to be juking defenders out of their ankles. That said, he does have enough giddy-up and juice to convert this 3rd and 6 with his legs.
While Howell may lack consistently excellent vision within the pocket, his vision scanning the field beyond the pocket is some of the best I’ve seen. In this example below, his first read is immediately taken away. Howell turns, spots the blitz, identifies the area vacated by the blitz, and hits the receiver behind it. This throw, made possible due to his ability to quickly see the field, converts this late-game 4th down to keep UNC alive. This was massive.
Howell continues to show amazing field vision game-in and game-out, along with an incredible understanding of play design and defense. In the snippet below Howell uses his field vision and understanding of defensive concepts to instinctively find the drag route and get the TD. This one wasn’t even field vision, it was purely second-nature football IQ.
Howell’s vision applies to individual routes too. Watch in this next play where he identifies the defender running step-for-step with the receiver, while keeping his back to the QB. This tells Howell everything he needs, and he opts to throw back-shoulder to give his receiver the best opportunity to make a play. In this case his receiver isn’t on the same page, or isn’t able to break free from the coverage, and the play results in an incompletion. The incompletion doesn’t change that Howell made the right read and decision on this throw.
Not every play provides Howell an opportunity to take advantage of a defense. As such, it’s good that he is able to consistently bring the ability to quickly read every route across the entire field. This is an underrated but critical trait that not every QB entering the NFL has. I have two snippets below where Howell shows off this ability as a freshman. Watch his feet as he transitions between each read. Each transition is smooth as he maintains a consistent base. This is really, really good stuff.
Alright, we’ve seen enough of the technical details that make Howell an elite prospect. Let’s talk about his arm talent. I mentioned earlier, when he’s not able to square-up his base, his arm talent takes a bit of a dip. Thankfully, his phenomenal footwork keeps him in prime position to plant-and-fire on a moments notice. This certainly reduces the risk of off-platform throws being an issue at the next level.
Almost done. Look, there are simply too many beautiful throws to be able to show it off in one or two gifs. He’s able to fire the ball with excellent velocity. Not only can he throw the fastball, but he can bomb it too. There’s plenty of examples coming up which show throws traveling 55-60+ yards in the air. His ball placement is consistently elite, and he helped his receivers on more than one occasion.
With that said, it’s time to get to the fun stuff. I’ve sampled some of the best throws I saw. Some are deep shots, some show perfect placement on throws that travel 40, 50, or even 60+ yards in the air, and others showcase his ability to punch it through incredibly tight windows.
I’ll leave my commentary out of these and let you enjoy the fireworks!
What do you think of Sam Howell? Top 10 pick, 1st QB off the board – or are we full of it? Drop a comment in the comment box below to let us know your thoughts!
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That guy who wraps up the #1 seed by week 13, dominates the points scored column, and gets blown out by the #8 seed in the first round of playoffs…annually. That’s Ben.
He’s also the guy who constructs a trade calculator for fun, and builds a fantasy football website when he wants to share his thoughts with the world.
As a Vikings fan and a poor golfer, Ben lives in a perpetual state of frustration. In his fun-time he’s a husband and proud father of two.