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Steelers 2022 NFL Draft Quarterback Preview: North Carolina QB Sam Howell

We continue our look at the 2022 NFL Draft class, and we are looking at quarterbacks.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Texas A&M vs North Carolina Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

As we continue to move along with our summer scouting reports on the top 2022 quarterback prospects, it is time to take a look at the prospect many people have pegged as the best quarterback in next years draft class: Sam Howell.

Sam Howell was considered the third best pro-style quarterback in the country and the 2nd best overall player in the state of North Carolina coming out of high school. As a freshman in 2019, he threw for over 3,500 yards and set an FBS freshman record with 38 touchdown passes. Howell led the Tar Heels to their first bowl game victory since 2013, passing for nearly 300 yards and 3 touchdowns while recording over 50 more yards on the ground. As a sophomore in 2020, Howell once again recorded over 3,500 yards while throwing for 30 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. He also recorded a 68.1 completion percentage. The local product now heads into his junior season with the expectation of becoming a first round draft pick next spring.

As a prospect, Howell displays a calm presence and tremendous footwork inside the pocket. When you watch him, it is clear that he loves the game of football and gives it his all on every down. He is a true gamer that brings an element of toughness to his team. His arm is not elite like a Mahomes or Allen, but he has a solid arm and does a good job putting decent velocity on his passes. My favorite part of Howell’s game as a passer is his accuracy. He times his passes perfectly and puts good touch on throws down the field. He is a decent athlete who can move the chains with his legs, and his ability to escape pressure inside the pocket helps him keep drives alive.

Just like many of the quarterbacks in next year’s class, Howell needs to do a better job reading the defense at the line of scrimmage. He also needs to learn not to lock on to his primary target. Size is no longer a major issue when it comes to quarterbacks, but it is worth noting that he is between 6’0” and 6’1”. Considering the success we have seen from Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Drew Brees, and others, his height is not something I am worried about. Losing Michael Carter, Javonte Williams, Dyami Brown, and Dazz Newsome will make life more difficult for Howell, but if he performs at a high level once again, he deserves to become a top 5-10 pick.

Below is a video of Howell against 19th ranked Virginia Tech. As you can see in the video, North Carolina runs a lot of RPOs, but a lot of teams in the NFL are running RPOs nowadays. It is no longer something that will bother teams as they evaluate prospects, as the change from the college game to the pro game is becoming less and less noticeable.

At 1:49, Howell is in the shotgun and given great protection. Right off the snap, he sees Dyami Brown mismatched against Armani Chatman. Chatman has average speed for a corner, and Brown’s game speed was as fast as any wide receiver’s in the country. It is a simple go-route, and Howell knew where he wanted to go with it from the beginning. He gets great protection from his offensive line and delivers a beautiful pass that travels over 50 yards in the air. He throws it a little late, but Brown is able to stay in bounds for the score. We see his arm on display once again at 4:09. There are only 22 seconds remaining in the first half, and Howell is in the shotgun. He glances to right side of the field, sees nothing he likes, and turns his attention to Brown, who is able to beat the corner deep yet again. The pass was just slightly underthrown, but Brown was able to turn his head and make the catch for the score.

At 6:13, we see his mobility. Javonte Williams and Sam Howell do an excellent job selling the defense (and the cameraman) on stopping the running back. It is done subtly and smoothly, and Howell is able to beat linebacker Alan Tisdale to the edge for twelve yards. You can check out his full performance below.

Howell’s performance against Notre Dame was not excellent, but this was one of the toughest matchups any quarterback in the 2022 class faced during the 2020 season. There are times when Howell’s gunslinging mentality gets the best of him. One instance is at 3:16. Howell runs to the right and tries to hit Dazz Newsome near the first down marker, but he puts too much on this ball and throws it too high for Newsome. It resulted in an incomplete pass.

One positive in this game was at 3:44. Howell, like usual, displays tremendous footwork in the pocket. Once he sees the safety take the underneath route, he sees Dyami Brown one-on-one downfield and is able to deliver a pass for a gain of 51 yards. Howell had to get rid of it in a hurry as the pocket began to collapse, but if he could have put just a little more on that ball, he could have hit Brown in stride for a touchdown. Instead, Brown has to slow down, and the defender is able to catch up and make the tackle before Brown can reach the end zone.

At 10:45, we see one of the disadvantages of being undersized. He already had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage earlier in the game. This time, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa gets pressure for Notre Dame, forcing Howell to throw it at a higher release point to avoid the potential of another deflection. We see here that Howell is no Zach Wilson when it comes to delivering accurate balls from a bunch of different arm angles, as he is unable to hit his running back on the short pass. Howell’s first throw on the next drive was also deflected. It is true that size is not a major issue in the NFL anymore, but whether it be timing, arm angle, or just better awareness, Howell needs to learn how to make his passes less susceptible to deflection.

Here is his full performance.

You may look at the two games above and say that Howell does not look like a top ten pick, but we must put into account the level of competition. Those were both legitimately tough opponents for Howell, and I would say that there was more positive than negative. His game is not perfect, but when you compare his competition to that of the other quarterbacks we have broken down, it does not seem so bad. Everyone has a different opinion on Howell, but he will have a chance to prove himself this season without his top two receivers and running backs from last year.

If highlights are more your thing, here are Howell’s best plays from the 2020 season.

NFL Comparison: Baker Mayfield

Whether it be size, looks, or playing styles, Howell is very similar to Baker Mayfield as a prospect. Howell does not bring the occasional controversy on and off the field like Baker does, but both players are true competitors that display their toughness week in and week out. They are both around the 6’0”-6’1” range, and they both have enough mobility to make plays with their feet. They are not going to be mistaken for Lamar Jackson when they are running the ball, but they have more than sufficient mobility. Baker ran a lot of spread and RPO concepts at Oklahoma but was able to adapt to the NFL game quickly. I expect the same for Howell, who plays in an offense that uses a lot of spread concepts as well. Both have solid arms and good footwork, and we are beginning to see Baker develop into the quarterback the Browns expected him to be when they took him first overall. I am not sure Howell goes first overall like Baker did, but as of now, I view him as a top five pick and a top ten player in the 2022 class.

How would he fit with the Steelers?

Devlin Hodges is the only undersized quarterback that the Steelers have had on their roster in recent memory. Now, this part of the article is not meant to predict whether or not the Steelers would take him, but rather determine how he would fit if he happened to be the selection. Once Baker had a head coach that understood his strengths, he showed what he was capable of doing. With Matt Canada as offensive coordinator, I actually think Howell would be a nice fit in Pittsburgh. His thick frame would allow him to withstand hits inside the pocket, and his mobility would allow Canada to expand the playbook and make our offense that much more difficult to defend. We have not really seen him play in bitter cold weather yet, but that is the only major question I have when it comes to how well he would fit here.

With another good season, I do not see how anyone will be able to question Howell’s ability to lead an NFL franchise to playoff appearances and potentially a Super Bowl. He and Spencer Rattler are neck and neck on my board when it comes to the highest rated quarterback in the 2022 class, but he could definitely be in play for the Steelers if players such as Rattler, Malik Willis, and Jayden Daniels live up to the hype. The more quarterbacks that have breakout seasons, the more likely Howell falls outside the top ten.

But what do you think? Is Sam Howell a guy that you could see the Steelers taking? Do you think he is a player who can lead a team to a Super Bowl? Be sure to light up that comment section with your thoughts on Howell, his fit with the Steelers, and all things NFL Draft!