2022 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Sam Howell Scouting Report

June 25, 2021 1:00 AM EST

Sam Howell Scouting Report picture

School: North Carolina

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 225

Eligibility: JR

Uniform: #7

Position: QB

Evaluated by: Austin Smith
Twitter: NFLDraftAustin
June 25th, 2021

Prospect Overview

2019: 13 G, 259-422 (61.4%), 3641 yards, 38/7 (TD/INT), 94 rush, 35 yards, 1 TD
22020: 12 G, 237-348 (68.1%), 3586 yards, 30/7 (TD/INT), 92 rush, 146 yards, 5 TD

A four-star prospect who chose to stay in North Carolina, where he ranked as the second-best recruit in the state, Howell set the state record for total career yards with 17,036. An early-enrollee, he competed for the starting job in spring football before winning it the following fall.

Sam Howell Scouting Report image 1

Howell became the first true freshman to start for the Tar Heels in school history and parlayed that into one of the best seasons we've seen from a true freshman signal-caller. He finished fourth in the country with 38 touchdowns, two more than Trevor Lawrence for the top mark in the ACC. His incredible debut campaign earned him Freshman All-American honors, as well as Third-Team All-ACC. Howell was also honored as the ACC's Rookie of the Year and named to ACC All-Academic Team.

The following year, he helped lead one of the most explosive offenses in the country, which finished with 537.3 yards a game, four yards behind the National Champions from Alabama. Howell ranked sixth in the country in touchdown passes and was named a Manning Award Finalist and Second-Team All-ACC.

While North Carolina lost a lot of weapons on offense, he should enter this year as a Heisman Candidate, considering he's one of the most productive returning quarterbacks in the country.


Howell has a special arm. Not only does he show terrific overall arm strength to launch deep balls with ease, but he also has the strength in his right arm and torso to really put some velocity on his short and intermediate passes. There are more than a few examples of him throwing comebacks to the opposite sideline that arrives with some zip. It's truly impressive to see him drive throws down the field on a line.

Sam Howell Scouting Report image 2

The strength in his frame also shows up in the pocket, where he is not an easy player to get to the ground. As a result, defenders tend to have trouble wrestling him down for a sack, and you can tell he is aware in this area because I've seen him try to step through sacks as opposed to throwing the ball away on several occasions. It also shows up when he's on the move. Again, there are some consistency issues with him squaring up his shoulders, but the hip torque was definitely there to allow him to put some heat on his passes despite the benefit of his lower body. Once again, it can make for some really special throws.

As the year went on, I thought his deep ball improved drastically. Obviously, he has the arm strength to launch it deep, but early, he was very inconsistent with his ball placement and touch. However, in his final few games, we started to see him put more depth and loft on his throws, allowing his receivers to run under those throws instead of Howell attempting to hit them in stride. His ball placement was still a little shaky, but even that improved as evidenced on several throws.

Howell also has very good feet that allow him to maneuver in the pocket as well as escape it when he keeps his feet light and active. He doesn't pull it often as a runner, but I do think he can be an option to do so because of his strength and athleticism. I just wish he'd be more conscientious about the hits he takes.

Areas for Improvement

While the physical make-up of Howell is very impressive, his inconsistencies can be maddening at times. He's got great feet, but at times his steps get long in his dropbacks, taking his weight out from under him. This often leads to him throwing from a wider base, negating his lower body. It can also get him off balance, which keeps him from transferring his weight properly in his throwing motion. In fact, I think he throws from a wider base in general, and that must change. It forces him to put more onus on his arm to get the ball where it needs to go, which results in a less-fluid motion. Howell is also not the tallest quarterback, and a wider base makes him shorter.

As I said, the deep ball got better as the season went on, but the ball placement still needs more improvement. Part of having good deep ball accuracy is throwing your receiver away from coverage. Essentially, you want to take advantage of the position of the pass-catcher, whether it's leading him deep when he's got a step, leading him to the sideline when the corner is on the inside, or leading him across the field when the receiver is on his backside. This becomes even more prevalent when the safeties get involved.

Also, although it's become more acceptable for quarterbacks to throw from different arm-angles, it's something that comes out based on pressure or awkward throwing lanes. However, we see him do it for no reason sometimes, and Howell can also be guilty of failing to square his shoulders or even opening his hips too much. A quarterback's delivery is essential to his accuracy, and Howell needs to be more consistent when everything is going right around him.

Another thing that throws his motion out of sync is when he lets the ball get away from his frame. He can drop the ball down around his waist instead of getting it in the chamber and ready to throw. This is especially true when Howell gets on the move. It just takes him that much longer to get the ball off when he lets it get away from his frame, and it also puts the ball at risk of being knocked out.

A lot of the above issues can throw his timing off, and there are times I think he gets locked onto one read too long or even spends too much time selling a fake. I know he has a decent understanding of throwing with good timing, as evident by some of his best throws, including some impressive comeback routes that can't be late.

I'd also like to see his decision-making become more consistent as well. Whether it's on zone-reads or in the passing game, he can make some poor decisions and reads. I'm not sure if he's guessing on some of these or just letting the speed of the game get to him, but I've seen several examples where I said, "He needs to pull that" or "he can't make that throw".

Howell is also a bit hot and cold with his pocket awareness. He doesn't always slide up to avoid pressure or make a subtle adjustment to buy himself an extra second or create a passing lane. He can even drop his eyes on occasion, which could be the result of a few games where his offensive line did him little favors.

Sam Howell Scouting Report image 3

Draft Stock

Howell's physical talent rightfully warrants first-round expectations, but consistency is what's going to make that a reality. It's certainly not a stretch for true sophomores to have issues with their consistency, but going into his third year, that's what we need to see.

Much has been made of his work ethic and film study. Heading into last season, he talked about not just the film he'd watched of himself but other great college quarterbacks as well. It takes a special kind of drive for younger players to look to their peers for ways to improve, considering the amount of confidence many of them enter the college game with.

Mack Brown has compared him to Colt McCoy, which is humbling in itself considering the remarkable career he had at Texas. Dyami Brown was a regular workout partner of his leading up to the 2020 season, and that work more than paid off as he was drafted in the third round.

The willingness to get better certainly appears to be there for Howell, and with another year of development, I believe he will be one of the favorites to be the first quarterback off the board. Of course, he could always choose to stay another year at North Carolina. Still, if we start to see him become more consistent in some of the areas I pointed out, I'm not sure what more he'll have to prove at the collegiate level. Consistency is what is going to transform his flashes of brilliance into a top-notch prospect.

Sam Howell Scouting Report image 4

Player Comparison

I've seen quite a few people throw Baker Mayfield's name out there, and I can't say I disagree. They are built similarly, although I think Howell is a bit stronger than Mayfield. I also think he has a stronger arm than Mayfield. Still, Howell needs a good year of noticeable refinement in some of the areas Mayfield excelled, like his timing and consistency with his mechanics. Both carry a confidence about them when they are on the field that is a must for any quarterback looking to have an immediate impact in the NFL.

However, I'm going to throw out another name. When everything is going right, I see a little Russell Wilson in him. That's a very lofty comparison because Wilson is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Still, when Howell is doing everything right, his upside has that kind of ceiling. His stout frame and the velocity he can put on his passes are similar to Wilson, and I think those traits can lead to him being a terrific passer on the move, ala Wilson. There was a throw in the Notre Dame game down the right sideline that instantly made me think of Wilson. A shame it was brought back for holding.

Games Evaluated

  • vs Syracuse (9-12-20)
  • at Florida State (10-17-20)
  • at Virginia (10-31-20)
  • vs Wake Forest (11-14-20)
  • vs Notre Dame (11-27-20)
  • at Miami (12-12-20)
  • vs Texas A&M (1-2-21)

Notes from Film

  • Shorter, stocky build for a quarterback. Probable only an inch or so over six-feet tall. Good arm strength with impressive zip on his throws. Can really drive balls down the field without much of wind up. Adequate acceleration for a quarterback when he takes off, although his initial quickness and burst are a notch better.
  • Right from the get-go (Syracuse) I am noticing some bad habits. Ball gets away from his frame when he drops back and sometimes even down by his waist. We he needs to make a move in the pocket or escape it, the ball gets even further from his frame. This is a recipe for a lot of strip sacks. This also delays his quick release which will leads to defenders getting hands on his passes. He's got to get that bullet in the chamber that way when he sees it, he can put that quick release to good use. Still seeing issues in this regard on the Miami tape which is my second to last.
  • The velocity he can put on an intermediate throw is impressive. Against Syracuse, he threw a comeback route that was caught nearly 25 yards down field on the opposite sideline from the hash he released from. Terrific velocity and ball placement. Most college quarterbacks could not complete that ball.
  • Another issue early on is his ball placement. Good awareness against Syracuse to s defense jumped and has a free play. However, he tries to make the perfect throw in the back corner of the end zone and the ball travels eight yards out of bounds. Have to give the receiver a chance on a free play like that.
  • Timing was off a little bit in that first game too. He had a one-read in which he was reading a linebacker to determine whether to throw a play-side swing route or back-side slant. Linebacker immediately darted to the play side, and yet the slant hit the receiver (lined up on the numbers) two yards from the hash. That ball has to be out sooner. Receiver got initial separation but by the time the ball got there, the corner had caught up and deflected it in the air, leading to an interception. Nearly threw a pick against Florida State for double-clutching a hitch route. Those balls have to come out on time to have a chance. - Base can sometimes get a little too wide causing him to put too much responsibility on his arm for velocity. Needs to be more consistent throwing from a proper base when the opportunities are there. When he does, he makes some really impressive throws.
  • Thus far, his accuracy has not been as good as the stats suggest. There are a lot of designed throws to running backs on swing routes that are likely the reason he completed just over 68 percent of his passes in 2020. However, he's been very hit and miss down the field. The feet are an issue at times. He's not always ready to deliver the ball and he throws off-balance or from the wide base too often as I mentioned earlier. There are even open throws that he completes that stop receivers in their tracks. Yes, the ball is completed but he's leaving yards on the field. There are times when everything is right and the ball is on the mark. He's got to learn to bottle that up and repeat it consistently or he may never reach his enormous upside.
  • I've noticed on several occasions his ability to spot the blitz early and take advantage. One time, he shifted behind the line to give himself enough time hit a dig route over the middle. Another, he hit his hot route instantly which went for a big game.
  • Needs to be careful about staring down receivers, especially on plays designed to them that take time. Through a deep pick against Syracuse in one example and got a running back blown up on an angle route out of the backfield over the middle.
  • Feet need to get quicker in his drops on a more consistent basis. There are flashes where he shows quick feet, but others where his steps get long and heavy, and it makes it difficult for him to maneuver in the pocket.
  • He's got to learn to throw the ball away. Several sacks against Florida State where the opportunity was there to get rid of it. I get wanting to be a playmaker but this was a comeback effort and those losses could have cost them. His receivers bailed him out in several situations by making incredible 50-50 catches for big games, but in the end, three-straight drops resulted in a loss. People will remember the drops, but the sacks were detrimental as well.
  • I mentioned that he's got a stocky build and I'm starting to realize he's not the easiest guy to get to the ground. Against Virginia, the defender reaching out and grabbing for him wasn't enough as he ripped through it and made a good throw on a crossing route. It's showing up more and more. He took a beating against Notre Dame but getting him down was a task.
  • Statistically, Virginia was one of his best performances of the season, but there were still several mistakes and they were based on his timing. He was late on multiple occasions and while it's commendable that he didn't force the ball in to receivers he was late on, the extra time in the pocket resulted in several sacks, including one strip sack deep in opponent territory. Had the chance to throw the ball away on another fumble but opted to try and fight loose of a sure sack.
  • He can't get so locked on to the target receiver that the play becomes all or nothing. This is something that a lot of college quarterbacks have issues with and it's because offensive coordinators have gotten so good at scheming receivers open. In these situations, the ball is typically meant to go to a specific player based on tendencies by opposing defenses that have been picked up on tape. However, sometimes defenses pick up on the design and the quarterback has to get off that player. Good example, he misses a wide-open receiver down the middle of the field against Notre Dame early on. It was a typical RPO where the open receiver was the pass-option. However, it appears North Carolina had picked up on the play-side safety being over aggressive on the pass option while the play-side linebacker committed to the run. So, North Carolina tried to slip their lead blocker for the run up the seam into the vacated space of the safety. Safety was disciplined, leaving the initial pass option all by himself over the middle. Howell has to read the coverage there and understand that design didn't work and quickly get his eyes back to pass option.
  • I've seen some inconsistent decision-making on his part on RPO's. Usually he tends to pull it in these scenarios when the key tells him to hand it off. He has to get better here and if the defense has both accounted for, you hand it off because any coach would rather the running back take the hit instead of the quarterback.
  • He's been a little inconsistent with his throws on the move but he tossed a beauty against Notre Dame rolling to his right. Squared his shoulders. Good hip torque to add some velocity to throw. Great ball-placement to allow receiver to run to it while defender was on his backside. It was a terrific ball that was negated by holding. - Wake Forest was probably his most consistent performance last year. There were still hiccups but his footwork, throwing base, arm angle and delivery were consistently on point. Maybe it's because he had a lot less pressure on him. Maybe things are starting to finally sink in considering it's mid-November. Whatever it was, it was an encouraging performance after seeing a lot of inconsistency. - Maybe the best deep ball I've seen him throw came on first drive to Miami. Footwork was good. Threw from a good platform with great timing. Put great loft and depth on the pass to allow the receiver to run under it and the ball-placement (which is typically one of the biggest issues with his deep ball) was good. He's got a big arm but I'd like to see him do a better job in this area, and this was a terrific example that he's got it in him. Not a bad job later in the game either. Blitz was coming down so he had to throw in a hurry which made it tough to put the kind of touch on it you'd like. Still, ball-placement was terrific and he put just enough air under it for receiver to snag it at full speed. Threw some impressive deep balls in the A&M game too. Loft, depth, ball-placement. Everything was much better than first portion of the year.
  • I've seen him throw across his body several times. He has the arm strength to get away with it most snaps, but it's not just an interception that you have to be worried about. We you throw across the grain, you have no idea how that backside coverage has reacted to you escaping the pocket. In the Miami game, hung his running back out to dry.
  • I've noticed on several occasions is unwillingness to step up into the pocket. Against Texas A&M his interception was because his arm was hit as he was throwing to a wide-open receiver. A&M was rushing three players and two came screaming off the edge which was a clear sign to step up. There wasn't an abundance of room in the pocket but he could have maneuvered up and to his left and it would have bought enough time to get the ball off clean to his target. Later, he did a terrific job climbing the pocket and delivered a strike on a deep ball that was dropped.

Scouting Video Courtesy of JustBombs Productions

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