When on the clock at No. 4 in the recent NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons had two options: best player available or a quarterback of the future. Ultimately, they went with tight end Kyle Pitts out of Florida to help in the passing game.
That sort of option will likely no longer will the case, as with 2022 NFL mock drafts in full swing, QB figures to be on the Falcons' wish list. Matt Ryan, 36, still seems to be the guy for the short-term, but a new front office will always want to bring in its own gunslinger. With that in mind, it comes at no surprise most 2022 mocks have a quarterback coming to Atlanta.
Howell, a two-year starter for the Tar Heels, is considered by some to be the safest quarterback prospect entering the 2021 season. That will happen when you post numbers like he has at Chapel Hill during that span.
As freshman for Mack Brown, he lit up the ACC with 3,641 passing yards and 38 touchdowns against seven interceptions. The 2020 season wasn't a stacked, but the rising junior still threw for 3,586 yards and 30 touchdowns with the same amount of turnovers.
The question will be how Howell responds in Year 3 without his go-to weapons. Both star wide receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome were drafted last April, as were running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter.
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If the 2020 Orange Bowl is a glimpse of what could be, Falcons' fans should be giddy with the chance to draft a high-end talent like Howell. Against Texas A&M, he threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with new lead target Josh Downs four times to for two scores.
In Round 2, Easterling has the Falcons selecting pass-rusher Merlin Robertson from Arizona State. As the team looks to attack the quarterback more, Robertson could be an intriguing name after recording 15 sacks in 28 games with the Sun Devils.
Last season, Atlanta finished 24th in pass-rush, recording a mere 29 sacks on the campaign.
For now, the two biggest needs feel to be wide receiver and pass-rushing help entering another season. Depending on Ryan's production without Julio Jones, adding another quarterback could be another.
Howell finding himself in Atlanta could be a win-win for both sides. Several scouts consider his game to be similar to Browns' starter Baker Mayfield. Could coach Arthur Smith find success with a quarterback such as that?
If the time to move off Ryan is approaching, building a franchise around Howell and Pitts might be what keeps the Falcons in contention for years to come.