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Is Sam Howell Lions’ QB of the Future?

Read more on whether the Detroit Lions should target North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell in the 2022 NFL Draft.

A school of thought exists within the NFL: A team’s problems can be solved by selecting a quarterback in the first round.

Detroit has been down this road four times since 1986. Will it go down this same road again in next year's draft?

With starting QB Jared Goff looking like anything but a lock for the future, the answer to that question is looking more and more like yes.

It begs the question: Who would the Lions select at No. 1 overall? 

One option in the eyes of mainstream NFL media is North Carolina QB Sam Howell.

Howell is a three-year starter for the Tar Heels. In 2021, he's completed 191-of-301 passes for 2,704 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Drafting a QB is risky business. 

Since 2000, 65 QBs have been drafted in the first round. For every Lamar Jackson, there is a Josh Rosen and a Christian Ponder. It takes more than throwing the ball around and looking good at a pro day, and it takes a lot more than just putting up stats. All 65 of these first-rounders did those things.

College passing statistics can be misleading. One must consider the level of competition and the matchups that the prospect has encountered. 

For example, Jets QB Zach Wilson, last year’s No. 2 overall selection, played a soft schedule at BYU prior to being selected. The same can be said for last year’s third overall selection in QB Trey Lance, who played at North Dakota State. Both these QBs have struggled greatly to adjust to the NFL level.

Wilson and Lance piled up stats throwing against a lot of defensive backs who will never even sniff an NFL tryout.

This season, Howell has played 10 teams, and out of those opponents, only three teams were nationally ranked at the time North Carolina faced them: (11) Notre Dame, (9) Wake Forest and (21) Pittsburgh.

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Sam Howell - 6-foot-1, 220 pounds

40-yard dash time: 5.07

Games reviewed from 2020: Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Miami

Games reviewed from 2021: Virginia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh

Grade: Fifth-seventh round

NFL comparable(s): Mitchell Trubisky, Johnny Manziel

Scouting Report

Bland prospect, with good pocket mechanics, average arm strength, limited pocket mobility and subpar pure football speed. Tough player who lacks energy. More of a runner than a passer. Looks the part setting up. Runs offense out of shotgun. Decent ball handling and play-action ability. Sitting duck under heavy pressure, needs to get out while he can or he is dead in the water (has been sacked 107 times in three seasons). Impatient in the pocket. Lacks poise. Improvises by taking off early. Too focused on the rush and not focused enough downfield. Hears footsteps. Lacks speed and moves to make a difference running at the NFL level (2.7 yards per carry in three seasons). He will also be putting himself at risk for injury. Tends to lock in with receivers and pat the football pre-delivery. 

Best at short-range route level. Inconsistent ball placement at intermediate and deep levels (22 interceptions in three seasons). Sometimes, puts too much air under deep attempts. Tendency to underthrow deep. Hit-and-miss downfield QB. Hesitant to pull the trigger. Sometimes, receivers have to wait on it. Does not look decisive or crisp. Best when receivers are wide open. Not a clutch fourth-quarter QB (see 2021 Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh). Classic “good college QB” who lacks what it takes to lead and win in the NFL.

More goes into this outside of mechanics and intelligence. Howell has both, which is what will keep him hanging around as a career backup.

There is just nothing dynamic or special about Howell. The average arm strength and inconsistent ball placement downfield will not cut it.

Howell’s eyes look sluggish, lazy and lethargic, and that is exactly the feel, tempo, rhythm and vibe he brings to an offense. Nothing excites me about him. Classic overrated and overhyped “media darling.”

Detroit can kiss the next five seasons goodbye, if it selects Howell within the first four rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.