Sam Howell is an interesting prospect in this year’s draft. Going into 2021, many argued that he was the best quarterback in college football, but now it feels like he has receded in fans’ esteem — and slipped down the draft boards. Howell is now something of a hidden gem in this year’s draft, and he would fit well into the Minnesota Vikings’ offense.
Let’s first address the production decline in 2021. Howell took care of the ball in his first two years in Chapel Hill. He threw 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2019, and 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2020. But he had a drop off last year (24 touchdowns and nine interceptions). Not only did his statistics get worse, but so did UNC’s record. North Carolina went from 8-4 in 2020 to 6-7 last year, with an embarrassing loss to South Carolina.
It’s easy to look at the decrease in Howell’s production and blame it on defenses figuring him out or a hitch in his game. But if you look at all the pieces around him, it paints a fuller picture. In 2021, Howell lost his two top receivers, Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown, and two 1,000-plus-yard rushers, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. Those names may sound familiar because they both made a splash in the NFL during their rookie years.
Though UNC returned every starter on the offensive line, their play was subpar. They gave up a sack on 11.4% of all offensive snaps, which ranked 126th in the FBS. Howell had no help around him, yet he still managed to put together a competent statistical season, even upsetting Wake Forest.
I watched the UNC-Wake Forest game in person, and my biggest takeaway is that Howell is a leader who refuses to get knocked down. Howell was the only reason UNC even remained close in that game, and he consistently made clutch plays.
Check out some of Howell’s highlights from his comeback win against Wake Forest.
One of the most underrated aspects of Howell’s game is his running ability. He isn’t exactly a make-you-miss type of runner. He’s more of a make-you-pay type of runner. Not only does Howell fight for extra yards, but he’s also deceptively fast.
Howell had a whopping 11 touchdown runs in 2021.
Howell is incredibly accurate and has excellent deep-ball touch. He’s one of those quarterbacks who throws a moon ball. It’s a sight to behold.
One of the only downsides of his game is that he sometimes locks onto a receiver pre-snap or doesn’t fully go through his reads. These kinks can be worked out with NFL coaching.
Why would Howell be a great Vikings quarterback? Well, compare his situation when he had his best season at Chapel Hill to the current Vikings roster. He had two great receivers and a fantastic running game. What do the Vikings have? Two game-changing receivers and one of the NFL’s best running backs.
Howell also proved that he can play behind a subpar offensive line and still make the offense look competent. Compare this to Kirk Cousins, and you can see the difference. Though Cousins’ mobility is underrated, it usually does not aid in extending plays. Rather it just makes them worse. Howell was able to capitalize when his offensive line would break down and get yards out of a bad situation.
Even though the Vikings re-signed Cousins, they should still consider drafting Howell. Cousins could serve as a great mentor for Howell and teach him the fine-tuning aspects of the NFL. Sure, last year the Vikings did select Kellen Mond, but it doesn’t seem like he has done much to impress anyone.
Don’t forget, this is how Zimmer responded when asked about Mond.
Cousins has seemingly torn Minnesota in half. The Vikings can fix this issue by welcoming a new face into town, one that — at least on paper — fits perfectly.