Why the Slide?: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

This series was created in response to questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For these articles, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

Entering the 2022 NFL Draft process, North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell was a projected first-round pick. Howell put together prolific freshman and sophomore seasons that earned him lofty projections heading into the 2021 season. Howell did not play as well as a junior, however, but he also had a lot less talent around him. Despite the hype, most analysts had Howell projected to the second day of the 2022 NFL Draft, but it was still a surprise to many when he slipped well into the final day of the 2022 NFL Draft before being selected.

Sources around the league told WalterFootball.com that many teams across the league had backup grades on Howell. Those grades led to him being viewed as a potential mid-rounder, at best. Here is the comment from one director of college scouting, “The quarterback class just wasn’t that good. Not sure he slid as far as is being perceived.” Hence, NFL teams thought Howell might go in the third or fourth round, so his selection high in the fifth round was not a huge slide.

The Washington Commanders ended Howell’s slide with pick No. 144, the first selection of the fifth round. The Commies are a great team for Howell to land with because they lack an established long-term starter. They traded for Carson Wentz, but he has struggled in recent years with the Eagles and Colts. This is probably his last chance to establish himself as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Washington backup Taylor Heinicke looks like the No. 2 quarterback, and Howell should be safe to make the team’s roster as the third quarterback.

If Wentz and Heinicke continue to be mediocre, Howell could have the opportunity to beat them out for the starting job. While Howell slid in the 2022 NFL Draft, he landed with a team that has a clear opening for a long-term starter and he will have a legit shot to earn that spot. Thus, his slide to the fifth round could end up being a blessing in disguise compared to going earlier in the 2022 NFL Draft and being stuck as a backup on a team like the Chiefs, Bills, Cardinals, Bengals or Browns.

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