With the Washington Commanders now eliminated from playoff contention and neither Carson Wentz nor Taylor Heinicke establishing themselves as the bonafide answer at the position, one quarterback has emerged as the starter in Week 18 vs. Dallas: rookie Sam Howell.
Washington is expected to give Howell his first regular season reps on Sunday in the final game of the 2022 season against their NFC East rival. But who is the 22-year-old QB, really?
The Commanders drafted Howell in the fifth round (No. 144 overall) in the 2022 NFL Draft after he played three seasons as the starter at the University of North Carolina. He impressed coaches at UNC immediately upon his arrival, becoming the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener in program history in 2019.
Turns out, the Tar Heels were right in choosing Howell as QB1. The righty displayed immense arm talent in three years as the starter, with a unique ability to evade pressure and extend plays or rush out of the pocket. He went viral for his pinpoint-accurate throws to current Commanders teammate Dyami Brown as well as plays like this which demonstrated his running ability:
The UNC QB gets some extra yards after contact and grabs 6️⃣pic.twitter.com/JIskVjLd62
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 16, 2021
Washington may have lucked out in the fact that Howell dropped to the fifth round back in April, as he was thought to be one of the premier quarterback prospects over the last two seasons of college ball. In total, Howell threw for over 10,000 yards and 92 touchdowns with just 23 interceptions, tacking on over 1,000 rushing yards and 17 rushing TDs over three years at UNC.
“I think he throws the best deep ball of any quarterback in this class,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay of Howell. “The touch, the teardrop that he’s able to drop in between defenders and hit his wide receivers in stride.”
Once he arrived in Ashburn, Howell quickly became a fan favorite – partially because the Burgundy & Gold have struggled to find a franchise QB over the last couple of decades. Who can blame them when you see plays like this, which he made during his preseason appearance vs. Carolina:
Washington is now in the unfavorable spot of having the luxury of playing Howell in Week 18. Because the game is meaningless for the Commanders given their elimination from the playoffs, the snaps Howell takes on Sunday could be an excellent chance for him to get a real taste of NFL action – against one of the league’s most vaunted defenses, no less.
Dallas boasts a pass rush, complete with one of the most formidable defensive players in football, Micah Parsons, that has accumulated the third-most sacks in the league this year. Their secondary is no slouch either, as they rank in the top 10 in completion percentage allowed, yards/attempt, passing yards allowed, and interceptions.
Couple that with the fact that Washington’s offensive line has struggled mightily with protecting the quarterback this season, and Howell will have his work cut out for him on Sunday. Still, it’ll be invaluable experience that the rookie can hopefully build off heading into his sophomore campaign.