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UNC Football: PFF names Sam Howell as one of the best freshman quarterbacks they’ve ever graded

Mack Brown may be the luckiest coach in college football.

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NCAA Football: Military Bowl-North Carolina vs Temple Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago ranked UNC sophomore Sam Howell as the third-best quarterback in all of college football. It was hard to imagine that it would be the only high praise that he would receive before the 2020 season opened, and correct we were. The outlet singing his praises this time? Pro Football Focus.

Yesterday PFF wrote about how Sam Howell is not only one of the best freshman that they have ever graded, but he is a top five quarterback in all of college football. Here’s what they had to say:

“Howell won the starting job as a true freshman in 2019 and led the Tar Heels to a 7-6 record after the team went a combined 5-18 the two years prior. He posted the 16th-highest passing grade in the FBS at 85.4 and closed out the year on a hot streak — over the last five games, Howell owned an elite 90.1 PFF passing grade, which ranked seventh in the country. Considering Howell did this as an 18/19-year-old true freshman, the performance is flat-out remarkable. Not only did Howell finish as one of the 10 most valuable quarterbacks in college football, he had the second-most-valuable season we have ever seen by a Power-5 true freshman quarterback.”

Sam Howell’s wins above average were second only behind the freshman version of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. It’s jarring to think that the Tar Heels had one of the best quarterbacks in college football after the train wreck of a season that took place in 2018, and that’s without getting into the quarterback situation that season. Heck, I still have nightmares of Nathan Elliott throwing so many interceptions I cringed at the thought of him throwing the ball at all. The football program has come a mighty long way, and Mack Brown, Phil Longo, and yes, Sam Howell are largely to thank for that.

If there is one big question that will need to be answered once things kick off in the fall about Howell, it’s whether or not he will still be able to take a reasonable step forward despite not being able to go through spring practice thanks to COVID-19. Granted, no college football program has been able to do so either, but entering such unprecedented territory makes it fair to wonder if things will continue on the same trajectory for his career, or if this global pandemic will hurt not only Howell’s development, but players across the country. In the grand scheme of things it’s a non-issue, but we shall see what happens when the Heels are able to take the field again.

Ultimately, seeing Sam Howell receive such glowing praise is exciting for Carolina football. I’ve said this a couple of times before, but there’s so many things to look forward to in the second year of the Mack Brown Era, and yet it’s hard to ignore Sam Howell as the star of the show for at least the next two years. Did someone say 2021 Heisman trophy winner Sam Howell? I think it’s safe to say that has a nice ring to it.