UNC football fans were a bit gobsmacked when favorite son (and potential first-round pick) Sam Howell fell all the way to the Washington Commanders in the fifth round in the 2022 NFL Draft. Even though FedEx Field is within driving distance of Chapel Hill, Carolina fans never got a chance to see him play, until last night.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the mental toughness that Howell has shown so far this year. He had a total collapse in draft position, getting picked after unworthy quarterbacks like Malik Willis and Bailey Zappe. He had to go to a poverty franchise, run by a disgusting owner and a coach that didn’t realize he was out of playoff contention until the postgame press conference. And he had to sit behind an uninspiring veteran that had been bounced out of Philadelphia and Indianapolis in consecutive seasons!
But with Washington out of the playoffs, the time had come to see what Howell had under the hood against Dallas.
The game kind of played out the way UNC’s first game under Mack 2.0 against South Carolina. Rookie Sam Howell wasn’t asked to do too much, as the Commanders mostly leaned on the run game, or called for short throws underneath.
But just as cream rises to the top, Howell showed that he is an NFL quarterback, throwing for a touchdown on his very first NFL pass:
TD 1️⃣ on pass 1️⃣ #CarolinaFootball #ProHeels pic.twitter.com/ZiLuAbIB2s— Carolina Football (@UNCFootball) January 8, 2023
This was followed by a pick into the end-zone that he’ll definitely want back, throwing into triple coverage. But this is par for the course for NFL rookies, and it’ll be good to have that on tape to correct for next season.
Meeting at the jump ball!@MalikHooker24 @TrevonDiggs— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) January 8, 2023
2️⃣8️⃣ comes away with it and it's Cowboys football!
: @NFLonFOX | #DALvsWAS pic.twitter.com/PkSNHLa8ey
Sam Howell went 11-19 passing for 169 yards (1 touchdown and 1 interception) and rushed for 35 yards and another touchdown, out-dueling Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott in passing and rushing yards. He took three sacks, but only lost 11 yards. These weren’t the “waiting 7-Mississippi for a deep route” sacks he took in his junior year at UNC, Dallas just had a good pass rush.
Two more big plays from Howell that should look very familiar to Carolina fans. First, his rushing touchdown was vintage junior year stuff:
Get off the tracks when @Sam7Howell is coming through— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) January 8, 2023
#DALvsWAS FOX pic.twitter.com/9bKPjZF2kI
And this deep completion to Terry McLaurin was reminiscent of his go-route connections with Dyami Brown during his sophomore season:
What a throw— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) January 8, 2023
What a catch
#DALvsWAS FOX pic.twitter.com/yNoqoOCtO6
Hopefully the Commanders realize that they have a depressingly low ceiling with either Carson Wentz or Taylor Heinicke and give Howell a serious chance at winning the starting job next season. He may take his lumps once NFL teams scout him full time, but he surely has more potential to take Washington to the playoffs than the two jabronis in front of him.