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Can Sam Howell shine in his second season in the NFL?

After sliding in the NFL Draft and playing understudy to decrepit pretenders, can Sam Howell grab the Commanders starting job with both hands?

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

UNC fans the world over were left scratching their chins when quarterback Sam Howell, once tipped to be the top overall pick, fell all the way to the fifth round. An uneven junior season without his top weapons from the Orange Bowl campaign torpedoed a shot at the Heisman Trophy in addition to sinking his NFL fortunes.

But now he may be back on track.

Howell started Washington’s final game of the season, a 26-6 win over their rival Cowboys. In the offseason, Washington released abject disaster Carson Wentz, then Taylor Heinicke signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Sam Howell was named the offseason starter. His depth chart (Jacoby Brissett and Jake Fromm) lacks a landmine to step on and the Commanders did not draft a developmental quarterback in the 2023 Draft.

Washington had the 20th ranked offense in the NFL last season, but they are returning their top talent. Running backs Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson are back as are leading receivers Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Jahan Dotson.

Dyami Brown only had five receptions in his second season, but his yards-per-reception exploded from 13.8 to 28.6, and he grabbed two touchdowns after going 0-fer in his rookie season. Surely working alongside his old college quarterback can rejuvenate him.

Howell doesn’t have too much NFL film to extrapolate his performance into the 2023 season, but looking back at his final year in Chapel Hill, he did score a 91.1 Pro Football Focus grade, dropping in his passing grade (while climbing in rushing).

Hopefully, Washington’s offensive pieces can flourish around him, like his sophomore season at Carolina when he was surrounded by top-tier talent at all the skill positions. If the Commanders can keep his pocket clean, Howell should turn heads in NFL circles.