Right now, no one knows where North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell will be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. Will a team potentially shock the football world by picking him within the first 20 selections? Could the 2019 ACC Rookie of the Year fall to the second round despite a stellar college career?
What we do know right now, though, is that Howell will join the likes of Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes when — and barring anything unexpected, it will be when, not if — he hears his name called in late April.
Sam Howell will become the 10th early-entry quarterback since 2000 to be drafted after throwing for 80 touchdowns in college
In three seasons at North Carolina, Howell completed 63.8% of his passes for 10,283 yards, 92 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound signal-caller also rushed for 1,009 yards and 17 touchdowns in 37 games for the Tar Heels, with most of that damage — 828 and 11, respectively — coming during the 2021 campaign.
If 92 passing touchdowns in three years sounds like a lot, you’d be right.
According to the NFL Draft’s subreddit, only nine quarterbacks had thrown for over 80 touchdowns in college, declared early, and were drafted ahead of the 2022 event. To be clear, all of those quarterbacks did so exclusively at the FBS/Division I-A level. Typically, quarterbacks at lower levels, including FCS/Division I-AA, do not declare early for the draft unless they are a consensus first-round pick, such as North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
For the unfamiliar, college prospects can declare for the draft when they are three years removed from their high school graduating class. As Howell graduated high school in 2019 (and if that doesn’t make you feel old, what will?) and enrolled at UNC that fall, he was eligible to enter the 2022 NFL Draft.
Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes are among the club’s most notable names
Once upon a time, the best college players stayed in college through their senior years. The trend of the elite players — or those who get bad advice — leaving school early to enter the draft is still relatively recent. As a result, the list of quarterbacks who threw for over 80 touchdowns in college before declaring early isn’t too deep just yet.
What the group lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in talent and recognition.
|Quarterback||Touchdowns thrown in college||School||Year drafted||Heisman Trophy Trophy winner?|
|Ben Roethlisberger||84||Miami (OH)||2004||No|
|Marcus Mariota||105||Oregon||2015||Yes (2014)|
|Patrick Mahomes||93||Texas Tech||2017||No|
|Sam Bradford||88||Oklahoma||2010||Yes (2008)|
All of those players were first-round picks, and four of those quarterbacks — Bradford, Goff, Lawrence, and Luck — were selected No. 1 overall. Whether or not that bodes well for Howell is still to be determined.
Mariota went second overall in 2015, only one pick after Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Had Winston returned for his redshirt junior season, he likely would have also joined this group, seeing as he left FSU with 65 passing touchdowns in 37 games.
And, as one final reminder, this list only includes quarterbacks who left school early. Buffalo Bills quarterback Case Keenum, whose 155 passing touchdowns remain the most in FBS history, used his entire eligibility at the University of Houston before entering the 2012 NFL Draft.
Bryce Young is on track to join the club, and plenty of other quarterbacks will likely follow him
Considering Howell’s status as someone who should be selected within the 2022 draft’s first two rounds, it feels safe to say he will become the group’s 10th quarterback. Don’t be surprised to see Alabama’s Bryce Young make it 11 at this time next year.
Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, enters his redshirt sophomore season with 48 career passing touchdowns. Even if he doesn’t match his 47 scores from his first season as a starter, the 6-foot, 194-pound gunslinger is already in a position to hit 80 touchdown throws before entering the 2023 NFL Draft as a likely first-round pick.
Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, a rising redshirt sophomore, threw for 44 touchdowns last season. We can’t rule out the thought of him joining Lawrence, Watson, and others in the 80-touchdown group within the next two years.
Changes to the college football landscape, including more teams willing to start young quarterbacks and let them air it out instead of being a game manager, could put this club in a position to rapidly grow over the next decade. The modern redshirt rule, one which allows a player to see action in four games and preserve that year of eligibility, will also help matters. Theoretically speaking, Alabama head coach Nick Saban can play incoming 5-star quarterback Ty Simpson in garbage time during non-conference games next season and allow him to enter the 2023 season as the starter and a redshirt freshman rather than as a sophomore.
Before we know it, the bulk of NFL starting quarterbacks might be players who left college early. Only time will tell how soon Howell joins that club, too.