By R.L. Bynum
Sam Howell’s interminable wait finally ended at the start of the fifth round on Saturday afternoon when the Washington Commanders made the Carolina quarterback the 144th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and the sixth quarterback selected.
The former Redskins may have just got one of the steals of the draft in getting the No. 34 player on the Pro Football Focus big board. A year ago, Howell was considered to be a sure first-round pick. Since 2019, Howell has PFP’s top grade in fourth quarters at 92.4.
“God is so faithful,” Howell wrote on Twitter. “So excited for this next chapter. Let’s go to work!”
Howell joins a former passing target at Carolina in wide receiver Dyami Brown. Former Carolina linebacker Cole Holcomb also plays for Washington. The Commanders’ running back coach is former UNC running back Randy Jordan.
“Dyami called me and he’s fired up,” Howell said. “He’s a good player and one of my best friends; so much respect for him. Cole texted as well. I’m just super fired up to do some work with Carolina guys, guys that have a relationship with.”
Washington’s starting quarterback next season is expected to be Carson Wentz, with Taylor Heinicke in the mix as a backup. Wentz had a 94.6 quarterback rating last season for the Indianapolis Colts, completing 62.4% of his passes and throwing for 27 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
“I love the way they play on offense,” Howell said. “I love this roster; it’s a talented roster. I love Coach [Ron] Rivera and his offensive staff as well. So I just thought was a great opportunity, a great fit. I love the quarterback room as well.”
Contrary to dozens of mock drafts that projected Howell to be picked in one of the first two rounds, he waited through the first two days of the draft and into the third day, seeing other quarterbacks go off the board in what many have called a weak QB draft class.
Howell isn’t the first Carolina star to be a late-round pick of Washington. The Redskins made legendary UNC running back Charlie Justice, a two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up, the 201st overall pick when they took him in the 16th round of the 1950 draft.
Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett went 20th overall in the first round to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another quarterback didn’t get picked until the third round, when Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder went to the Atlanta Falcons (74th overall) and Liberty’s Malik Willis (86th overall) to the Tennessee Titans.
But possibly the most frustrating of those third-round QB picks was when Howell’s hometown Carolina Panthers selected Mississippi’s Matt Corral.
Also in the third round Friday, Howell saw one of his UNC offensive linemen, tackle Joshua Ezeudu, go 67th overall to the New York Giants.
Two other Tar Heels also went in the fifth round: The Minnesota Vikings selected running back Ty Chandler as the 169th overall pick and the New York Giants made guard Marcus McKethan the 173rd overall selection.
Carolina players who have agreed to free-agent contracts include linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel (San Francisco 49ers), defensive back Kyler McMichael (Tampa Bay Bucs), linebacker Tomon Fox (New York Giants), tackle Jordan Tucker (Pittsburgh Steelers) and tight end Garrett Walston (49ers).
Before Howell got picked, the New England Patriots selected Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe in the fourth round Saturday as the 137th pick.
Some draft experts have called Howell a project who may take a season or two to work his way into a starting role, which may explain his slide down the draft board. His career-low numbers of 3,056 yards and 24 touchdown passes and career-high nine interceptions to go along with UNC’s losing record probably didn’t help, either.
Not having the running back duo of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams certainly made Howell’s junior season more of a challenge.