ESPN: 'Keep an Eye on' Team Trading for Lions' No. 32 Pick to Draft QB Sam Howell

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVApril 22, 2022

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell demonstates his skills for NFL scouts during Pro Day, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Chapel Hill, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)
AP Photo/Chris Seward

Sam Howell's NFL draft stock could be rising at the right time.

ESPN's Jordan Reid reported NFL personnel are "a bit higher on Howell than the media." He highlighted the North Carolina star as a possible target for a team at the end of the first round:

"I've been repeatedly told to pay close attention to the Lions with the No. 32 pick next week. That spot has been circled as a trade-up spot for teams looking to take a swing on a quarterback who falls to the back end of the first round. Similar to what we saw with Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 and Lamar Jackson in 2018, a team could look to trade up in order to secure the fifth-year option with a quarterback."

Howell's 2021 season mirrored that of his team. North Carolina was ranked in the top 10 in the preseason and proceeded to lose its opener and start 2-2. Howell, for his part, threw for 3,056 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions and ran for 828 yards and 11 scores.

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

Sam Howell weaved through the entire defense 😳 <a href="https://t.co/iNPYEIMuzG">pic.twitter.com/iNPYEIMuzG</a>

Bleacher Report projected the North Carolina product to be the 10th overall pick in September. Needless to say, opinions have changed a lot since then.

Howell is the No. 82 overall player and the fifth-best QB on B/R's April 8 big board. Evaluating the Tar Heels passer, Nate Tice made a comparison to Philadelphia Eagles star Jalen Hurts:

"Overall, Howell has the arm strength, athleticism and enough accuracy to make it in the NFL. But he will need a good deal of development and polish on his footwork, pocket awareness and movement, understanding of dropback concepts, and overall mechanics to become a viable NFL starting quarterback.

"For any team that has the patience for a project, Howell has tools to work with, and his ability to create plays with his legs will help raise his bar as a player. But he'll need to become a more consistent player operating from the pocket to be anything more than a high-end backup or a spot starter."

According to Football Outsiders, UNC ranked 126th in sack rate (11.4 percent) and 124th in sack rate on passing downs (14.1 percent).

A mobile quarterback such as Howell is bound to get sacked a little more, but the Tar Heels offensive line was a mess all year. In turn, that might have made him look worse than he really is.

As Tice argued, Howell possesses the tools necessary to become a starting-caliber quarterback. His running ability, in particular, could help him thrive with the right play-caller.

Trading up to the end of the first round in order to take Howell may not represent great value overall based on his draft evaluations, but it's easy to see why a team would want to take the risk.