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There was a distinct buzz on North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell going into the 2021 season.
Howell didn't go first overall. He didn't go in the first round of the NFL draft, or the second, third or fourth either. Howell was the first pick of the fifth round on Saturday, to the Washington Commanders.
Howell's stock obviously took a big hit last season, but coming into the draft he was still considered to be one of the top quarterbacks. The overall weakness of the quarterback class this season helped push him down. But clearly, NFL teams soured on him as he fell through the first four rounds.
What happened? The scouting report on Howell started to find the negatives. He's just 6-foot-1, which isn't ideal for a quarterback. He can throw deep but his ability to process in the pocket was questioned. He didn't have a great season for the Tar Heels, not finishing as the first-, second- or even third-team all-ACC quarterback.
Howell will get a shot to move up the ranks in Washington. Carson Wentz is the new quarterback for the Commanders, but the shine is off him (for everyone except the Commanders' front office, which invested heavily in him). Wentz is unquestionably the starter for now, but Howell can work his way into being a quarterback of the future. At very least he can establish himself as a backup for Washington.
But less than a year ago, nobody expected to be talking about Howell as a possible NFL backup. No position seems more volatile in the pre-draft process than quarterbacks. Some will be projected as high picks in the too-early mock drafts you'll see after this draft, and then NFL teams will pick apart their faults when they start to scout them in earnest.
Howell was a victim of that. He declared early for the NFL draft after last season, and likely didn't do so figuring on being a fifth-round pick. He won't be the last quarterback to get put through the wringer in the lead-up to the draft.