North Carolina QB Sam Howell declares for NFL draft, could be 1st-round pick

Sam Howell’s time at North Carolina has come to an end.

After three seasons as UNC’s starting quarterback, Howell announced Saturday that he is moving onto the NFL. He will forgo the remainder of his eligibility and declare for the draft.

“I'll forever be grateful for my time here at Carolina, and for all the people that made it so special. Chapel Hill will always hold a special place in my heart,” Howell said in a video message.

Howell, a North Carolina native, was once committed to Florida State but ended up signing with the Tar Heels as part of Mack Brown’s first recruiting class back in Chapel Hill. Howell immediately became UNC’s starting quarterback and emerged as one of the most exciting players in the ACC.

Over his three seasons, Howell became an all-time UNC great. He finished his college career with 10,283 yards and 92 touchdowns — both program records. He also holds the UNC records for total offense (11,292 yards) and total touchdowns (111), among other top marks in Tar Heel history.

North Carolina quarterback (7) throws the ball along the sideline during a break in the action against Pittsburgh in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
North Carolina quarterback (7) throws the ball along the sideline during a break in the action against Pittsburgh in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

UNC won a combined five games in the two seasons before Howell’s arrival. He helped the program bounce back under Brown, including a 7-6 record in 2019 and an 8-4 record in 2020. Expectations were very high for UNC entering 2021. The Tar Heels opened the season ranked No. 10 in The Associated Press Top 25, but fell well short of expectations.

UNC lost 38-21 to South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Thursday. With the loss, UNC finished 6-7 on the season. It was Howell’s final game in a UNC uniform. He finished the season with 3,056 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions through the air along with 828 yards and 11 TDs on the ground.

Howell could be first-round NFL pick

The 2022 NFL draft is considered a bit light for quarterbacks and Howell has a chance to become a first-round pick. 

In the most-recent mock draft from Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm, Howell was slotted at No. 17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has watched Howell in person multiple times this season, per Edholm.

“[Howell’s] toughness as a runner, deep-ball potential and natural leadership skills would be a good fit in Pittsburgh,” Edholm wrote.

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