Washington Commanders rookie Sam Howell and his hopes of becoming a first-round draft pick did not materialize. Though he fell to the fifth round, he can now still harbor ambitions of becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL after an encouraging Washington Commanders’ preseason debut.
Former North Carolina star Howell saw his draft stock damaged by an unconvincing final season with the Tar Heels. However, he may have won over some doubters after shining with the Commanders’ backups against the Carolina Panthers. Howell finished 9-of-16 for 145 yards and added 19 yards on the ground and a pair of rushing touchdowns in a 23-21 victory for the Commanders.
With starter Carson Wentz producing a solid performance that saw him go 10-of-13 for 74 yards, Howell’s display certainly won’t create an immediate quarterback controversy in Washington.
But what it should do is give the Commanders confidence in Howell’s ability to potentially step in and deputize for a starter who has struggled to produce consistently convincing displays following his 2017 zenith with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sam Howell showcased his upside versus Panthers
Much of Howell’s best work against Carolina involved him escaping the pocket and improvising to make throws on the move or excel as a runner. His prowess at making plays as a rusher was honed during his final season with North Carolina, in which he often had no other options after losing his top two running backs and top receivers.
In Washington he has been reunited with one of those receivers, Dyami Brown, and – were he to get the chance to start – would have the benefit of playing with a supporting cast that also includes Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Antonio Gibson.
For him to receive the opportunity to play with those talents, Carson Wentz would need to display the kind of struggles that ultimately saw both the Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts cut bait with the former first-round pick.
Washington Commanders will have short leash on Carson Wentz
Wentz was comfortable in his exhibition debut for the Commanders but, as the Colts witnessed in a must-win Week 18 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars last year, he can crumble when things get heavy. There will be plenty of pressure on his shoulders since the Commanders haven’t had a winning season since 2016, despite going to the playoffs in the 2020 season as NFC East champions.
Washington head coach Ron Rivera must deliver a season in which the Commanders can be seen as making progress. If he fails to do so, his job could be in jeopardy come the end of 2022.
That may mean a short leash for Wentz should he endure a slump that lasts multiple games. Washington may not seem like a win-now team given their prolonged struggles. Yet this is a team that has the talent to perform at a higher level than they have done so in recent years.
As such, Rivera may well be open to a quarterback change to spark his team into life if things start to go south again, after what has not been a good tenure in DC.
Turning to Howell in that scenario would be an extremely bold and risky move, but the decision to trade draft capital for Wentz was in itself a risk and – though it was only a preseason game – the poise a player once regarded as a potential top-10 pick demonstrated suggests he will be ready for the moment if Rivera does call his number in the regular season.