The ACC has produced some of the best quarterbacks we have seen in college football, with the likes of Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson having already ascended to NFL stardom. Clemson’s current starting quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, was considered a can’t miss, generational prospect before his college eligibility even expired. There is, however, an incoming true sophomore who has the potential to join this group of elite quarterbacks. North Carolina’s Sam Howell could be one of the best signal-callers to ever take the field in the ACC — and perhaps in all of college football.
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Howell was a highly sought-after recruit coming out of high school in 2019. He was the 93rd ranked recruit nationally according to 247 and the third-best pro-style quarterback. He had offers from powerhouse schools like Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State and originally committed to Florida State. But he flipped his commitment to UNC shortly after the Shrine Bowl in December 2018 thanks to Mack Brown.
Howell won the starting job as a true freshman in 2019 and led the Tar Heels to a 7-6 record after the team went a combined 5-18 the two years prior. He posted the 16th-highest passing grade in the FBS at 85.4 and closed out the year on a hot streak — over the last five games, Howell owned an elite 90.1 PFF passing grade, which ranked seventh in the country. Considering Howell did this as an 18/19-year-old true freshman, the performance is flat-out remarkable. Not only did Howell finish as one of the 10 most valuable quarterbacks in college football, he had the second-most-valuable season we have ever seen by a Power-5 true freshman quarterback:
Most valuable season by a Power-5 true freshman QB in the PFF College era
|Player, school and season||Wins Above Average (WAA)|
|1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (2018)||1.42|
|2. Sam Howell, UNC (2019)||0.82|
|3. Jake Fromm, Georgia (2017)||0.75|
Simply put, Howell is just not getting enough credit for the season he had in 2019.