ESPN analyst compares Sam Howell to Colt McCoy
Everyone these days loves comparisons. Whether it’s the NFL, NBA, or MLB, fans want to project what young players could be at the professional level, and a big part of that projection is comparing them to a current pro.
Draft analysts are often known for comparing college players to a professional, specifically in the NFL. While some comparisons make sense, others not so much. For instance, some players are compared to an NFL player because of their size or what they “look like.” Some of those comparisons come off as a bit lazy.
That leads us to Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell.
Matt Miller is a draft analyst for ESPN. Coming out of North Carolina in the 2021 NFL draft, Miller compared Howell to a quarterback Washington fans know well: Colt McCoy.
At first glance, it’s not a bad comparison. McCoy, a former third-round pick, will enter his 13th NFL season in 2023. And there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight for the 36-year-old McCoy.
In a recent appearance on 106.7 The Fan with Lynnell Willingham, Miller discussed the Commanders and Howell and said he doesn’t view Howell as a “playoff-caliber quarterback.”
“I do not see him as a playoff-caliber quarterback, I’m sorry,” Miller told Willingham via Ben Krimmel of Audacy. “I know people wanna believe; I just don’t. Coming out of college there was definitely talk in the lead-up to the season that he could be a QB1. It was him, and Spencer Rattler were the toast of the town, and it didn’t work out for either guy.”
OK, fair enough. There’s nothing wrong with Miller believing that. After all, Howell did last until the fifth round, whether you believe he should’ve gone higher or not.
Here’s where things get a bit interesting.
“I had Sam rated as my No. 74 overall player, and I compared him to Colt McCoy,” Miller continued. “Undersized, shorter guy, a little bit thicker body, not great arm strength. I know a lot of people said, ‘He’s Baker Mayfield.’ I never thought he had as much twitch as a runner as Baker had, especially, at Oklahoma, but some of that ability to play on the move, to kinda be like more of a gamer in some ways, let’s find a window, let’s make the throw. I think we saw him pick some of that up toward the end of the year.”
There was one small part of Miller’s quote that just completely made his comparison irrelevant: “Not great arm strength.”
Miller had good points about some of the other things, similar builds, shorter compared to the top QBs, etc. However, his comment about arm strength tells me he didn’t watch a lot of Howell at UNC.
Let’s go back to McCoy for a second. McCoy was a college legend at Texas. It was his lack of NFL physical measurables, arm strength being chief among them, that dropped him to the third round. Comparing anyone to him is not a knock on McCoy. Howell has proven nothing at the NFL level, and if he has a 13-year career [and counting], then he’ll be fortunate.
But just because they were similarly sized coming out of college [McCoy, 6-foot-1, 216 & Howell, 6-foot-1, 218] doesn’t make them an accurate comparison. Both are gamers, and both can make plays off schedule, but even similarly sized, the two are built a bit differently.
But, again, let’s go back to the arm strength comparison.
Judge for yourself.
Those are some throws from his time in Chapel Hill.
Here is a more recent throw that had everyone buzzing.
Howell hit McLaurin in stride. What a ball pic.twitter.com/sGRHvGew3D
— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) January 8, 2023
McCoy has never had that type of arm strength.
Again, this isn’t a McCoy-bashing session. But if saying both lack arm strength is one of your comparisons, well, you are dead wrong. One of the knocks on Howell coming out of North Carolina was his footwork and mechanics. McCoy didn’t have those issues. There was also the type of offense Howell ran with the Tar Heels.
Defending Howell’s arm strength also isn’t saying he is going to be a top NFL quarterback. He’s started one game. He remains a project, a talented project, but a project nonetheless. No one, including the Commanders, know if Howell will be a franchise quarterback. And if things don’t work out as the starter, he has a bright future in the NFL, even if his ceiling is a long-term backup.
I’ve heard a lot about this debate over the last 24 hours. Several people made good points. But the one point I can’t defend and nullifies Miller’s comparison is the arm strength comment. He lost me there. And before some on social media bash every Washington fan who doesn’t agree with the comparison, understand that no one is trashing one or other for disagreeing with Miller. It’s just simply not accurate.
Some will argue that “it’s not a bad comparison” being compared to McCoy. True, it isn’t, but the point remains, it’s still not accurate. Some will say, “Outside of arm strength it is a good comparison.” Well, considering Miller used that as one of the ways to compare the two, it is not a fair comparison.
This isn’t the space to bring up Miller’s other misses. After all, everyone has missed on NFL prospects. I have. You have. Daniel Jeremiah, Mel Kiper, Ozzie Newsome, Ron Wolf, Bill Belichick, Joe Gibbs, etc., have all missed on prospects. Had Miller simply not mentioned McCoy and Howell having “not great arm strength,” this isn’t even a debate.
As for Howell, you can count Jeremiah and former NFL quarterback — and current ESPN analyst — Dan Orlovsky among those who believe in his ability. As we — and many others — have stated, it’s all up to Howell to prove he belongs as an NFL starting quarterback.