If Sam Howell succeeds, he'll defy recent NFL Draft history


Following Washington's selection of Sam Howell, Ron Rivera told reporters that the North Carolina quarterback was someone whom the Commanders had to "jump on." Once Howell got to the fifth round, Rivera explained, he was the highest player on the team's board, which made it a "home run" decision.

But what are the chances of Rivera being so delighted by the move in, say, a couple of years? The past five drafts would indicate that they are low.

Very low.

Very, very low.

Since 2017, 20 passers have gone in the fifth round or later (five of those have heard their names called in the fifth specifically — the same as Howell — but this story is also including sixth- and seventh-round players to expand the sample size and because, at that point of the event, everything is largely a guessing game). 

Out of those 20, only two — Gardner Minshew and Trace McSorely — own a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL. Minshew, a 2019 sixth-rounder, has tossed 41 scores against just 12 picks thus far in his career. McSorely, another 2019 sixth-rounder, is working with a stout one-to-zero breakdown.

Here are the 20 quarterbacks in full. Aside from Minshew, prepare to be underwhelmed by the talent (those who were plucked in the same round as Howell are italicized, in case you're especially curious about them):

  • 2017: Nathan Peterman (5th), Brad Kaaya (6th), Chad Kelly (7th)
  • 2018: Mike White (5th), Luke Falk (6th), Tanner Lee (6th), Danny Etling (7th), Alex McGough (7th), Logan Woodside (7th)
  • 2019: Easton Stick (5th), Clayton Thorson (5th), Gardner Minshew (6th), Trace McSorely (6th)
  • 2020: Jake Fromm (5th), Jake Luton (6th), Cole McDonald (7th), Ben DiNucci (7th), Tommy Stevens (7th), Nate Stanley (7th)
  • 2021: Sam Ehlinger (6th)

Want some stats?

The average number of pro yards ever produced by a signal-caller from that crew is currently 452.7. And if you take away Minshew — who's totaled 5,969 on his own — that 452.7 plummets to 162.4.


Collectively, the 20 guys have connected on 53 touchdowns and chucked 44 interceptions. Without Minshew, the other 19 are responsible for 12 six-pointers and 32 giveaways. 

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Perhaps Howell really can be different. In 2019 and 2020, the leader of the Tar Heels was rather prolific, so much so that he was mentioned as a possible No. 1 overall choice. His 2021, unfortunately, was less impressive, due largely to personnel changes around him.

Yet even with the recent downturn, Howell was thought of as a potential second- or third-round prospect, only to ultimately fall to the Commanders on Saturday. There's hope that, in the right situation and after some additional development, he can revert back to the star he was early on in college.

Keep in mind, though, that fans of the squads who drafted the 20 quarterbacks above also daydreamed of their youngster one day becoming the next miracle find. Of those 20, 12 are either out of the league or haven't logged a single attempt, while Minshew is the lone true contributor of the bunch (with the acknowledgment that others could still emerge).

Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but when it comes to the rule of drafting late-round quarterbacks, those exceptions are extremely rare.