Steelers Are ‘Best Fit’ For North Carolina QB Sam Howell: Analysts

Sam Howell North Carolina

Grant Halverson/Getty Images Sam Howell of the North Carolina Tar Heels rolls out against the Georgia State Panthers at Kenan Memorial Stadium on September 11, 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have frequently been linked to Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, one of the top QBs available in the 2022 NFL Draft. But in Pro Football Focus’ March 2 feature on the ‘Best NFL team fits for top 2022 NFL Draft prospects,’ PFF pairs Willis with the Denver Broncos, thanks in part to Nathaniel Hackett’s RPO-heavy offense and the presence of offensive weapons like wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton and tight end Noah Fant.

Meanwhile, PFF sees North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell—6-foot-1 and 220 pounds—as the best fit for the Steelers and the offense that coordinator Matt Canada would like to run.

“Despite frequent comparisons to Baker Mayfield, Howell is best characterized by his mobility and short-throw accuracy. His rushing yards over expected per carry, missed forced tackles per attempt and explosive run rate all rank in the top 10 among the 88 FBS quarterbacks drafted since 2015,” offers PFF’s Conor McQuiston, before adding that “it is safe to assume he will be a viable threat on the ground at the next level.”

The latest Steelers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Steelers newsletter here!

‘How Does Sam Howell Fit With Pittsburgh?’

“A primary concern of his as a passer is that, much like several other quarterbacks in this class, he played in an extremely RPO-heavy offense that simplified his reads. Some 39.8% of his plays in 2021 came attached with a charted RPO, the third-highest figure in the sample, and that means he will have to adjust to NFL systems,” continues McQuiston.

Fittingly, on first- and second-downs in 2021 “Pittsburgh ran the fifth-most RPOs and subsequently recorded the second-lowest average depth of target. The latter number would likely improve with Howell at the helm, and the Steelers overall would present a strong opportunity for Howell to learn the ropes in a system he is comfortable in.”

That said, it’s no surprise that the Steelers have met with Howell at the Combine in Indianapolis, and that the interest is mutual.

“I think the world of the organization. I think it’s a great-run organization. A lot of respect for Coach Tomlin and how he kind of carries his life, how he kind of goes about things, so, yeah, I like those guys a lot,” said Howell on March 2, as per Brooke Pryor, who covers the Steelers for ESPN Nation.

Of course, it would be a departure for the Steelers to draft a quarterback who is only 6-foot-1—at any point, much less the first- or second-round. It’s also worth noting that Howell regressed last season after a 2020 campaign in which he completed 68.1% of his passes and averaged 10.3 yards per attempt, as per But whichever NFL team drafts him will be getting a player who passed for 10,283 yards in only 37 games, with 92 touchdown passes against 23 interceptions.

Follow the Heavy on Steelers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!

What About Cincinnati Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder?

For what it’s worth, the only other 2022 quarterback prospect who makes PFF’s list of 32 “best NFL team fits” is Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati, who is paired with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“(H)is intelligence and comfort with more complex offenses means he will likely have an easier time adjusting to the complex (Bruce) Arians-(Byron) Leftwich system, while his arm will allow him to physically handle what it asks of him,” argues McQuiston. “Finally, his legs present an additional weapon Arians and Leftwich have not had a chance to use and will help make up for any step back in passing production as a result of his inaccuracy.”

Rams’ Super Bowl Winning QB a ‘Free Agency Fit’ for Steelers: Analyst
Steelers’ Kevin Colbert Talks Stephon Tuitt’s Football Future
Ex-Steelers WR Antonio Brown to Perform at Rolling Loud Music Festival
Steelers Remain ‘Highly Intrigued’ by Trade-Ready QB: Report
Ex-Steelers Standout WR Gets Second Chance in CFL