Brad Holmes could’ve escalated this conversation shortly after 9 p.m. last Thursday. Instead, the Detroit Lions’ first-year general manager trusted his draft board.
And after months of going over every possible situation, offensive tackle Penei Sewell ranked at least one notch higher than quarterback Justin Fields on the Lions’ final sheet when Detroit came on the clock for a potential franchise-altering No. 7 pick. Holmes and the Lions opted to invest in the foundation around the quarterback position, effectively moving the latter into “wait and see” territory.
Jared Goff is Detroit’s quarterback. But for how long? There are no guarantees beyond whatever Goff’s performance earns him this year and next. The Lions will enter the 2022 draft still needing help on both sides of the ball. How much, exactly, remains to be seen. As does Detroit’s overall comfort level with what Goff, 26, can reasonably do for this team as it rebuilds.
Sewell’s addition to a strong offensive line should help provide proper protection for Goff this season. If Goff can steal a few wins, that’ll help. But if his performance costs the Lions games or idles at just barely enough to keep them reasonably competitive, then the 2022 draft decision gets easier for Holmes and coach Dan Campbell.
Either way, though, it’s a decision. And one these two might have at top of mind every day until Detroit is on the clock next. With that, let’s take a (very) early look at a few of the quarterback candidates who might be in the draft conversation next spring.
Sam Howell, North Carolina
If you watched a lot of tape of the top quarterbacks from the 2021 class, you’re going to need to adjust your sets for this next batch. Trey Lance, Fields and Trevor Lawrence were all big-framed, athletic quarterbacks. Howell, like many of his 2022 cohorts, is not built that way. He checks in at 6-foot-1, 225. A former talented baseball prospect, Howell doesn’t have blazing 40 time (5.07 in high school) but he has pocket mobility, the ability to throw on the run and a seriously powerful right arm.
Howell’s release is lightning quick. He can rip throws into tight windows over the middle of the field and toward the sideline. He can hit the deep ball and, perhaps, as important as anything: He’s not afraid of pressure in the pocket. His skill there, with no loss of velocity on throws, resulted in a ton of easy completions for North Carolina both in the run-pass option game and in general. A lot of what Howell does at UNC comes via quick reads. The Baker Mayfield comparisons are probably fair, maybe subjective in terms of his personality away from the game. But his relentless accuracy (64 percent passer on 770 attempts in two years) as a young player (21 in September) will keep him on the radar.
The video above shows a bit of all the things Howell can do, from his feet to his ability to fit the ball into a tight window and hit the deep shot. One of my favorite Howell clips from last season actually came on a play that resulted in an offensive penalty and a drop. Howell escaped pressure from the pocket, effortlessly rolled into a calm spot and lasered a strike 30 yards downfield into the chest of a wide receiver who had three defensive backs around him. The ball bounced off his chest, an offensive lineman got flagged for a hold — it was no play. But Howell didn’t know any of that when he let it rip. He has a fearlessness with his arm that’s admirable. And if his accuracy continues to build, he could be a very effective player at the next level.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler sent Howell to the Lions with the No. 2 pick in his self-proclaimed way-too-early 2022 mock draft.
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
Rattler was faster than Howell coming out of high school and is probably the better athlete overall, which is largely why he earned five-star status (247Sports composite) before landing at Oklahoma. Same time, he’s not an overwhelming athlete and his size (Oklahoma lists him at 6-1 without a weight; he was around 200 pounds in high school) is more of a concern when compared to Howell. Howell is stocky; Rattler is thinner and it’s fair to wonder how much more weight his body can hold. Still, his release is electric and he can throw the ball pretty much anywhere he wants.
Howell’s a former prep baseball standout. Rattler was a really good prep basketball player. He’s more slippery as an athlete, but he can also be a bit more loose with the ball. Play strength and overall decision-making will be big items on the to-do list for Rattler as a third-year player for Lincoln Riley this fall. Can he avoid the messy stretches, get out of his own way and let his natural gifts as a passer explode? He could have a massive year at Oklahoma; all the Heisman hype feels warranted. He and Howell will be under the microscope all year.
Can he clean up the little stuff and will his body be able to hold up at the next level? Questions to ponder.