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Why NY Jets should avoid pursuing Sam Howell as QB2

Sam Howell
Sam Howell

Sam Howell is the latest player to come up in New York Jets trade rumors

Another day, another New York Jets rumor that needs to be shut down.

This time, it’s about Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell. On Monday, Jets fans on Twitter started rallying around the idea of trading for Howell to back up Aaron Rodgers, with the idea of developing the 23-year-old to take over for Rodgers in the future.

Similar to the David Bakhtiari hoopla from a few days ago, this rumor did not stem from any sort of concrete report. Once again, fans and aggregators have taken a small line from a beat reporter’s article and blown it up to be more than it actually is.

The rumors stemmed from an article on SNY, where Connor Hughes was simply sharing his opinion in response to a mailbag question about Howell. Hughes stated he was in favor of the idea and also briefly mentioned that “There are those in the Jets building who believe he can play, too.” That’s it. This isn’t any sort of definitive information that suggests the Jets are planning to trade for him.

Anyway, let’s entertain the idea. Should the Jets trade for Howell to back up Rodgers?

In my opinion, it’s a hard no, regardless of the compensation. If I were the Jets, Howell would be very far down my list of candidates for the QB2 spot.

Why the Jets should avoid Sam Howell

There’s a popular narrative that Howell showed a lot of upside in 2023. Supporters of trading for Howell cite his supposed upside as the reason why the Jets should trade for him. However, I don’t see any evidence that Howell actually did show upside.

I think this narrative of Howell having “upside” stems entirely from his hot start to the season in the passing yards column. All the way into November, Howell was a fixture on those “Top 5 Passing Yards” graphics that the NFL’s official Twitter account posts each week. At one point, he even had the No. 1 spot for multiple weeks in a row.

That’s awesome! But it’s 2024, people. I thought we all knew by now that “total passing yards” is not a metric that provides even the slightest bit of information about how well a quarterback is truly performing. It’s a nothing burger.

Context is essential when looking at total passing yards. And when you apply it in this situation, you find out that Howell only looked good on the passing yards leaderboard because the Commanders allowed him to throw a gargantuan volume of passes.

Through Week 12 (the point at which the second graphic above was posted), Howell was averaging 40.5 pass attempts per game. He had attempted 486 passes, 53 (!) more than second-ranked Josh Allen. Including Allen, only seven quarterbacks were even within 100 pass attempts of Howell – meaning Howell had at least 100 more attempts than three-quarters of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks.

The Commanders finished with the league’s 32nd-ranked scoring defense, allowing 30.5 points per game. Couple that with a bad offense and the Commanders were constantly trailing. This allowed Howell to rack up an absurdly massive number of attempts, making it look like he was throwing it well when he was really just throwing it a lot.

Howell’s volume of attempts drastically decreased near the end of the year, as he averaged 25.2 attempts per game over his final five starts. Even with the late decline, Howell still finished 2023 as the league leader in pass attempts with 612.

Yet, despite having the most pass attempts of any quarterback in the league, he finished way down at No. 12 in passing yards (3,946) – an 11-spot disparity that was the largest of any qualified quarterback. Bryce Young was the closest with an 8-spot disparity (12th in attempts, 20th in yards).

And that disparity brings us to the crux of my argument against Howell: In any efficiency-based metric, he was abysmal.

The only thing Howell has going for him is an inflated yardage total as a result of his league-leading attempt volume. Look any deeper beneath the surface and it’s clear that Howell didn’t show anything that’s worth clinging to. On a per-attempt and per-dropback basis, he was brutal across the board.

In net yards per attempt – which is like standard yards per attempt but throws in sacks and sack yardage – Howell ranked 30th out of 33 qualified quarterbacks with a horrid mark of 5.17. He was only two spots ahead of Zach Wilson (4.66).

In EPA per dropback (Expected Points Added), Howell was 30th out of 33 qualifiers at -0.21, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Wilson was last (-0.31).

In DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), Howell was 30th at -25.7%, this time only one spot ahead of Wilson (-27.8%).

Once you look beyond archaic box-score stats, it’s clear that Howell had a poor season. He was only marginally better than the historically poor quarterback that Jets fans are desperate to get rid of.

Yes, it was Howell’s first season as a starter, so there is a chance he will improve in the future. But let’s keep in mind where his value started when he entered the league. We are not talking about a touted first-round pick here.

Two years ago, the NFL collectively valued Howell as a fifth-round talent. He held a clipboard for most of his first season, and in his second season, he proceeded to put up the aforementioned bottom-four numbers while leading the league in both interceptions (21) and sacks taken (65).

So, Howell basically validated his draft slot. Simply winning a starting job by year two is impressive for a fifth-round pick, and it’s enough to show that he is worthy of having a roster spot in the league, but his bottom-four performance as a starter shows that he is probably a backup-level talent. Howell hasn’t done anything to rise above the valuation that was placed on him when he entered the league.

When you look closer into the details of Howell’s game, it becomes even more difficult to envision him becoming a quality starter in the league. He has many of the same issues that make Zach Wilson so frustrating to watch.

Defenders of Howell often claim he was dealing with a poor offensive line, therefore making his flashes of talent all the more intriguing. The narrative of Howell having a poor offensive line largely stems from his league-leading total of 65 sacks.

However, a deeper dive into the data suggests that Howell deserves most of the blame for that number, not the Commanders’ offensive line.

Washington’s offensive line certainly wasn’t good, but most metrics say it wasn’t terrible, either. In this composite leaderboard (via Ben Baldwin on Twitter) that combines pass-blocking data from three different sources, the Commanders’ offensive line finished as the 19th-best pass-blocking unit in 2023.

via Twitter/@benbbaldwin

The real problem was that Howell did a poor job of allowing pressures to be converted into sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Howell took a sack on 23.5% of his pressured dropbacks, ranking fourth-worst among 33 qualified quarterbacks. Wilson was right beside him with the third-worst mark (24.3%).

  • 33. Ryan Tannehill, TEN (30.2%)
  • 32. Bryce Young, CAR (24.5%)
  • 31. Zach Wilson, NYJ (24.3%)
  • T30. Sam Howell, WAS (23.5%)
  • T30. Jake Browning, CIN (23.5%)

On top of his propensity for taking sacks, Howell was simply terrible at handling pressure overall. When pressured, Howell had a 47.5 passer rating, which was third-worst in the league. In this category, he was even worse than Wilson.

  • 33. Mac Jones (41.4)
  • 32. Bryce Young (43.4)
  • 31. Sam Howell (47.5)
  • 30. Ryan Tannehill (49.1)
  • 29. Zach Wilson (53.7)

In particular, Howell did a horrible job of protecting the football when pressured. He threw a league-high 15 interceptions when pressured, six more than any other quarterback. Wilson only had two.

There are a ton of holes in Howell’s game, and many of his biggest issues are the exact problems that usually sink a quarterback’s career. It’s silly to think Howell’s interceptions, sacks, and struggles under pressure will magically disappear after a couple of seasons learning behind Rodgers. Typically, these are innate traits that do not go away. There are outliers, but in general, if a young quarterback struggles this much in these specific areas, that’s probably just who he is.

Howell finished 2023 with a 3.4% interception rate (2nd-worst) and a 9.6% sack rate (6th-worst). He is the 11th quarterback in the 21st century to have an age-23 season (min. 200 pass attempts) with an interception rate above 2.5% and a sack rate above 8%. The others? Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Sam Darnold, Kyle Allen, Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, Christian Ponder, Jimmy Clausen, David Carr, and Cade McNown.

Smith was a historical outlier who found his footing nearly a decade later, and Fields remains TBD, but other than that, you have Howell and eight colossal busts.

With all of these red flags in mind, that brings me to my final point: Where are the signs of upside that make it worthwhile to tackle all of these issues? What has Howell done to prove he has a ceiling that balances out his low floor?

Besides throwing a lot of passes to inflate his passing yards over the first 12 games, there isn’t much evidence that Howell was a “flashy” type of quarterback, i.e. a guy who occasionally displays intriguing traits despite playing poorly overall.

Howell wasn’t exactly a touchdown machine. With only 21 touchdown passes (16th) on 612 pass attempts (1st), Howell finished 24th in touchdown rate (3.4%).

The one thing you can give Howell is that he had a propensity for money throws. Per PFF, he was eighth in the league with 22 “big-time throws”. However, once again, the number becomes less impressive when accounting for the volume. His big-time throw rate was 4.7%, placing 18th.

Howell was an inaccurate deep passer. On passes that traveled 20+ yards downfield, Howell had an adjusted completion percentage (which accounts for drops) of 35.3%, which ranked 26th.

Where is this upside everyone is talking about? I don’t see it. I see a fifth-round pick who has played like a fifth-round pick. Nothing more.

Howell doesn’t make sense in any way

I am struggling to find a reason why pursuing Howell would make sense for the Jets. He has too many holes in his game to be considered a worthwhile project, especially for someone who was only deemed as a fifth-round talent and hasn’t done anything to move off that label. And he isn’t nearly good enough in the present to be considered a more reliable short-term backup option than veterans like Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew, or Tyrod Taylor among many others.

If the Jets want to get a young quarterback in the building to develop behind Aaron Rodgers, they should just get a fresh start and draft their own guy in the later parts of the draft. It’s a better option for numerous reasons. He will have the same talent level as Howell without already having two years of bad NFL play under his belt. He can be groomed in the Jets’ system from the very beginning of his career. The Jets can also gain two extra years of team control on his rookie contract.

So, I don’t even think Howell is worth pursuing as a developmental QB3, let alone as Rodgers’ primary backup. The Jets need a backup quarterback they can trust to win games now. They cannot afford to have the offense go to shambles if Rodgers goes down. With an eerily similar resume to Wilson, Howell is not a trustworthy backup in any sense.

For their QB2 spot, the Jets need to pursue a veteran who has proven they can consistently perform at the level of a competent starting quarterback.

If they’re looking at Commanders quarterbacks, why not Jacoby Brissett? Remember what he did against the Jets in December? Howell dug the Commanders into a 20-point hole and was benched for Brissett late in the third quarter. In less than 20 minutes, Brissett had the Commanders in the lead.

Until he proves otherwise, Howell isn’t nearly as reliable as guys like Brissett, Taylor, and Minshew. Maybe Howell will improve to their level in the future, but the Jets need certainty out of their QB2 spot. They cannot afford to roll the dice on improvement again after swinging and missing with Zach Wilson last year – especially not on someone with as shoddy of a resume as Howell.

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4 months ago

Ahhhh yes, the classic “people inside the building” source That is code for, I talked to a facilities staff member, could be someone in the cafeteria, or perhaps an equipment person, and they said “I like this Howell, what do you think Connor?” Which then becomes “people inside the building” like Sam Howell.

I also think the scope of what a backup QB needs to do has been skewed by Jets’ fans because of the horrible injury luck. Many now look at a backup as “can this guy get us to the playoffs, if the starter is out for the season.” Well, there just aren’t that many backups like that out there, and if we are being honest, MOST OF THE TIME any team that loses their starter for the year has basically lost the season. (and don’t tell me about Joe Flacco).

Most backup QB’s who can make a playoff run are actually starters. The ideal backup QB is a guy who can win a few games and keep the team going if the starter has to miss 3 or 4 weeks. We need a guy who can do that, but if anybody things Jacoby Brissett is going to take the Jets on a run if Rogers goes down for the year needs to really take a look at his TOTAL career, not just the game he played against the Jets.

4 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

The Jet’s fans attitude is skewed mostly because they think the defense is soooo good that the offense only has to score maybe 13 points a game to win 13 games on the season. I remember last off-season, I think it was Rivka Boord who ran a column saying that top 5 defenses often take a step back the next year. The Jets didn’t end up doing that this past year, but they could next year with changes on the way. It’s just another example of how screwed up this team is, starting with the coach, with an imbalance between defense and offense, over-reliance on the defense, unrealistic expectations and poor planning related to all of the above. They seem like they’re dimly starting to get that and trying to change it, but I’ll believe that when I see it.