ASHBURN, Va. -- Quarterback Sam Howell called the ending a dream come true. Others could call it an unexpected one. The Washington Commanders drafted Howell with the first pick of the fifth round Saturday, ending a slide for a player many projected as a second-round pick.
"I had no expectations coming into the draft," Howell said. "Obviously, everyone wants to be a first-round pick. I just want to get on a good team. I'm super blessed."
Howell left North Carolina with one season of eligibility remaining. He played 37 games in three seasons, setting school records for passing yards (10,283), career touchdown passes (92) and single-season touchdown passes (38).
While numerous analysts projected Howell as a likely Day 2 pick, he was the sixth quarterback on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board. Howell was the sixth quarterback selected in the NFL draft.
He said he watched the draft in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, with family, friends and former coaches.
"It was a little stressful, but at the same time I was trusting God," Howell said. "I was waiting for a call, and I'm so glad it was Washington that called. This is a perfect spot for me. It's a team I wanted to play for all along, so I'm fired up."
Washington liked Howell a lot, with one team source saying recently he was the top quarterback in the draft. Howell said he met with coach Ron Rivera and other team officials at the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, and several members of Washington's organization attended his pro day.
But the Commanders indicated they did not plan on drafting a quarterback high, having traded for Carson Wentz last month. They also have Taylor Heinicke under contract for one more season.
However, Rivera made it clear that taking one in the later rounds as a developmental quarterback was a strong possibility. In Howell, the Commanders found a quarterback they like but also one who wasn't picked high enough to be considered an heir apparent.
Rivera said they didn't think Howell would slide to them. He said Howell would have been a consideration for them earlier in the draft had they not acquired Wentz.
"It was something we had to jump on," Rivera said. "We had a very good grade on him....We feel this is a home run for us."
Rivera said he talked to Wentz before they made the pick, reiterating that they viewed Howell as a developmental player. Rivera also said Heinicke would remain the primary backup.
Howell shares an agent with Wentz but has not talked to him. But Howell said, "I'm excited to go to a place where I can sit back and learn from a guy and see what it's like to be a pro. I'm super excited."
After throwing a combined 68 touchdown passes his first two seasons, Howell lost key contributors around him, including Commanders wide receiver Dyami Brown. Howell's numbers took a hit: He went from 30 touchdown passes in 2020 to 24 last season and from 10.3 yards per pass attempt to 8.8.
"Obviously, a little challenge," Howell said. "We lost a couple guys, but I wouldn't trade last year for anything. I learned so much. It made me a better player and a better person."