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Washington Commanders

Commanders’ Sam Howell Made History as Starting QB



INDIANAPOLIS — The Washington Commanders are busy putting together a coaching staff that has a clear picture of the type of players they want and need at every position.


Which players currently participating at the NFL Scouting Combine fit those molds is up for debate and something the Commanders staff is busy sorting out themselves.


Even as the process moves forward, however, there are many individuals outside of Washington who believe the team has no choice but to address the quarterback position with the No. 2 pick in April’s NFL Draft.


After listening to coach Dan Quinn speak about what he’s looking for in a quarterback – toughness, accuracy, and play extendability – we started looking at Sam Howell through the lens of those three characteristics. Through that lens, a rather interesting question popped up.


While we know Howell through the ball at a rate most consider to be alarming, was it a historic pace? Was it unique in any way, or was it just another run-of-the-mill quarterback season?

Here’s what we found. 




Howell led the league with 21 interceptions thrown in 2023. He’s not the first first-year starter to do so, but he was the 142nd quarterback in the Super Bowl Era to throw at least that many in a single season.


Of them, Howell ranked seventh in pass attempts for the year with 612 of them and had the third-lowest interception percentage leading to those 21 turnovers. The only two with better interception percentages in this grouping are Drew Brees and Warren Moon.


Pretty solid company to be in for what many are considering a bad season.


Among the top seven in pass attempts the year he threw his 20+ interceptions only Howell was a first-year starter.


The 21 touchdown passes also put him in the top half of the 21-interception seasons in the Super Bowl Era.




While 142 quarterbacks have thrown 21 or more interceptions only 55 have thrown 612 or more passes in a single season. And that’s not individual quarterbacks, that’s total quarterback seasons, so even with some of the most prolific passers in the game playing in a ‘passing era’ it’s extremely rare to see that many pass attempts from one man in a single season.


In fact, when you look at the other passers who have had that many pass attempts in a single season the list includes names like Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton and Eli Manning, Patrick Mahomes, Rich Gannon, Joe Flacco, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady. All Super Bowl contending quarterbacks, and none of them did it as a first-year starter.


The only other quarterback in the Super Bowl Era – according to Stathead – to have as many throws in his first year starting was Andrew Luck who did it as a rookie for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.


Outside of Howell, only the quarterback many considered to be the most pro-ready prospect in NFL history had the burden of attempting 612 or more pass attempts his first year on the field.




When talking about Howell and the struggles he clearly dealt with during his first season as a starter that all led to a quite visible (even if imaginary) wall being hit, many bring up San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy’s success as a contrast to the idea that too much was put on the Commanders’ young passer.


So we climbed deeper into the rabbit hole on this and looked at Purdy just a bit. Not to down-talk Purdy supporters, but to compare the situations both have been playing in.


In two seasons starting games for the 49ers Purdy’s career high for pass attempts in a single game is 37. Howell’s is 52.


Not only that, but Howell has had at least 37 pass attempts, Purdy’s career high thus far, in half of his 18 career starts.


Now, there are several factors that play into those numbers including playing with leads versus trailing, but the bottom line is Howell was asked to carry much more weight for his team than Purdy has in his year-plus starting for a Super Bowl contender.




It doesn’t mean that Howell is a sure-fire franchise quarterback and Washington should cease all searches for potential quarterback improvements.


But it does mean there is a very strong argument for those who believe simply too much was expected of a second-year quarterback the Commanders drafted in the fifth round the year prior.


Some will say it’s part of the job. What Howell signed up for.


Others will claim the coaching staff also signed up for the job, and theirs is to do what’s best for the team, which clearly was not having Howell throw 36 times per game in 2023. And that’s remembering he missed nearly a full game’s worth of snaps after being pulled from two.


From this data alone, we’d argue both crowds have a case, and it’s not nearly as clear-cut a situation as some would like it to be.


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