Getty Images

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell announced Saturday that he is declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft following his junior season with the Tar Heels. Howell spent three seasons as the program's starter, throwing for 10,283 yards, 92 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. UNC finished the 2021 season 6-7 following a 38-21 loss to South Carolina in the Duke's Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30.

"These past three years, and especially the past few months, have been a whirlwind," said Howell in a video announcing his decision. "But I have a lot of peace about the next chapter of my life. With that being said, I am excited to announce that I will be entering the 2022 NFL Draft. I will forever be grateful for my time here at Carolina and for all the people who made it so special. Chapel Hill will always hold a special place in my heart. I don't know exactly what the future holds, but I'm hopeful and I know whatever it may be, it'll be good. God bless."

Howell played a key role in revitalizing the program under coach Mack Brown, who just concluded the third season of his second stint as UNC's coach. Though this season's 6-7 record was a disappointment following a preseason No. 10 ranking, the Tar Heels are in a much better spot as a program now following Howell's three-year tenure at QB under Mack. Prior to Howell's and Brown's arrival to Chapel Hill, UNC was 5-18 over the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

The former four-star prospect from Indian Trail, North Carolina, ends his college career as UNC's all-time leader in yards passing and touchdown passes. The 38 touchdown passes he threw as a freshman were the most in a single season by any quarterback in program history.

Howell's draft standing

Howell ranks as the No. 5 quarterback and No. 55 overall prospect in CBS Sports' 2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings. He was considered a first-round pick in a mock draft by CBS Sports NFL Draft Expert Chris Trapasso as recently as Nov. 11, but does not presently project as a first-rounder in CBS Sports' most recent mocks.

That is not surprising considering the statistical drop-off that Howell experienced as a junior. With UNC's top four pass-catchers plus dynamic running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter departed from last season, the Tar Heels took a step back offensively in 2021. UNC also allowed 49 sacks, which ranked third-most of all FBS teams as of Saturday. As a result, Howell's production understandably suffered. 

Despite the comparatively rough season, Howell still threw for 3,056 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he also showed his chops as a runner by scampering for a career-high 828 yards and 11 scores on the ground. 

UNC's next QB

In the transfer portal era, you can never discount the possibility of bringing a new player in to compete for the quarterback job next season. ACC foe Pitt did just that with former USC starter Kedon Slovis. But UNC's staff has two intriguing options on the roster already in Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye. 

Criswell was the team's primary backup as a sophomore, completing 13 of 21 passes for 179 yards and one touchdown while also running for 68 yards and another score on seven carries. The former four-star prospect from the Class of 2020 should have at least three more seasons of eligibility remaining due to the fact that 2020 did not count against anyone's eligibility and because he appeared in only three games during the 2021 season.

Maye was a true freshman after arriving as the No. 24 overall prospect and No. 4 quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. The decorated high school phenom from Charlotte, North Carolina, completed 7 of 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown this season.