For the fifth straight season, Washington is onto its third starting quarterback.
Third time’s the charm hasn’t quite been the case for the franchise over the past five seasons, but coach Ron Rivera is hoping this time is different with rookie Sam Howell.
From Carson Wentz to Taylor Heinicke to Wentz again and now to Howell. The 22-year-old will take his first NFL snap Sunday against a Cowboys team still alive for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
So, who exactly is this new guy under center?
Here are five things to know about Washington’s newest starting quarterback:
1. He once threw for 550 yards and six touchdowns in one game.
As a sophomore at North Carolina, Howell led the Tar Heels to an impressive come-from-behind 59-53 win over Wake Forest.
Down 21 points late in the third quarter, Howell orchestrated five straight scoring drives to bring North Carolina back. He ended the contest 32-of-45 passing for 550 yards, six touchdowns and one interception, while adding a 20-yard score with his legs.
In that contest, he connected with wide receiver Dyami Brown — still a teammate of Howell’s on the Commanders — eight times for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Brown was drafted by Washington in the third round of the 2021 draft.
That game was somewhat of an anomaly for Howell, who put up good but not great numbers in his three seasons at North Carolina. In his career, he completed 63.8% of his passes in 37 games for 10,283 yards, 92 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. His best season was in 2020 when he posted a 68.1% completion rate and a 10.3 yards per attempt.
2. He fell in the NFL draft.
Howell was thought of as a Day 2 pick, but he fell all the way to the fifth round on Day 3 of the 2022 draft.
There are multiple reasons why he fell to Washington in the fifth round, with a main one being the fact that his performance in 2021 was worse than in 2020.
He put up worse numbers in almost every statistical category, as his completion rate fell almost six percentage points. He did, however, take on a larger role running the football, totaling 828 yards and 11 scores with his legs as a junior.
He’s also listed at 6-foot-1 — the same height as Heinicke — and that hurt his draft stock as well.
“All the numbers came down across the board, but he held the ball too long and had too many passes batted down,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said when Howell was drafted. “He played a little short.”
“I’m surprised he went to the fifth round, I thought he’d be a third-rounder,” Kiper added. “There’s some things he’s got to fix to ever be a starter in the NFL.”
3. He’s never had beef or seafood.
What? Yes, really.
This may be one of the most known things about Howell, who has gone viral on social media multiple times in the past for this strange eating habit.
He isn’t a vegetarian, obviously. He just loves chicken and has no interest in eating beef or seafood.
“People give me a hard time, but the only meat I eat is chicken,” Howell said in 2020. “It’s been like that my whole life. I really don’t know why. I started that when I was younger, but it’s something I’ve kind of just kept up through my whole life.
“Chicken is the only meat I eat, so I only go to restaurants that serve something with chicken on the menu.”
4. He put up solid numbers in the preseason.
Howell played in all three of the Commanders’ preseason games as the team’s No. 3 quarterback entering the year.
He completed 43-of-69 passes (62.3%) for 547 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also added 94 yards and two touchdowns with his legs.
In his first game action, he brought Washington back from down 14 points in the fourth quarter to take a late lead that was later lost by the defense.
In the final preseason game, he held his own against Baltimore, throwing for 280 yards and a touchdown.
5. He will become one of only a few players of Asian descent to start an NFL game at quarterback.
Howell is part-Korean, as his grandparents met while his grandfather was stationed in South Korea in the 1960s after the Korean War.
Only a few other Asian-Americans have started at quarterback in an NFL game. Kyler Murray, the star quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, is part-Korean and was the first-ever Asian-American to be drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.
The first Asian-American quarterback in the NFL was Arthur Matsu, who was part-Japanese and played one season with the Dayton Triangles in 1928.
Roman Gabriel, who was part-Filipino, then broke onto the NFL scene about 35 years later as the No. 2 overall pick in the 1962 draft. Gabriel, who played 16 seasons in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, won the MVP award in 1969.