One key statistic that will define Commanders QB Sam Howell in 2023

Sam Howell
Sam Howell / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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Benchmarks for Commanders QB Sam Howell in 2023

I’ll close with my two favorite examples of sack percentage as an indicator of future success. The first is Don Majikowski – Green Bay’s “Majik Man” in 1989.

He was spectacular, leading his team to a 10-6 record and making the Pro Bowl. But it was done with smoke and mirrors. Majikowski scrambled around a lot and flung the ball downfield, and in 1989, he hit on enough of those plays to make Packers fans begin thinking they had the real Doug Flutie.

But sack percentage told a different story. In 1989, Majikowski had a sack percentage of 7.3. That’s not very good. And almost as if he was seduced by his magical season, that number skyrockets over the next three seasons to over 10.

You see – Majikowski wasn’t very good – and sack percentage knew that way before fans did.

And finally, consider these two highly-touted quarterbacks. The top pick in their respective drafts, some 13 years apart. As you might expect, both went to bad teams, and both struggled mightily in their rookie seasons.

The first had an 0-11 record as a starter, completing just 52.9 percent of his passes. His interception percentage was 6.1, which is not good. His yards-per-attempt was 6.0, which is also not good. You never want to see a quarterback’s interception percentage be higher than his yards-per-attempt. The signal-caller had a rating of 55.7 in his rookie season.

The second quarterback was similar. A 4-12 record as a starter. 52.5 completion percentage. Yards-per-attempt was slightly lower at 5.8, but he had a much better interception ratio at 3.8. Because the rating number values that interception percentage, the second signal-caller had a better rating – 62.8.

Based on those numbers, you might say the second quarterback was slightly better. But there was another number where there was a dramatic difference. That was the sack percentage.

The first quarterback’s sack percentage was 6.1. That’s pretty good under normal circumstances. For a rookie on a bad team, it’s exceptional. It suggests he was processing the game at a high level despite his lack of experience.

The second had a sack percentage of 14.6 – one of the most abysmal numbers in the history of the league.

No. 1 comes in the form of Troy Aikman, who went on to win three Super Bowls and reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The second is David Carr, who never played in a playoff game, had a career completion percentage under 60, and had a negative career touchdown-to-interception ratio.

You would be correct to point out that the Dallas Cowboys put a much better team around Aikman than the Houston Texans ever put around Carr. But I challenge you to find me someone who thinks Carr would have been as good as Aikman if only he had a better-supporting cast.

Aikman was one of the main reasons Dallas was as good as they were during the 1990s. Carr may have been dealt a bad hand in his career, but he certainly never showed the ability to transcend it.

If you were watching Aikman in 1989, you might not have noticed the sack percentage, but in hindsight, you should have. It was an early marker of a quality NFL signal caller. Regardless of how the Washington Commanders perform in 2023, I want to see similar signs from Sam Howell.