What to like and to worry about with Justin Herbert
They often say that championships aren’t won on paper. Well the same can be said for franchise quarterbacks. Sometimes measurables and numbers don’t always equate. What theoretically works on paper is nice but the execution still needs to be there. Which leads us to the real question here, can Justin Herbert execute at the next level?
So much potential and so many indications pointing in the right direction. It’s no wonder it leads most people to feel more than optimistic about the situation. Yet there are still many people on the other side of the fence and rightfully so as the concerns are justifiable as well. However I’m sure both sides will admit that this isn’t an exact science and sometimes the ‘can’t miss’ guys end up as busts along with the out of nowhere guys who end up being much better than expected. Either way fans will stay split on opinions for almost any prospect. Well for the most part anyways. The most recent example of this would be that there were some people who didn’t like the Joey Bosa pick. They instead wanted deforest Buckner or Jalen Ramsey who are great players in their own right. Now I would say any one of those players would have been nice but Buckner didn’t develop into the player he is until year 3 where as Bosa made an immediate impact. The logic there was simply that Buckner had been playing in a 3-4 scheme already, which the Chargers ran at the time. What seems like common sense on paper doesn’t always translate. While some have speculated that Herbert may step in day 1 coach Lynn quickly shot that notion down right out the gate. In fact now that camp has begun there are reports that Herbert is tipping his hand on certain plays. Rookie mistakes like that simply won’t go unnoticed at the big boy level. So let’s take a deeper dive into the nucleus of Justin Herbert
A lot of wide spread speculation about Herbert was that he wasn’t a great leader, leading to speculation on whether or not he could lead an NFL team or not. The thought was that he was too shy or quite. I find this a bit ridiculous myself as I have often heard the same scouts argue the other way. By that, I mean I’ve heard them say in recent years that guys are too cocky or out spoken to lead a team. The fact remains that unless you wear the same jersey as that particular player then you don’t really know how his teammates perceive him. It is very possible that he was just working and grinding so much that it was just perceived that way. Some are worried and unsure of just exactly how high Herbert’s ceiling can or will be. This is more than likely due to the fact that Oregon had 3 different playbooks in his time there so it would have made it hard to master or become comfortable in one particular style. In fact according to his WAA statistic (Wins above average) he never really increased like one is theoretically supposed to do. In all actuality it slightly decreased each year. 2017 with 8 games played his WAA was .438 followed by a .429 in 2018 with a full 13 games played. Lastly he finished his senior season in 2019 with a .395 WAA. Oregon’s system this last season was mainly predicated to utilize the strength of the offensive line. With a slightly successful player at tight end and one at the wide receiver position Herbert didn’t exactly have an arsenal of weapons at his disposal. This lead to a heavy Dink and dunk style of passing where almost every throw asked of Herbert was all different variations of short screen plays and check downs. This of course isn’t the fault of Herbert as he is simply doing what is asked of him however it does hinder his readability of a defense at the next level. Even more worrisome is the fact that despite the overwhelming % of short throws he still was second highest in this year’s draft class in % of incomplete passes where the quarterback is at fault. This was 15.3% only behind Jordan Love who had a 17.3%. He is also middle of the road on throws to his first read. One would think that because of the heavy short throw type of system this number would be much lower. This could point to Herbert relying on his arm strength to much rather than putting touch on the ball. However it could point to the fact that he doesn’t do well while under pressure, as usually a screen play requires a delay to let the defensive line bite on the pass rush while the offensive lineman roll out. His passing grade while under pressure according to Pro Football Focus was a mere 57.9. Some would even add the fact that he never took snaps under centre while at Oregon to the Cons pile, however I feel this is easily taught and not that big of a factor. In fact most college quarterbacks don’t anymore. The most alarming number in my opinion is the fact that he had the most faulted incompletions when throwing to a receiver with open separation. Working in the same system over a long period will benefit Herbert immensely as it would any quarterback. Not to mention the wide receivers he will be working with are vastly more talented than the ones he had at his disposal in college.
First and foremost this kid is great more often than not in situational football, at least according to the numbers. Herbert completed 73.6% of his passes for 799 yards paired with 8 touchdowns and two interceptions in the 4th quarter. On third downs he completed 60.5% of his passes paired with 6 touchdowns and one interception. More importantly was the number he put up while in the red zone. This was an area in which the Chargers struggled mightily last year as a hot spot for turnovers. Herbert produced 356 yards passing with 19 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions and 65.6% completion rate. The kid has not only good size at 6’6” 235 pounds but he also has a rocket arm to go along with it. In fact interestingly enough Herbert had a better passer rating and passing grade on medium and deep passes than he did on intermediate throws. On throws between 10 – 19 yards deed his passer rating was 106.5 with an overall grade of 91.4. On throws 20 yards plus, he had a passer rating of 114.3 with a grade of 90 even. While he may not have mastered one particular area, he is experienced in many facets of the game. This suits what coach Anthony Lynn is looking for, someone who can run a mobile style offense when asked. Schemes such as a run pass option scheme with good pocket presence at the same time. Herbert can do all of those things and will likely be asked by Lynn to mix and match the styles periodically. This will likely be the main style of offense we will see from the bolts full time moving forward as all three of the quarterbacks on the roster are mobile. A couple years back Lynn was quoted as saying “in the modern era you need a mobile quarterback otherwise you have a dead offense.” Well it just so happens Herbert isn’t so bad in the rushing department either. While he doesn’t have eye popping rushing yard numbers he does have 11 rushing touchdowns. He is a big body who can be asked to run quarterback sneaks in short yard situations if need be as well. This was also an area in which the Chargers struggled with last season and one that Rivers never was effective in during his career with the team.
Now I need to revert back to the ever mentioned so called lack of leadership brought to the table by the sixth overall pick. With all things considered it is very possible that this could be a misperception. Is it not possible that this kid is just such a hard worker that he doesn’t have any free time for socializing or appeasing the public? For instance to be considered a top ten pick so much time and energy needs to be poured into the things it takes to become an even better quarterback. This would include constantly being in the weight room, constantly throwing during and either before or after practice. Then you have to factor in that Herbert garnered a 4.0 GPA on top of that and all the studying and classwork he would be doing in order to achieve perfect grades. My point is that it is very possible that what is being perceived as a so called lack of leadership is really just a non-stop 24/7 work ethic. I suppose only time will tell.
How I would proceed in Herbert’s development:
This kid needs to have consecutive years with the same exact playbook. I would make sure this happens before I even let him see the field in any official game. Not to mention that there is plenty of evidence around the league that points to this being the best route in terms of long term development for a quarterback. Mahomes sat a year behind Alex Smith, Brees behind Flutie for a year, Rodgers behind Favre for 3, Brady behind Bledsoe for 1, Rivers behind Brees for 2, Dak behind Romo for half a year and on and on. So much needs to be taken into account when thinking about a quarterbacks adjusting to the next level. Especially ones that never took snaps under center. The game speed is much faster, the adjustments are more vast, and the playbook is often times much thicker. Even if Tyrod Taylor goes down with an injury I would make it imperative that Herbert does not see the field in year one. If God forbid Tyrod did go down I would let Easton Stick go out there just to make sure Herbert was sitting. This also lets you know if or what you may have in Stick. Not only does keeping Herbert off the field year one give him a full year to development properly, it also gives him 2 full professional off-seasons as well. If this can be managed in similar style in reality it would be not just the most beneficial for him for his own development but it gives the organization a whole extra year to continue to upgrade the offensive line.