Justin Herbert Fantasy Outlook: Can He Be a Top-5 Fantasy Football QB in 2023?

Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert was QB15 last season. Can he rebound and challenge the top tier of fantasy football quarterbacks in 2023?

Justin Herbert appeared to be on the fast track to superstardom following a sophomore season that saw him throw for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns. And while Herbert made some gains in the efficiency departments, his fantasy football numbers took a nosedive in 2022. The Los Angeles Chargers continue to surround their franchise QB with talent, something that fantasy managers are banking heavily on.

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Justin Herbert’s Fantasy Outlook

Austin Ekeler may not be overly thrilled with the franchise, but he’s back for his seventh season with the Chargers and figures to again serve as the straw that stirs the offensive drink in Los Angeles. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams return as the primary receivers in this offense, both looking to stay a bit healthier than they were last season.

Quentin Johnston was selected No. 21 overall, with the Chargers looking to build a basketball-esque receiving corps that is capable of physically dominating any secondary.

Gerald Everett isn’t a game-breaking tight end in terms of offensive numbers, but he has seen his reception total creep up every season and set career highs across the board in his first season with L.A. All said, Los Angeles ranked second in pass rate last season and will only go as far as this aerial attack will take them.

Was 2022 a Bump in the Road for Justin Herbert or Cause for Concern?

Last season’s QB15 was obviously a disappointment, but Herbert was less than 1.5 points per game away from cracking the top 10, and he did run into some poor luck.

In 2022, just 35.1% of Herbert’s red-zone completions resulted in a score. That may feel low, and that’s because it is. Entering last season, Herbert’s career rate was 49.5%. If he converted at his career rate, we are adding roughly 2.0 ppg, which would’ve elevated Herbert to QB7.

It’s a game of inches, inches that Herbert didn’t get the benefit of the doubt of last season. While there was some misfortune in 2022, there was a shift in play-calling. If that continues, a capped ceiling is a real concern.

Last season, Herbert’s aDOT dropped by 14.7% from 2021, a significant offensive tweak when it comes to taking those downfield shots. Allen was on pace for a career-high in catches, and Ekeler, of course, hauled in 107 passes.

Those players are great at what they do, but if a more conservative offense is where things are headed in Los Angeles, the odds of Herbert spiking for a Tier 1 QB season are low. Now, it’s important to note that the Bolts drafted Johnston and that Williams missed four games last season, but still.

Outside of the quarterbacks who rely on their legs, there is plenty of randomness that comes with rushing numbers at the position. That said, the nature in which Herbert’s ground numbers are trending is concerning.

justin herbert

He ran for five scores as a rookie, three in 2021, and went 0 for 54 last season. As I said, randomness needs to be accounted for, but look a little closer, and you’ll notice something:

  • 2020: 0% (0 for 21)
  • 2021: 19.2% (10 for 52)
  • 2022: 22.9% (8 for 35)

Those are Ekeler’s conversion rates inside the 10-yard line in the three seasons he’s played with Herbert. As you can see, Ekeler’s become more efficient in close, and that has, obviously, directly correlated to the number of fantasy points his quarterback has been able to score on the ground. Every one of Herbert’s career rushing scores has come inside the 10 (average distance: 3.8 yards).

Should Fantasy Managers Draft Herbert at His ADP?

Herbert is coming off of draft boards in the late fourth round as QB6, in the middle of that second tier of quarterbacks. I think that price is just fine, he just doesn’t fit into how I’m building my rosters in 2023.

I’ve made my love for Trevor Lawrence well known at this point, so I’m sitting back and grabbing him a round later. With that as my plan, I’ve opted for the end of a positional tier (T.J. Hockenson) or clear-cut WR1s on their own team (Terry McLaurin and DJ Moore types) in Herbert’s ADP range.

MORE: Top QBs To Draft in Fantasy Football 2023

Again, I have zero problems with Herbert coming off the board where he is. During his tenure, the Chargers rank top three in pass rate, pace, and percentage of yards that come through the air, qualities that hint at an elevated fantasy floor for the man under center.

I do think the rushing decline is a concern, but the downfield targets should climb this season, and that makes Herbert a real threat to finish the season as the best Tier 2 quarterback in fantasy (Tier 1: Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Jalen Hurts).

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