NFL Draft: Don’t panic about Oregon QB Justin Herbert after Auburn

Despite an underwhelming start to the season, it isn't time to abandon ship on Justin Herbert's pro potential as an NFL Draft prospect.

In life and in the media, there is a tendency to overreact to a situation, whether it goes poorly or very well. In the case of sports and the NFL Draft, this tends to fluctuate weekly as players go from great games to good or average, and people cite each game as fair “reason” for their belief.

This happened often this week as college football made its opening debut in Week 1, and all the major NFL Draft prospects played for the first time in months. This overreaction especially flames up in quarterback debates, as the internet’s famous QB gurus begin preaching to their six followers about how they were right/wrong. This was most exemplified this weekend by Oregon QB Justin Herbert, who PFN’s Tony Pauline grades as a first-round prospect and as a “franchise quarterback”.

Justin Herbert threw only one touchdown with a middling QBR of 43.4, and Oregon bumbled their way to a devastating loss to Auburn. Many people made memes out of his last-ditched Hail Mary that sailed out of the end zone, and many finally had their validation that Herbert was not a good quarterback. Unfortunately for them… this isn’t the case.

Herbert’s game was actually pretty good

If you examine Herbert’s performance in a vacuum, it isn’t a bad game by any means. 28 of 37, 242 yards, and a touchdown is a good performance. Herbert was in rhythm, he made great throws in the pocket and out of it, and he didn’t make costly mistakes. While he didn’t blow up the box score, he didn’t have a terrible game. His touchdown pass was more of a better result than process play, but it showed off Herbert’s arm talent and toughness.

There were some other good throws on tape, but that was the lone touchdown pass that Herbert had all night. He was 7 of 9 on third down and completed roughly 76% of his passes. His deep ball was generally on point, and he looked like a good NFL Draft prospect.

With Herbert making good throw after good throw, why did Oregon collapse? Why did they lose the game?

Box score leaves out much-needed context

The Oregon team should have beaten Auburn. On paper, Oregon was the more experienced and more talented of the two teams. Herbert should have walked out with his marquee win in hand and his NFL Draft stock soaring. Why did they lose the game then? Many will blame Herbert, especially after his failed Hail Mary, but it really came down to a simple factor: Auburn believed in their quarterback Bo Nix, while Oregon did not put the ball in Herbert’s hands enough.

The Oregon playcalling turned inept. After running out to 21 points despite a couple failed red zone trips, the Oregon offense stalled while going conservative. As is the norm in this scenario, it came back to bite Oregon. The offense turned to quick screens, underneath throws, and runs. In the second half, I counted four completions that were more than 5+ yards downfield. Four. With about 3:30 left in the 3rd only up by eight points, Oregon opted for 3 straight screens that went for 3 yards each and then punted. I’d wager more than 70% of Herbert’s passes on the night were within 0-10 yards of the line of scrimmage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a number as high as 80%. That’s not how you win games, at all.

Besides this playcalling, Oregon also had numerous wide receivers out for this game.

It’s not fair to really judge a guy going up against an SEC defense with the lack of available talent around him. Five potential targets were out for this game. The other receivers could not get open at all, and it showed on tape. Dan Orlovsky of ESPN tweeted out how he counted two, yes, two Oregon receivers that got open all game. Two!

We can make jokes about the Hail Mary attempt all we want, but the fact of the matter is that Justin Herbert was not put in place to win the game this week. Am I going to panic on him after this one game? No, there are plenty of games this season to make that evaluation. Once the Oregon team is fully healthy, Herbert will be fine. Herbert is a special player on and off the field with the right mentality about this situation. I’m buying in on his NFL Draft stock fully.

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