Justin Herbert isn’t your average rookie. He’s a young gun that was told mere minutes before a Week 2 matchup that he’d be named the Chargers’ starter. Since then, the sixth overall pick has dazzled with plenty of uplifting moments that mitigate his rookie mistakes.
Anthony Lynn watched his 22-year-old quarterback battle the likes of 43-year-old Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ defense in a swashbuckling shootout. When Brady entered the NFL, the Chargers’ future star was only the ripe age of two. On Sunday, he evenly matched the future Hall of Famer and made things interesting late.
Brady showed the youngling that it’s all about the finish, scoring 28 points in the second half to complete the 38-31 comeback. However, the attention remains on Herbert, who despite having the longest experience as a starter, was viewed as the QB3 of April’s draft. Over the past three games, he’s hung in strong with lesser weapons and put up similar numbers to that of likely Rookie of the Year front-runner Joe Burrow.
However, Lynn stated that Tyrod Taylor is the present and Herbert is the future. So what happens now that the future has already arrived? Win or lose, Lynn should have his answer at quarterback for 2020 and beyond.
High praise from the “Quarterback Whisperer” gives Herbert solace
Following Sunday, Bruce Arians gave Lynn praise for his early development with Herbert. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Arians’ work, take a look at the early development of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck for reference.
“I told Anthony after the game, ‘You’ve got a great one…’ That looked like Mahomes, where we had an all-out blitz, and he just kept retreating,” Arians said, via Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “Then he threw a dime down the field. For rookies to make plays like that, you know they’re special.”
Arians, a.k.a the “Quarterback Whisper,” wasn’t the only one with praise for the former Duck. Brady, who threw for a season-high five touchdowns, couldn’t help but quack away at Herbert’s potential.
“He was very impressive. He played great,” Brady told reporters after the game. “He’s got all the ability. He’s got a great arm. Moves really well. The team believes in him.”
“He’s off to a great start.”
Great truly is the word to describe Herbert’s heroics after entering October. Yes, winning is important, and the team is 0-3 with him calling the shots, but how can he be responsible for an implosion in the secondary? Sunday was the final touches needed for Herbert to prove Tom Telesco was smart to stay at No.6 instead of trading up.
Herbert impresses with his ability to move inside the pocket to avoid pressure. That was prevalent Sunday as Los Angeles allowed two sacks, yet there could have been more if not for the rookie’s pocket management. Instead of collapsing under the pressure, Herbert lived up to it by going 20-of-25 for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
Sunday’s showdown far from a fluke
Herbert’s showdown with Brady was unique, but also not uncommon. After his third start, this marked consecutive outings where he’s thrown for at least 290 yards and a touchdown to begin the season. And with his red hot numbers, he joins only Cam Newton with 900+ passing yards in their first three starts since 1970.
There’s also Herbert’s ability to spread the ball out between targets. In each start, he’s found at least six different receivers. He isn’t solely relying on top weapons like Keenan Allen or Hunter, but names most would likely find on practice squads.
Herbert’s masterpiece of a 72-yard dime reached the hands of Jalen Guyton in the third quarter. Last season, the 23-year-old receiver spent most of his rookie season on the Cowboys’ practice squad. Then there was the 19-yard touchdown to Donald Parham, who rebounded this offseason with the XFL’s Dallas franchise. Tyron Johnson, who scored the team’s opening touchdown, bounced from four different practice squads before being raised before kickoff.
The difference between Burrow and Herbert is the arsenal. He’s working with A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd while the former Duck is swimming along with many pass-catchers who are a drop away from being cut. Cincinnati’s offensive line struggles to protect the franchise, and Herbert is playing without Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner on the right side.
Under pressure, both quarterbacks have excelled at connecting with their weapons. Herbert has yet to finish with a completion percentage under 66.7% and seen a passer rating surpass 88 in each outing. As for his QBR? Although he’s seen a low of 54.2, it’s hovered in the 79-88 range in the other two games.
What is Herbert’s rookie ceiling?
Burrow received the praise for his third consecutive 300-yard passing game in the victory over Jacksonville. Herbert, who was 10 yards behind the top pick, duked it out against the G.O.A.T. and had his first multi-touchdown game. That’s still a win, even though Los Angeles was behind after 60 minutes.
Herbert’s accuracy has been near pint-point perfect since taking over. There’s also his ability to go long, connecting nine times with targets on passes longer than 15 yards this season. With two touchdowns coming over 50 yards this past week, he also leads the league in deep touchdowns.
Taylor is the option for consistency. Herbert is the risky, yet flashy, choice that keeps games interesting. The Chargers’ offense looked more efficient in losses to Kansas City, Carolina, and Tampa Bay than they ever did against Cincinnati. And sure, a three-game losing streak stings, but the potential of an exploding offense is in the works.
Herbert is far from a finished product, but the little film on him far exceeds early expectations. If Los Angeles can win with him, he should be the starter. If the team struggles, he still should still be under center.
This is Herbert’s team, and it’s clear he’s the answer. Now, Lynn must accept that if he hopes to see Los Angeles contend entering the midway point of the season.