Chargers rookie QB Justin Herbert is beating defenses at a historic rate

Doug Farrar
·3 min read

When I studied Justin Herbert’s Oregon tape, I wasn’t convinced that Herbert would be an NFL quarterback right away, never mind being a top-tier quarterback in the NFL. I thought it would take at least a couple years for him to figure it out at the next level. When I compiled my list of “boom-or-bust” prospects in the 2020 draft class, Herbert was the easiest choice.

To be fair, Herbert gave me an assist with some of his college metrics. He did complete 27 of 69 passes of 20 or more air yards for 874 yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 114.3, so he had proven the ability to excel in a vertical passing game.

The problem was all the other stuff.

On passes of 10-19 air yards last season, his passer rating dropped to 106.5, and on passes of 0-9 air yards, his passer rating dropped yet again to 89.7 — which ranked 89th in the NCAA. And while he did improve under pressure to a serious degree last season (his passer rating under pressure went up from 58.8 in 2018 to 102.2 in 2019, per Sports Info Solutions), he also showed an iffy ability to go through his progressions, a maddening tendency to freeze when committing to throw on the run, and obvious issues with all the moving parts that can plague bigger quarterbacks will set him back if they’re not completely committed to the process.

Needless to say, Herbert, who was selected sixth overall by the Chargers, has completely committed to the process. In Los Angeles’ 39-29 win over the Jaguars on Sunday, Herbert completed 27 of 43 passes for 347 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. With that, per NFL Research, Herbert became the only player since at least 1970 with more than 1,500 passing yards and a passer rating of over 100 over his first five career games. Per Next Gen Stats, all three of Herbert’s touchdown passes were on attempts of at least 20 air yards, and on such throws, he completed four of seven attempts for 144 yards. He is the only quarterback this season to throw three deep touchdown passes in a game this season.

This 70-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jalen Guyton, which tied the game at 29 after the extra point, was particularly pretty.

Herbert put the Chargers ahead after that with a five-yard run, becoming the first quarterback for his franchise since Dan Fouts in 1983 with three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in the same game.

Any time you can have your name in the same sentence as Dan Fouts? A pretty good day for a rookie quarterback. So far, Justin Herbert is as good as it gets — and much better than a lot of analysts imagined.