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Can Justin Herbert Take the Next Step?

Can Justin Herbert take the next step?
Justin Herbert was a draft day question mark, but he went on to prove all of his doubters wrong. (via Chargers)

“With the 6th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Chargers select…Justin Herbert, quarterback, Oregon!” These words will shape the Chargers’ future for years to come. At the time, analysts and fans alike were unsure of the selection. Herbert, as a prospect, was a mixed bag. With a massive frame of 6-foot-6 and236 pounds, Herbert certainly had an ideal size for a franchise quarterback. He also had a cannon of an arm, being able to launch 60 yard passes with ease.

The main concern with Herbert was his tape. Herbert played for the University of Oregon. This would not have been concerning only five years ago, but the Ducks have gone through a turbulent phase recently. Herbert, in particular, did not have a great college tape. His tape led people to think he may be inaccurate or make questionable in-game decisions. He was being judged on whether he would be a project pick, rather than as a plug-n-play like Joe Burrow.

But Herbert was determined to prove that he was more than just a project pick. He was ready for the NFL scene. After starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was sidelined with a pre-game injury, Herbert took the reins of the offense and didn’t look back. Herbert went on to have one of the most impressive rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. He broke numerous rookie passing records and nearly broke several more. Needless to say, Herbert is the real deal, and he’s looking to do even better in year two. But can Justin Herbert take the next step?

Herbert’s Wondrous Rookie Season

In Week 2 of 2020, the Los Angeles Chargers were getting ready to face off against the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. At the time, Tyrod Taylor was set to be the starter against the Chiefs. Unfortunately, due to complications from a painkiller shot on his ribs, Taylor could not start. Herbert, who was being benched to learn under Taylor, was suddenly expected to start against the reigning champs.

He only found out he was starting right before the opening kickoff, managed to dazzle in his first start. Herbert was going toe-to-toe with the reigning MVP, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and even led the Chargers to a lead at the half. However, fate was not so kind to him, and some dubious playcalling caused the Chargers offense to stall. The Chiefs mounted a second-half comeback, and the Chiefs managed to win the game. Even with the loss, Herbert still had a very impressive first start. He completed 22 of 33 passes for 311 yards, along with one touchdown and one interception.

Herbert went on to have a very impressive rookie season, completing 396 of 595 passes for 4,336 yards. He also threw for 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with an average passer rating of 98.3. He also ran for 234 yards on 55 carries, with five rushing touchdowns. Herbert broke numerous rookie passing records, such as passing touchdowns (31) and completions (396). It will be tough for him to improve on a great season like this, but with an improved situation around him, it’s possible.

Can Justin Herbert take the next step?

It will difficult for Herbert to improve on the rookie season that he had. In order to “take the next step”, Herbert would need to at least earn a Pro Bowl nod. To do so, he would need to play better than the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen among others.

Justin Herbert participating in his first OTAs, after they were impeded by the pandemic last season. (via USA Today)

However, all hope is not lost. He finally will have a full offseason, as COVID-19 restrictions were still full in effect around this time last season. With a full offseason, he will have more time to practice with his teammates and develop a stronger rapport with his recievers. He will also have a drastically improved offensive line. Last season, the Chargers had the worst-ranked offensive line in both pass and run protection. General manager Tom Telesco was determined to change that. He signed center Corey Linsley, guard Matt Feiler and drafted tackle Rashawn Slater, giving the line a whole new look from last season. With an improved offensive line, Herbert should have more time to make better throws and not feel the need to scramble so often.

Along with the changes in personnel up front are the improvements on the defense. With star safety Derwin James returning from injury, as well as an improved defensive scheme, the Chargers defense should be a force to consider. With a stronger defense comes less pressure on the offense to perform at an elite level.

Herbert has the tools needed to improve on his rookie season with improvements on all facets of the team. Though expectations may be higher, he should be up for the task. His experience as a quarterback at the professional level will also be crucial in his ability to improvise and read NFL defenses. So can Justin Herbert take the next step? Possibly, but no guarantee. It’s likely that he’ll be able to match his rookie performance, but fans can dare hope for more, right?


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