In the never-ending cycle of the National Football League, each year there are huge breakouts, surprises, and disappointments. One such breakout was not expected to even step on an NFL field this season.
Coming out of the University of Oregon, Justin Herbert was one of the most polarizing players in the 2020 NFL Draft class. In the media flurry that is the pre-draft process, Herbert was picked apart by almost every outlet with many declaring “bust” before he had even taken an NFL snap.
“Coming into the draft I didn’t have too high of expectations for Justin,” explained Nick Kennealy (11), a member of the podcast The Weekly Assist. “Coming out of Oregon, he didn’t pop out to me. I didn’t expect him to succeed that much. I expected him to be a lower tier starter, maybe a good bench player, but the expectations were not high.”
Herbert ended up being selected with the 6th Overall Pick in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Chargers, which many saw as the ideal landing spot for the young quarterback. The Chargers already had a veteran starting quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, who had been in the same position of being the place holder signal-caller with the Cleveland Browns while mentoring Baker Mayfield. Herbert would have the perfect opportunity to develop as a quarterback in year one, while Taylor started most, if not all, of the 2020 season.
After a nice training camp, Herbert was perfectly lined up to be the QB2 for the Chargers this season, while making strides to be their quarterback of the future. Then in Week 2, the whole landscape of his career was altered.
Right before kickoff against the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, Tyrod Taylor received a pain killing shot to help him fight through the fractured ribs he had suffered in Week 1 against the Bengals. In a freak accident, the shot from the team doctor punctured Taylor’s lung, with the Chargers having to scramble for a replacement minutes before kickoff.
Head Coach Anthony Lynn headed over to Herbert and told him to get ready for his first career NFL start 60 seconds before the Chiefs would kick to the Chargers to start the game. Herbert thought Lynn was joking at first, but didn’t hesitate to capitalize on the opportunity. Almost shocking the Chiefs, Herbert led the Chargers to a three point loss, while throwing for 311 yards, 1 TD 1 Int, on top of 18 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown. Becoming the first player in NFL history with a rush and pass touchdown in the first half of their debut, Herbert shocked the world in what many expected to be a Chiefs’ blowout victory.
His meticulous preparation and pure intelligence, which led him to win the William V. Campbell Trophy for academic achievement for a student athlete with this 4.01 GPA at Oregon, helped him seize his opportunity in the most unlikely of situations.
“I would say Justin was a leader by example,” said former Oregon teammate of Herbert, and current Oregon Ducks lineman, Cole Young. “He would always do every single detail right. He always knows what to do, and so I wasn’t surprised to see him balling out in the NFL. He is a great leader for sure.”
Herbert captured the starting job for the Chargers since, as has also captured the attention of NFL fans across the nation. Having thrown for over 300 yards in three of his five starts, and having a passer rating over 100 in his last three games, Herbert has turned the pre-draft bust speculation into potential superstar chatter.
Member of the podcast, The Weekly Assist, Dylan Freeman (11) admitted he wasn’t very high on Herbert coming into the 2020 NFL Draft, but isn’t afraid to change his mind on the young quarterback. “He is putting up great numbers and looks like an absolute stud. His confidence seems unwavering, which was not too present at Oregon, and he appears to have a great relationship with his teammates. I think something analysts and fans don’t realize is that these are often 19-22 year olds that are coming out of college— that is to say that there’s still lots of time for growth mentally and it seems LA has been a great spot for Justin Herbert to do that. Really I can’t help but like the guy and can’t wait to watch him grow even more, and have what I now believe will be a great career,” stated Freeman.
With only 5 NFL starts under his belt, Herbert has turned doubters into believers, with a career trajectory high as any. With a deep ball as pretty as Aaron Rodgers and the mental field presence as good as any, the young man born and raised in Eugene, Oregons’ ceiling is as high ever in the City of Angels.