Justin Herbert Should Be the Starter

There are three reasons to not play a rookie quarterback whom you envision to be the future of your franchise. First, the offensive line is so bad that you’re risking long-term injury. Second, the offense is completely noncompetitive with the rookie under center due to his lack of understanding of the playbook. Third, the team actually has a better chance to win now with the current (likely veteran) quarterback starting. And by “win now” I do not mean the team has a good chance of winning 8 or even 10 games. I mean legitimately competing for a Super Bowl.

By the looks of things so far, #1 doesn’t really seem to be a concern for the Chargers. Judging by the fact that Justin Herbert had one of the best rookie debut’s in NFL history despite finding out just a few minutes before kickoff that he’d be starting, the offense appears to be more than capable of competing with him under center. And unless you want to tell me that Tyrod Taylor leading the Chargers to 16 points against the team with the worst record in the NFL last season is more impressive than what Herbert did against the defending champs, it’s tough to argue that Taylor gives L.A. a better chance to win now. At very least, it’s safe to say that the Chargers are not a Super Bowl-caliber team right now with Taylor at the helm.

If there were any questions, Herbert’s performance on Sunday against the Chiefs showed that he is ready.

Herbert’s impressive talent was on display throughout his debut. He showed off a strong arm and good downfield accuracy. He proved he can make plays with his legs. Above all, he played with poise and presence in the pocket. Specifically, there were multiple throws where Herbert hung in the pocket despite pressure around him and found open receivers downfield. The below 3rd-and-10 completion was a great example, and probably his best throw of the day. First, check this out from the end zone angle.

I don’t care who your favorite team is, you have to appreciate that throw. There were several impressive components to this play that we need to consider. First, look where Herbert’s intended receiver was when he made his decision to throw and had just started his delivery.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

That’s some good anticipation.

Second, as you can also see from the illustration above, Herbert delivered the ball knowing he was about to take a big hit from a free rusher. It’s subtle, but if you take another look at the play, you can see that Herbert felt the pressure coming from his right and slid just enough to the left to give himself an extra split-second to deliver this ball.

That is the definition of poise and presence in the pocket.

From the sideline view, you can also see that the Chiefs were not making Herbert’s job easy from a mental standpoint. They showed a blitz look at first with no deep safeties. Then they rotated at the snap into an inverted Tampa-2 look, which should have taken away this route on paper. Herbert was unphased.

Again, that’s a big-time throw.

Herbert made several other impressive plays on Sunday. His touchdown pass was another thing of beauty and showed just how strong his arm is.

Here, the Chiefs were playing Cover-3 to the three-receiver side. Keep your eye on that corner at the top of the screen. He was splitting the difference between the two outside receivers attacking his deep zone. He took an extra step or two towards the inside, probably thinking there was no way Herbert could get the ball to the outside from that distance without him having enough time to react and make a play on the ball. He was wrong.

What a throw.

Herbert made some special throws on Sunday. He also made some mistakes, however.

Early in the game, he left a couple of drive-extending throws on the field. On a 3rd-and-5 in the first quarter, he missed an open Keenan Allen (you can view the play here). The Chargers went for it on 4th down, and Herbert again missed a great opportunity.

Here, the Chiefs were playing man coverage. This was evident by safety Tyrann Mathieu lining up on the perimeter over running back Joshua Kelley before following him across the formation.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

This left Keenan Allen, L.A.’s best receiver, in a 1-on-1 situation. He would be running a burger (in-n-out) route.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

For whatever reason, Herbert did not go to Allen, who ended up beating his man badly. Instead, he locked on to tight end Hunter Henry, who was covered, and forced what would be a drive-ending incompletion.

From the end zone angle, you can see that Herbert appeared to be looking in Allen’s direction initially. I’m not sure why he didn’t pull the trigger.

Missed opportunity.

Later in the game, Herbert made a terrible rookie mistake, forcing an awful interception when he easily could have run for a first down and kept the drive alive.

You might be able to get away with moving left and throwing back across the middle in the Pac-12. That doesn’t work quite as often in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Chargers, the momentum seemed to shift to the Chiefs after that turnover.

However, this type of mistake shouldn’t necessarily be a knock on Herbert or used as a reason not to play him, as Anthony Lynn has suggested. The mistakes Herbert made Sunday are easily fixable with more experience, something Herbert won’t get by standing on the sidelines.

No, Justin Herbert should be the Chargers’ starting quarterback from here on out. He’s the future of the franchise, and his development should be the Chargers’ number-1 priority in 2020. I’ve heard the argument hundreds of times before that quarterbacks can learn from the sidelines, but the reality is that the best way to learn is by doing. No quarterback gets the experience he needs by holding a clipboard. I know what you’re thinking right now…“But Aaron Rodgers sat for 3 years and then became the best quarterback in the NFL.” Okay, that’s a fair point. But do you really think he wouldn’t have been better in 2008 and beyond if he had 48 starts under his belt heading into that season instead of zero?

There is no justification for Herbert not to be the Chargers’ starting quarterback at this point. He earned that much with his performance against the Chiefs. It’s unfortunate what happened to Taylor. But if Lynn sticks with him, as he has indicated he will, L.A. will be missing out on key development time for the future of their franchise so they can play it safe with a stop-gap quarterback. I don’t see how that’s the best thing for the Chargers, now or in the future.

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