Herbert's decision, whether you like it or not, speaks to what's important to him. A biology major carrying a 3.9 GPA, Herbert is looking to graduate and protect his future after football; he's also, as has been extensively reported, looking forward to playing with his brother Patrick, an incoming 4-star tight end.
By all reasonable projections, Herbert would have been a Top-15 selection in the upcoming class, given his current body of work, high ceiling, and talent relative to the rest of a weak 2019 QB crop. Virtually guaranteed an 8-figure contract, Herbert is banking on his ability to secure an equally high draft stock in a 2020 class that is far less predictable than the impeding 2019 group.
Included in that group could be a wealth of interesting quarterbacks. Two high-profile slingers eligible for the 2019 class could find their way to 2020: Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins has not yet confirmed his intentions to declare, and as a one-year starter and redshirt sophomore, Haskins may look to improve on a rougher, unexperienced game before declaring. Duke's Daniel Jones is expected by most to declare this year as a redshirt junior, but that's not set in stone just yet -- maybe he joins the 2020 gang as well.
And of course, we can extrapolate for some of the younger quarterbacks who will gain eligibility: Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia's Jake Fromm jump out as multi-year, buzzy starters who have seen playoff experience, tough SEC defenses, and a slew of media attention. They'll join some of the known returners from this class who are looking to improve their film: Stanford's K.J. Costello, Colorado's Steven Montez, Buffalo grad transfer Tyree Jackson, and Michigan's Shea Patterson.
But despite the fact that the biggest names in college football -- Tua, Fromm, Haskins -- could all be up against Herbert in 2020, he's still the clubhouse leader for 2020 QB1.
The main reason: Tua and Fromm aren't actually that good.
I should rephrase that: Tua and Fromm haven't actually been evaluated as Draft-eligible quarterbacks yet. They really haven't.
Nobody has sat down and actually ripped through the film on these guys from a Draft perspective. If they had, you'd hear questions about Tua's ability to work through progressions, comfort under pressure, and tight window throws -- for goodness' sake, we heard 'em about Baker, and Tua's weapons and spacing at Alabama was unbelievable this year! It's tough for him to check those boxes with how easily and often his first read is running away from coverage.
Tua is undoubtedly a gifted talent -- he's got a stellar deep ball, throws with touch very natural, and is a good creative force on the move -- but there are holes in his game from an evaluation perspective. He's a high-ceiling sophomore with consistency issues, but he has all the physical tools.
So does Herbert, by the way -- but he's been starting for longer, and has more film dealing with immediate pressure and throwing into tight underneath windows.
Fromm? Fromm struggles with velocity to the boundary! I think his arm to the sideline and downfield is average -- or at least weak enough to be a noticeable drop-off from a Tua or a Herbert -- and I think he lacks ideal escapability, pocket presence, and throw on the move ability. As I said: nobody's really broken down film on these guys. That includes me, as I'm just going off broadcast film as I've watched Alabama and Georgia play. But it's clear to me that Fromm doesn't have ideal physical tools, and that's a big point for a lot of NFL teams.
Which brings us to our next question: why are Tua and Fromm treated as surefire QB1 candidates?
Well, because they play on very good teams, put up really good numbers, and because -- this is the big one -- scouts LOVE to talk! So much of Tua and Fromm hype is generated from scouts and other league sources fielding questions from media members who rightfully love watching Tua and Fromm play, and even though the scouts haven't sat down and examined Tua and Fromm's respective games, they still throw their opinion out there. Why the heck not? It won't even matter until next year!
A clear piece of evidence this happens: well, that would be Justin Herbert.
Herbert, as a true sophomore quarterback last season, had everyone buzzing coming into the season. He was ranked Top-5 overall in big boards; he was a projected No. 1 overall pick to the Giants; he was a lock for QB1. And oh so much of that buzz came as a result of NFL scouts, coaches, and front office personnel giving glowing recommendations for a guy they watched casually last year; for whom they only recalled ten of his most impressive throws from the back of their mind.
Again: low stakes! Have any opinion you want on a guy, before he actually plays his final season -- if he plays well, you were right and a genius; if he plays poorly, you can say that performance changed his stock for you.
Coming into the year, Herbert was far more likely to get a second-round grade from me as compared to a first-rounder; and after this season, nothing would have changed. And accordingly, Haskins started to get run as QB1; Herbert started to fall out of the Top-10 of mock drafts; hype from NFL scouts and sources grew quieter.
Besides potentially Haskins and Jones, Herbert is the only quarterback we really know in the 2020 class; and certainly, he's the one we know best. Anybody calling a first-year starter sophomore quarterback a "first-round" lock is leading you astray, even if they end up being right. Because to say so implies that the upcoming 2019 season doesn't matter in the slightest -- when that is the very season evaluators will use to grade, rank, and select Tua, Fromm, Herbert, and the whole lot behind them.
Herbert, we can safely say -- because we actually evaluated his 2018 film -- will be a first-round pick at quarterback in 2020. He has the physical tools, improvisation ability, and accuracy to be selected that high -- and those things don't just vanish unless serious injury occurs. He must improve his processing ability and comfort working off of his first read; I'd like for him to feel pressure a little quicker as well. Those traits could boost his stock up to QB1, when the time finally comes
For now, we don't know who is really the clubhouse leader. But Herbert is the one quantity we actually know, and know well -- and his ceiling is high enough to fight for QB1 in the sick group coming 'round the mountain next year. So for now, that's where we should expect him to be.