Putting Justin Herbert's Historic Rookie Season In Perspective

Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Herbert’s rookie campaign was one to remember, and he wishes it could continue. 

Just months ago, NFL scouts crowded the Senior Bowl confines of Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama to gaze upon his vertical frame, elite arm, and football IQ matched by none. But, there were underlying questions that ultimately led to Herbert falling outside of the top-two quarterback conversation as the 2020 NFL Draft approached. 

Scouts knocked his leadership and commandment of a locker room, something his draft class counterparts Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa had no issue with. Fast forward almost a year in advance and those mutters have gone silent. Herbert is a flat out stud, and his play speaks volumes. 

Following a freak accident to Tyrod Taylor prior to Week 2, Herbert’s rise to fame was one of rapid succession. From the moment he entered an NFL huddle, the 6-foot-6 gun-slinger has commanded the Chargers’ offense. 

Let’s put his year into perspective. 

Throw the Chargers’ record out the window, Herbert’s 2020 campaign was the single-best year from any first-year signal-caller in NFL history. He finished with 31 touchdown passes, the most ever by a rookie. He ran for five more, giving him 36 total scores on the year, another rookie record. Herbert also set rookie records for most completions (396), most games with at least 300 passing yards (eight), most games with at least two touchdown passes (10) and most games with at least three touchdown passes (six). You get the message, Herbert can play ball.

Despite the success, it rarely just *clicks* for rookies entering an NFL offense, no matter how similar the scheme was to what they ran back in college. The nucleus for Herbert’s success centered solely on the patience, trust, and development from Chargers quarterback coach Pep Hamilton and former head coach Anthony Lynn. Hamilton, who you probably remember from his days as head bench-boss for the XFL’s DC Defenders, deserves immense credit for the adaptability both he, Lynn, and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen engineered within the Chargers offense to provide a comfortability for Herbert from his first snap under center. 

That success, coupled with a dynamic coaching duo in Lynn/Hamilton, ultimately landed Herbert on our All-Rookie Team, with our own  Benjamin Solak noting Herbert as “one of the most promising young players in the league outright.”

The Chargers weren’t just a one-trick pony, either, Herbert’s arsenal was loaded. The Chargers tout one of the best groups of weapons in all of football. Austin Ekeler, despite missing the six games in 2020, is elite with the ball in his hands both in the run/pass game. Perennial pro-bowler Keenan Allen is a shoo-in each year for 100/1,000 and the 6-foot-4 Mike Williams isn’t a bad option at Z. Pair that with pending free-agent tight end Hunter Henry, who despite missing the final two games of the season finished with a career-high in catches with 60, and you’ve got plenty of weapons for Herbert to exploit.

In his 15 starts this year, Herbert amassed 4,336 yards through the air (good for sixth in the NFL) finishing with a respectable 7-9 record. With optimism soaring for 2021 following Week 17, Herbert’s sophomore campaign was quickly thrown a roadblock following the firing of Lynn on Monday. 

Reports surfaced of many potential candidates suitable to take over in L.A., most notably Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Daboll has deep roots with Chargers general manager Tom Telesco as the two attended high school together back in New York. Of course, Daboll has earned praise for his development of Josh Allen in Buffalo into an MVP-caliber quarterback. On paper, it’s a match.

It’s tricky to see where L.A. goes next. Many expected Lynn to be back. But one thing is clear, the stability of the franchise rests on the right arm of Herbert, and Telesco must do everything in his power to find an immediate replacement of Lynn that fits seamlessly with Herbert, not the other way around.

Written By:

Ryan Fowler

Staff Writer

Feature Writer for The Draft Network. Former Staff Writer for the Washington Football Team. Multiple years of coverage within the NFL and NBA.

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