INDIANAPOLIS – Something struck me during the latest Talkin’ Seahawks Podcast while Bleacher Report’s senior NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller was breaking down Justin Herbert.
Among the knocks against Herbert includes a sentiment that the former Oregon QB might not be vocal enough to lead an NFL offense. That’s a large part of the conversation surrounding Herbert this week at the NFL Combine.
“He’s got to go in and prove that he’s the type of leader that teams want,” Miller told NBC Sports Northwest. “Those are the knocks that you hear about him, that he’s kind of quiet and might be a little reserved. You don’t have to be Baker Mayfield, but you have to be a leader at quarterback. I think he has to answer those questions.”
That sounds awfully similar to what Marcus Mariota’s critics said about him during the pre-draft process back in 2015. Remember Mariota was also thought by some to be too quiet to warrant a top five pick, especially when compared to the gregarious Jameis Winston.
Mariota ended up going No. 2 overall and quickly became the beloved leader of the Tennessee Titans. He ultimately faltered, was replaced by Ryan Tannehill in 2019 and now faces an uncertain future, but all of that resulted because he failed to get the job done from a physical standpoint.
And yet here we are having the same conversations about another Ducks signal caller. They will continue as Herbert leaned into the criticism during his Combine press conference.
“When I showed up (at Oregon), I was shy and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and the quarterback can’t be that,” Herbert said. “To be a successful team, you have to have a quarterback that’s himself. He’s got to be genuine and real, and he needs to demand from his offense, from the team, what he needs to get out of them. I’ve done a better job of being vocal, stepping up and stepping out of my comfort zone.”
Herbert is coming off of a fantastic senior season in 2019 where he posted 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He also impressed as a runner with four additional scores on the ground. Herbert led Oregon to a 12-2 season that culminated in a Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin.
He carried that momentum into a successful week down in Mobile, Ala., back in January.
“When I watched him at the Senior Bowl, I watched him interact with guys. I watched guys come up to him,” NFL Network’s Charles Davis told NBC Sports Northwest. “I think (the criticisms) might be a little overblown. It feels like it’s not as bad as many people think.
“Quiet people can be competitors, too.”
Herbert measured in at 6-foot-6, 236 pounds with 10-inch hands. He’s got all the size and physical tools to be a franchise quarterback, which is why he’s projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. That doesn’t change the fact that teams will grill him during interviews on his capacity as a leader.
“I’m a different person,” Herbert told reporters. “I think the kid that showed up at the University of Oregon isn’t me anymore. There are aspects of my game that have changed. I’ve become more vocal. I’ve become more outgoing and there are things you have to do to be a quarterback and the way a quarterback carries himself. I think I’ve done a great job of becoming that over these past four years.”
Herbert’s progress is notable, and all that ultimately matters is that he has the confidence to get the job done in the NFL. He said he hasn’t spoken with Mariota during the pre-draft process but the two have established a friendship in recent years.
Of note, between Mariota and any other quarterback prospect who once carried the label of being “too quiet,” Davis hasn’t seen one fail in the NFL for that reason.
“I’ve never seen that, and I’ve never felt that way about head coaches, but they get that, too. Remember Tony Dungy, his critics said he didn’t have the fire to win the big one,” Davis said.
The more legitimate questions about Herbert pertain to his transition to a pro-style offense. Herbert, as well as most other QB prospects for that matter, didn’t operate in a huddle or take snaps from under center in college.
But again, Herbert remains confident in his NFL readiness.
“I think the (Oregon) offense did a great job of preparing us for the NFL, and a lot of stuff fell on me to flip protections (and) to change runs,” Herbert said.
The former Duck figures to be the top QB prospect working out this week in Indianapolis. Joe Burrow announced that he won’t be throwing at the Combine, and Tua Tagovailoa is still recovering from a hip injury. That gives Herbert a prime opportunity to steal headlines and cement himself as the third quarterback on draft boards.
“I want to come out here and I want to do everything, have fun, get better, learn,” Herbert said. “I think it’s all about the long haul so anything I can do to extend my game is what I’m going to do.”