Justin Herbert will begin his NFL rookie season holding a clipboard and that’s not just a good thing for his career, it's for the best.
When the Los Angeles Chargers selected Herbert sixth overall during the 2020 NFL Draft, the front office was looking to the future rather than going all-in for this upcoming season.
The Chargers have a capable starting quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who Herbert will sit behind Week 1 and if he plays well, then Herbert can sit on the sidelines and adjust to the NFL level without taking hits during live games.
The Chargers have even said as much since drafting him, stressing they are excited to watch him grow in Los Angeles.
"There's no pressure on Justin to walk in on Day One," said Chargers general manager Tom Telesco. "We're not asking him to come in here and carry the football whatsoever. Just asking him to come in, start competing, start learning and we'll take it from there."
However, if Taylor struggles and Herbert impresses during practice, Los Angeles could change direction and say the future is now.
[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest former Oregon football running back LeGarrette Blount].
Many recently drafted quarterbacks began their careers on the sidelines before taking over the starting job mid-season or to begin their sophomore year: Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock to name a few. Just because a rookie QB isn’t the week one starter doesn’t mean the franchise has lost faith in them. In fact, it means the team wants to ensure it gives the quarterback the best position to exceed in.
Yes, Herbert has an amazing brain but catching up to the speed of the NFL takes time and given a truncated training camp due to COVID-19, rolling him out to begin this season would be dramatically irresponsible. Especially when Herbert has never taken snaps under center before due to playing out of the shotgun or pistol at Oregon.
If Herbert plays too well in practice and Taylor struggles even slightly, then the Chargers will put Herbert on the field but only when he’s ready. The Chargers roster is made to compete now and it’s unlikely the franchise would sit Herbert if he’s not the best option behind center, but given the lack of training camp, he should not be taking the field the first week for the sake of his development.
When Lamar Jackson was a rookie, Joe Flacco began the season as the starter and even had the Ravens in playoff position before the team benched him in favor of its first-round selection. A similar situation can happen here.
Remember that while at Oregon, Herbert was not the starter immediately because he chose to not enroll early in Eugene to play his senior baseball season. Mark Helfrich didn’t name Herbert the starter until a few weeks into the season and the rest was history.
Perhaps history will repeat itself in Los Angeles.
Even if Taylor plays great this season, Herbert will be viewed as the longterm starter in Los Angeles given the franchise just spent the sixth overall pick in the draft on him. Sunk cost fallacy is a real thing and it would take Herbert being a disaster for him to not get a shot to lead the Chargers as the starting quarterback a la Josh Rosen in Arizona. Even then, the Cardinals were able to trade him for a second-round pick to Miami.
In short, it'll be Justin Herbert's time to lead Los Angeles sooner than later. It just won't be Week 1 and that's for the best.