After breaking every conceivable rookie record during the 2020 season, the bar is high for Justin Herbert in 2021.
The Chargers QB is coming off an Offensive Rookie of the Year season where he shattered records in passing touchdowns (31), total touchdowns (36), completions (396), games with 300-plus passing yards (eight) and games with three-plus touchdowns (six).
At the season’s conclusion vs. Kansas, Herbie added to his list of accolades by becoming the youngest player (22, 299 days old) to toss 30 touchdowns in a single season. Herbert ended 2020 sixth-overall in total passing yards, 10th in passing touchdowns and 12th in passer rating among all qualified passers.
While there are few questions about his on-field performance for Los Angeles last season, not everyone is convinced Herbert is the NFL’s Cream of the Crop. Just ask PFF’s Bruce Gradkowski.
Recently, Gradkowski ranked all 32 NFL quarterbacks this upcoming season, and to much surprise, Herbert didn’t even land within the league’s top 10. Actually, the former Oregon product came in at No. 15, right between Kirk Cousins and Ben Roethlisberger.
His explanation why:
“Herbert exploded onto the scene in 2020, setting the rookie touchdown record. He was the king of high-variance and high-leverage situations, producing a better passer rating when hurried than he did when kept clean. This is a concern because Herbert will have more opportunities to execute from a clean pocket rather than always under pressure, especially with what the Chargers did this offseason to help build up their offensive line.
The Chargers bolstered their offensive line in free agency, adding one of the best steals in the first round of the draft in Rashawn Slater, and using their fifth-rounder to select offensive lineman Brenden Jamies. Los Angeles also re-signed center Corey Linsley to a five-year, $62.5 million contract, guard Matt Feiler signed a three-year, $21 million deal and guard Oday Aboushi was inked to a one-year, $1.6 million deal. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga also agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal last season.
With Herbert clean more often, their star QB should have even more protection to post even better numbers in 2021.
“We want to be a complete offense and we really want to be a complete team. And I think that’s what’s gonna allow Justin to be as good as he can be,” Staley said on the NFL Network. “I think everybody knows how special he is, but I think what we wanted to be able to do is become a line-of-scrimmage team.”
Many people have doubted Herbert’s potential at the NFL level. They questioned his ability to lead and labeled him an introvert. Ultimately, it took a historic season to prove them wrong.
While Herbert isn’t the type of player to call people out, he often lets his playing do the talking. This season, once again, he’ll be reminding the haters why he belongs among the NFL's elite.