2020 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Justin Herbert (Fantasy Football)

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Justin Herbert is a polarizing prospect who has been on the NFL Draft radar for years. If he would’ve come out after his junior season at Oregon, he likely would’ve been a top-5 selection. His draft stock has slightly dropped from last year as he’s graded out by most as the 3rd QB in this class behind Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa.

QB-needy teams such as the Dolphins, Chargers, Panthers, and Jaguars all are in a position to snag the signal-caller within the first ten picks of the draft, although there could be some movement via trades if someone wants to pay up to get their franchise QB. The question: is he more Blaine Gabbert or Carson Wentz? Is he a big-bodied, fluid athlete with room to grow as an NFL passer or a product of an inflated offensive system at Oregon with hollow numbers that won’t translate to the NFL? Heck, or is he somewhere in-between?

After reviewing his production in college and his athletic measurables from the combine, let’s find out what we find on film and what our eyes aren’t seeing take place on the football field before giving a final outlook on his fantasy future.

Note: For more on the 2020 rookie class, check out all of our 2020 NFL Draft content and stay tuned to the Fantasy Footballers podcast for April’s Rookie Preview show where the Ballers breakdown each position heading into the draft.

College Production Profile
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Herbert’s overall numbers stand out as he finished his career at Oregon with 95 passing TDs, 5th most in Pac-12 history and Oregon’s all-time leader in pass completions (827). His 29-14 record as a starter was ultimately underwhelming although he finished on a high note going 12-2 as a senior. In his final game (which will be film reviewed below), he was the Rose Bowl Offensive MVP leading the Ducks to a victory over the Wisconsin Badgers with three rushing TDs.

While he’s known for possessing dual-threat abilities, Herbert never rushed for more than 183 yards in any season. It’s a tool in his tool belt that he showcased in the Rose Bowl with three rushing TDs but he’s more above average than special in this regard.

NFL Scouting Combine Measurements
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Without overreacting, realize that a 6’6 QB running sub-4.7 is worth mentioning. The only current starting QB 6’5 or above that tested with that type of speed: Cam Newton. While Tua and Burrow did not throw at the combine, Herbert at least looked smooth throwing the deep ball but I don’t take much stock in these types of drills in terms of changing any opinion analysis-wise for prospects. Nevertheless, he did what he was supposed to do.

What’s On Tape

My method for watching film is simple: get out a pen and pad of paper. Watch each passing attempt taking note of the down and distance and simply write down what I see. For a QB, I focus on accuracy, aDOT, footwork, locating 2nd reads, and how they stand in the pocket under pressure. For Herbert, I took six of his highest-profile games over the past year.

Games viewed: Washington (2019), Cal (2019), Wisconsin (2019), Utah (2019), Auburn (2019), Stanford (2018)

1. He looks professional in his approach.

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When Herbert is in rhythm, it’s clear he knows what’s he’s doing leading an offense. I’ve heard people poo-poo all over his lack of forthrightness as a leader but his physical tools are there. We’ll let the NFL teams make those calls on personality and moxy in their interviews. We don’t want to speculate about intangibles just simply share what shows up as we watch football.

  • His base is solid and while there are some quirks in how Oregon runs their offense, his motion and footwork are fairly polished as a prospect.
  • His arm strength is more than adequate to throw to the numbers across the field.
  • He can throw the slant with timing. This is going to be his calling card at the next level IF he finds himself in an offense like the Chargers with an established possession receiver such as Keenan Allen. As I’ll mention later, opposing defenses saw this too and began jumping this route in the final games of his senior season.
  • As a runner, he’s fluid although I hate hearing the term “athleticism” thrown around every single time I read about him. The dude ran a spread offense at Oregon but he was no Mariota. He takes what’s given and is more Ryan Tannehill than Josh Allen in terms of rushing upside.
  • In that Stanford game, he threw some absolute daggers, especially in the 4th quarter. Despite losing in OT, he put Oregon in a position to win being up ten points with under four minutes left in the game. This was arguably his most impressive performance on film in my opinion.

2. Beyond his first read, he looks shaky at best.

While that statement can easily be made about any young prospect, realize that Herbert played behind the most experienced offensive line in the country. That unit had started more than 200 games combined by the time Herbert’s senior year was finished including 2019 Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell, who will most assuredly be an early 1st round pick in the 2021 draft. His time in the pocket (for the most part) was elite as a college QB.

When Herbert was moved off his first read, he was more often than not grasping for answers than delivering sound targets to his receivers. On a couple of interceptions, it was clear he wanted the slant and stared down his WR long enough for linebackers and corners to jump the route. In the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, he threw one into heavy traffic early in the 1st quarter that was picked off. While he won Rose Bowl MVP, he completed just 14 passes for 138 yards.

Against Cal despite being at home in Autzen Stadium, I found myself wanting to trust him (not knowing the outcome of the game) to make some money throws but it just never materialized. The Ducks were shut out in the first half mostly due to an early red-zone INT by Herbert and two more fumbles by the running game. Even in the second half, it was a struggle finding the right reads in zone coverage and making sure he adjusted to the defensive schemes upfront to step up and deliver a good throw.

All in all, there is a second gear needed in terms of aggression and playmaking ability as a thrower I wanted to see when he was taken off his first read.

3. His overall accuracy numbers seem a bit flawed.

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I liken every second or third completion on film that Herbert made to flag football “pop-gun plays”. In other words, his completion percentage is boosted by misdirection short tosses in the flats to RBs, bubble screens and quick-hitters to wideouts.  His adjusted yards per pass attempt last year was just 8.11, a mediocre number at best in a Pac-12 conference that hemorrhages yards. His release is decisive but three or four-yard aDOT routes boost the overall accuracy number.

In 2018, he was under 60 percent which statistically speaking is disappointing from a prospect model. Over the past ten years, here are the top-10 QBs that completed less than 60 percent of their passes in one of their final two seasons: Josh Allen, Jake Locker, and Blaine Gabbert. Yikes. That’s not great company and while Allen is a great fantasy QB, his accuracy still leaves something to be desired. In other words, it’s a skill that seems to be hard to reinvent at the next level.

What’s Not on Tape

This is arguably the most crucial part of any scouting analysis, in my opinion. It is easy to splice together highlight reel takes and forget that we are looking at college football players; in other words, the majority of players the prospect faced will never be playing on an NFL field and likely will be vying to be your financial planner or turning to high school coaching. We cannot only glean from film watching based on what our eyeballs are showing us. Sometimes it’s best to ask yourself the question: What am I not seeing? This involves asking questions and reflecting.

Here are a couple of takeaways of what didn’t show up:

1. He is a leader, despite what people are saying.

Let me first give a positive. What didn’t show up on tape was a lack of confidence or willingness to make a play. Herbert’s leadership ability has been questioned by many in the public but in terms of game management and being focused, I never saw bone-headed plays. Even on the occasional bad snap (Washington game), unfortunate penalties on his teammates (, and crucial dropped TD catch (Auburn game), Herbert was calm and collected. In that Auburn game, Herbert was pressured all game long by a couple of future 1st round NFL picks (hello, Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson) but stood tall in the pocket on multiple occasions.

2. The deep out was on the radar… barely.

I saw Herbert step up and make some big throws under pressure but the deep out (10-15 yards) was not a consistent part of the repertoire. I highlight this because a starting NFL QB needs to be able to make this throw with consistency. As I mentioned earlier, low aDOT throws and check-downs to RBs help you gain confidence but the money makers are to your outside wideouts as you use their size and separation to place the ball on the outside where only they can catch it. This is a developing skill for Herbert; not the actual velocity to get it outside the numbers but the timing and accuracy. He airmailed more than I desired on outside throws and his overall placement needed some work.

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3. He never ran sets under center.

Never. As in not even one as highlighted during his scouting combine workout on NFL.com. While the Pistol is not a far cry from I-form, we’ve seen other recent Oregon QBs (Marcus Mariota among others) struggle to adjust to gameplans that do not emulate the spread formations found aplenty in Eugene. I do not think this is a red flag the way others might caution due to the simple fact the NFL lives in shotgun-ville these days. However, it is worth mentioning as the landing spot and offensive scheme he finds himself in the NFL should take advantage of his expertise and skillset, not reinvent himself as a sole I-formation pocket passer as Mariota steadily declined in his progress.

2020 Fantasy Outlook

Wherever Herbert gets drafted in the first round, he will likely not be the Week 1 starter. Take his situation and use Drew Lock in Denver as a template. The veteran (Joe Flacco) had his time before injury, age, and inconsistency ultimately made way for the rookie. Lock was completely locked onto Courtland Sutton when he came in relief and developed some report with fellow newcomer Noah Fant. The inaccuracy was there for Lock but he more than held his own and looks to take the next step coming into training camp as the Broncos starting QB.

If Herbert finds himself in the right offensive situation that takes advantage of his size and ability to run the spread in rhythm, he could be viable as he slips in rookie drafts. He’s a perfect 4th QB on your roster in Superflex leagues with the upside to eventually be a starter but you’re not hoping for magic right away. In my opinion, if a QB whisperer like Frank Reich in Indianapolis tabs him, I’m willing to take him in the 3rd round of rookie drafts. The frontrunners are however Miami, if they use one of their multiple 1st round picks, Jacksonville, or Carolina, with new coach Matt Rhule who has excelled using the spread formation.

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