By the Numbers: Justin Herbert’s rookie surge

While Joe Burrow is making noise in “The Jungle” and Tua Tagovailoa is turning heads in the Sunshine State, Justin Herbert is quietly, but confidently, putting up jarring results for the Los Angeles Chargers. 

Although the results have not shown themselves in the win column (the team is 1-7 under the signal-caller), they have in regard to the raw production the sixth-overall 2020 NFL Draft selection has brought to a team yearning for their next franchise quarterback. 

Hold the phone. A rookie potentially garnering franchise quarterback consideration a mere eight games into his professional football career? Now, there is a decent-sized take.

Herbert’s performance, however, might make the consideration more than worth it.

To best see what Herbert has done and can potentially do to garner this consideration, it is best to see his 2020 numbers as they stand at the present. 

In eight games started, Herbert has completed 201 of 301 passes for a completion percentage of 66.8%. Collectively, Herbert has thrown for 2,333 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is currently averaging 291.6 passing yards per game and has a quarterback rating of 102.8. While the numbers look solid for the rookie, they stand out even more when looking at where they stack up compared to the entirety of other 2020 NFL quarterbacks.

Among all NFL starting quarterbacks, Herbert’s completion percentage is tied for 17th, while his passing-yard total ranks 14th. Meanwhile, his passing touchdowns total is eighth and his passing yards per game average is fifth. Lastly, his quarterback rating ranks 10th

Regardless of the Chargers’ record under Herbert, his numbers definitely stand out, considering the fact he has started one less game than every quarterback in front of him. 

You get the basic gist. Herbert has been pretty good individually and has held his own when compared to other NFL quarterbacks. Let’s now look at it from another angle. How does Herbert, a potential franchise quarterback, compare to the Chargers’ former franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers? 

Rivers, who was initially drafted by the New York Giants before being traded, did not have a season with seven or more starts with the Chargers until 2006. When comparing Rivers’ 2006 season to Herbert’s 2020 season as it stands currently, Herbert’s luster begins to shine. 

Over the course of the 2006 season, Rivers tallied 3,388 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Herbert, should he start all remaining games for Los Angeles, would be projected to finish with 4,374 yards, 36 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. More importantly, Herbert would be projected to do this in fewer games started than Rivers (15 games started compared to 16). When coupling this with his rushing capabilities (Herbert currently has 176 rushing yards and three touchdowns and would be on pace for 330 yards and six rushing touchdowns), Herbert would not only bring an explosive presence from the pocket, but a good-enough performance on the rushing side to keep the defense honest. After all, Rivers rushed for only 49 yards during his rookie season. 

Now, sure, this is a simple projection. This is assuming Herbert stays healthy, remains the starting quarterback moving forward, and maintains his current pace. Too many variables are in play to automatically assume Herbert will put up what he is projected for.

There is, however, a lot of reason to suggest he could get close to it. How so? Well, let’s look back at his current numbers and compare it to the rest of football history

Only three first-round quarterbacks have started at least eight games in their rookie campaign and threw for over 2,000 yards, 15 touchdowns and had a completion percentage over 65%: Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Robert Griffin III (2012) and currently Herbert (2020). Should Herbert even get close to his projections over the remainder of the season, he would easily surpass (or has already surpassed) the duo in terms of passing yards and touchdowns (Roethlisberger had 2,621 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, while Griffin III had 3,200 passing yards and 20 touchdowns). 

Although the comparison, again, does not suggest that Herbert will reach what he is projected for, it does show he is practically in a class of his own in regard to the production he is currently putting up.

Regardless of the Chargers’ win-loss struggles, Herbert is definitely putting up gaudy numbers as a rookie. Should the youngster continue his blazing production, Los Angeles might just have their next transformative franchise quarterback. 

From what the numbers show, this might not be as taboo of a take.

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