Despite struggles, Justin Herbert is unquestioned franchise player for Chargers

NFL Picks; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) warms up before a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
NFL Picks; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) warms up before a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

The NFL Draft is one of the riskiest ways of acquiring talent. Scouts travel the country to analyze the best collegiate players. Game film and performance drills have been used for years to determine prospect projections. These methods measure athletic ability, highlight tendencies, and allow franchises to become familiar with each prospect.

Predicting injuries, competitive divisions, and personnel change is impossible for scouts. These roadblocks hinder progress for incoming players. They end a career before it even begins. Justin Herbert is a perfect example of this. His inability to lead the Los Angeles Chargers to the post-season is worrisome for fans. He’s developed well since joining the franchise, but what has kept the Chargers from becoming a consistent playoff team?

NFL: Justin Herbert was an exceptional fit for the Los Angeles Chargers

It’s been three years since the former Oregon Duck took over as the starting quarterback. An impressive collegiate career convinced Tom Telesco’s front office that Herbert was worth first-round capital. His 95 total touchdown passes ranked 6th most in PAC-12 history. It was the right selection for a franchise parting ways with their veteran gunslinger. Philip Rivers was towards of his career, and the Chargers needed to make a decision quickly.

Exchanging the sixth overall pick for Justin Herbert made sense. His experience under center transitioned to the professional stage quickly. In 2020, Herbert ranked 10th in touchdown passes (31) and ninth in completions (396). He helped Shane Steichen’s offensive rating improve by 3.7 points and won The Associated Press Rookie of The Year award.

An impressive rookie stat line was not enough to clinch playoff seeding. Andy Reid’s Chiefs (14-2) clinched the divisional title in the AFC West while the Chargers fought for third place. Their 6-6 conference record was the 11th-best in the AFC. It eliminated Los Angeles from wild-card contention, but at least they could rejoice over the debut of their new franchise player.

NFL: Who’s responsible for the Chargers’ inability to perform?

Leading a franchise to the playoffs is an admirable rookie accomplishment. It does not happen often, but it’s a big deal when it does. Justin Herbert had a phenomenal rookie campaign. His debut did not result in a playoff invite, but it did help fans rekindle faith in their franchise. Unlike other franchises, the Chargers did not undergo a lapse in quarterback production. Herbert dominated in his first season, but was his success just beginner’s luck?

A stout sophomore campaign helped Herbert earn more respect from his peers. He ranked in the top ten in offensive rating (90) and passing rating (85.8) among active quarterbacks. His efficiency resulted in 38 touchdowns (6th) and 5,014 passing yards (7th). Herbert’s leadership resulted in a winning season (9-8) but failed to equate in a playoff berth.

Los Angeles finally clinched playoff seeding during the 2022 season. It was an off year for Herbert, but he finished strong. His 5,026 yards passing ranked fourth in the league. Hertbert’s passing (76.7) and offensive rating (77.9) declined significantly but did not hinder the club’s success. Brandon Staley’s unit finally found their winning formula – a balanced offense.

NFL: Offensive improvements are working well for the Chargers

Rushing the football has been an issue for the Chargers. In 2020, Los Angeles ranked 23rd in rushing rating (75.7). Austin Ekeler led the team’s running backs with only 530 rushing yards to account for. Justin Herbert finished first in rushing touchdowns (5) among rushers on the depth chart. Los Angeles had a subpar rushing attack that defenses could abuse. It resulted in more passes down the field, which eventually became predictable.

In 2022, Joe Lombardi’s offense found the perfect balance. They relied on Justin Herbert’s arm to make big plays, while incorporating a dose of a rushing attack. Austin Ekeler ranked within the top twenty rushers In total rushing yards (915). He helped keep defenses on their toes, resulting in a wild-card playoff berth.

We can expect Justin Herbert to continue developing into an elite quarterback. His efforts kept the Chargers close enough to playoff contention, and in 2022 they capitalized on it. If the Chargers can maintain a balanced offense and improve their defense, they might punch another playoff ticket this season. Improvements at the wide receiver position should help as well. Quentin Johnston is a great addition to a dangerous receiving core.

It is safe to say the Chargers found their franchise quarterback. He’s proved his worth early in his career and will bring more success to the city of Los Angeles.