Everyone has had that déjà vu feeling before; seeing something you feel like you have already seen. In this series, we are looking at players who almost declared for the 2019 draft but returned for another year of college football. We’ll take you through their strengths and highlight some areas for improvement for the coming year as these players are expected to be near the top of their respective positions throughout the coming CFB season and therefore should be pretty high draft picks, should everything go to plan.
For the penultimate installment of Draft Déjà Vu, we’re going to be looking at Oregon Ducks QB, Justin Herbert.
Justin Herbert made the decision to return to Oregon for his Senior year, which to some was a good decision; Payton Manning, for example, recently voiced his opinion and said he thought it was the correct choice and that he was proud of Herbert for returning to school. However some people are less certain. Some believe that in a thin quarterback class, Herbert could have been the first QB off the board in the 2019 draft and that we may be even could have been the #1 overall pick. Something that is potentially less likely, in what could be a stronger class in 2020.
Personally, I like Justin Herbert as a player and my belief is that no matter the millions of dollars that could be available to a player that may be drafted in the first round, if they have eligibility remaining and can boost their draft stock, the player should go back to school. It’s better to gain more experience and improve in college football, rather than get round out in the NFL. The money will be there in 12 more months and if you’re good enough, you’ll get what’s coming to you, surely a player wants to be in the league for a long time and be great, not just get paid and flame out after 5 years (or less).
Anyway, I digress… As usual is Draft Déjà Vu, I’m going to look at what makes Herbert good and also examine areas that need improvement if the potential Heisman Trophy talk surrounding him is to be justified.
First of all, who is Justin Herbert?
Justin Herbert grew up in Eugene, Oregon, which makes him the hometown prince of the Ducks programme, even though he was only a three star recruit coming out of high school and until Oregon offered him a scholarship, his options to play D-I football were limited, to say the least, until a late offer came in from Oregon.
Herbert stands tall at 6’6 and currently weighs, 237 lbs, which makes him a rather large human being, we’re talking 10 lbs or so from being Cam Newton sized here! Herbert has good arm strength and is a threat on the ground when he’s a ball carrier and carry the ball, he can!
Take a look at this play from last year’s game against Stanford, it’s about the best example I saw in the 7 games I watched of his over the past couple of years;
That’s an athletic young man, right there. There are plenty of other examples of Herbert making plays with his legs throughout his time at Oregon too, however I wouldn’t consider him a “mobile QB”, I feel that he much prefers to keep his eyes downfield and find a pass, rather than breaking the pocket but more of that later on. He’s a pass first, run second, dual threat.
So the first thing I actually mentioned with Herbert is that I feel that he has really good arm strength. He’s definitely able to put some zip on his throws and fit them into tight windows, I don’t feel like Herbert’s throws look floaty, or wobbly, more like they jump out of his hand. Case in point that he was able to make this throw into a tight window in the Stanford game.
So what, right? Big, tall, white, will have the media saying, “he just looks like a quarterback” and has some above average athletic ability… “You hated Josh Allen coming out”, I hear you say… Herbert isn’t one of those guys. Here’s a few reasons why;
Pocket movement: Whilst this isn’t always perfect and there are aspects of pocket management and awareness that will be mentioned later on, Herbert has shown some excellent pocket awareness and movement at times, none more so than this against Michigan State last season.
My oh my, just look how he slides around, avoiding three potential drive killing sacks, deep in his own territory. That’s the sort of nimble footwork that gets me all kinds of excited! AND that’s not even the best bit… How many young, athletic QB’s would have tucked that and tried to bulldoze a defender for a first down once they slipped that third rusher? I can think of a few. Not Herbert though, he maintained his eyes downfield the whole time, found a receiver and then threw it low so avoid any potential interception whilst throwing on the move.
Exhibit two on why Justin Herbert is a little different. Poise and touch;
This one is from Arizona when Herbert was a Sophomore in 2017. Slides around the pocket and bails left, again, all whilst looking downfield and then he delivers a lovely pass, lofting it over a defender with excellent touch.
So we’re not just dealing with a guy who can sling it. Although like I said, he certainly can!
When I was going through the film, I feel like Herbert is excellent at short and intermediate passes, he throws with great timing and anticipation from 0-20 yards. Which is what Oregon’s offense mainly asks of him – there are a lot of wide receiver or bubble screens, a lot of crossing routes or routes that cut to the outside such was quick outs and corner routes. Oregon play a spread style of offense, often with three or four receivers (whether that be exclusively wide receivers or mixing in tight ends) and often keep a running back in for hand offs and also to give them the ability to mix in some play action.
Which brings me to another one of Justin Herbert’s big strengths, maintaining his accuracy whilst on the move – whether that be off of play action or otherwise.
Check this out against California last season;
Play action. Check. Requisite arm strength. Check. Ball placement. That’s the trifecta.
Herbert’s playmaking abilities, really reminded me of another young QB who I’m an admirer of. So here’s a little treat for you all, to give you a break from the reading, try some listening as I describe the comparison that came to my mind.
Hope you enjoyed that. Both of those guys are absolute playmakers, in my mind.
The Oregon QB goes through his reads on most plays that require him to do so, which already elevates him above many of his peers. It shows he can process defenses and can make snap decisions, to me this shows a high level of football IQ and maturity. This was on show here against Washington.
I know that it’s just a layup throw and Dillon Mitchell did a lot of the hard work in scoring that touchdown but it shows that Herbert is willing to remain patient and take what the defense gives him. He didn’t get antsy or try to throw a hollywood pass, he just calmly went through his reads and checked it down. This kind of thing won’t always result in a touchdown, in fact it barely ever will, it’ll mainly just pick up a few yards but it’s positive yardage and it protects the football. Really top quality quarterbacking.
This is why Herbert is one of the best QB’s in college football and to me, by far the best Senior QB. He’s got a live arm, he can fit throws into tight windows or throw with touch, both with great timing and ball placement. When things break down he can make things happen with his legs and if he needs to make a throw on the move, he doesn’t lose too much accuracy. What’s not to like?!
Well, a couple of things… I’d really like to see Herbert make strides in a couple of areas before entering the NFL.
Firstly, accuracy downfield.
This is a pretty spotty part of his game. As discussed, Herbert has the arm strength, he has the raw power to push the ball vertically downfield however, from what I’ve seen through my studies the results vary so much that I have to believe that there’s a fair amount of guesswork that goes into his deep ball – I reckon it’s more luck than judgement when it comes off. Here’s a couple of examples…
Both throws are taken from the Oregon State game last year but there are throws like this whenever you watch Justin Herbert. Underthrown, overthrown or out of bounds, obviously, with the odd successful completion mixed in. I picked out these two particular throws as on both occasions, Herbert has time to throw and the receiver has his man beaten for a big gain or even a touchdown and Herbert doesn’t really give his guy a chance on either, which is a huge shame.
Herbert’s completion percentage actually dropped to a career low, 59.4% in 2018, which is actually pretty alarming. On the flip side of that, prior to last season he registered a completion percentage of 67.5%, which is much more like it and what it’ll need to be in 2019 for him to be thought of as QB1 and to cement himself as a top 5 pick, and maybe even a Heisman Trophy winner.
Am I confident he can do it?
I am. I feel like the accuracy issues will be an outlier and that percentage will be back up towards 70% again in 2019. As well as Herbert being another year older, wiser and in the system, he should be behind what could be the best offensive line in college football next year. This should give him the time he needs to work his magic and open up holes for him to have success running the ball too. Furthermore on the supporting cast, Oregon will return a lot of skill position players on offense too; tight ends, Cam McCormick and Jacob Breeland, wide receivers, Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson, Branden Schooler and Justin Collins will be Herbert’s most popular targets. Herbert will also have a good running game with C.J Verdell and Travis Dye. Oh and not to mention, a certain 4-star recruit at tight end, by the name of Patrick Herbert – Justin’s younger brother.
He will miss Dillon Mitchell, for sure though. Mitchell was drafted in the 7th round by the Vikings (I’m not sure how he lasted that long to be honest) and was Herbert’s favourite target for the past two years… Honestly, it was insane the amount of times the pair hooked up. They built a fantastic relationship on the field, so it will be interesting to see who steps into the breach in 2019 and how Herbert copes without Mitchell.
Finally, the last aspect of the game I feel like Herbert needs to improve on is how he feels pressure when where it’s coming from. Diagnosing the defense is a big part of being a successful QB in the pros and sometimes you can see that Herbert either misses things pre-snap or misses oncoming rushers when he has his eyes downfield.
This is a prime example from the game against Boise State, in the Las Vegas Bowl, in 2017. Admittedly, it’s a while back and the Ducks QB has definitely made strides but there are still instances of this that are lingering in his game that I’d really love him to cut out.
When Herbert gets to the league, he’s going to have to keep improving too. He’s not a transcendent star, who is going to take the league by storm but I think he will be a really good NFL QB. He’ll have to learn how to take a snap from under center with regularity for a start! That said, Baker Mayfield had that thrown at him prior to his rookie year too and he’s turned out ok so far.
*In the style of our Fantasy Chief, Rob (@FFBritballer), I’m going to make a quick disclaimer, I’ve linked Mayfield and Herbert twice now, I don’t think Herbert is as good or even that similar to Mayfield as a player or a person, so please don’t read this and think that’s the comp I’m making, there are traits shared but that’s really about it.
To sum up, for me, right now, about to enter July, I have Justin Herbert as my QB1 heading into the season. I feel like he can stay there and I feel like Herbert can lead Mario Cristobal’s team to the Pac-12 championship. Sure, Washington will be right there if Jacob Eason is a success and Utah are just straight up good but I feel like Oregon can be better than both of those teams. Outside of that, week 1 against Auburn will be a fantastic yardstick to measure the 2019 Ducks against and I, for one, cannot wait for that game.
Keep your eyes peeled next Tuesday for the final installment of Draft Déjà Vu
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