When will Justin Herbert become the starting quarterback?
August 6, 2020
When a quarterback is drafted as high as Justin Herbert was, it is always just a matter of time before the player becomes a starter. The Los Angeles Chargers picked Herbert with the 6th overall pick in the first round, and when a quarterback is picked that high in the draft, he is expected to eventually become the starter and hopefully a franchise quarterback, a title Philip Rivers held with the Chargers for the past 15 seasons.
Unfortunately for Herbert, the pandemic cost him valuable time in the offseason program and the preseason has been canceled, so the first real action of any kind Herbert will see will be in a regular season game. With veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor on the roster, Herbert will probably be watching from the sidelines and learning from Taylor, at least for the first few games.
Taylor has started 46 games in his NFL career, including a playoff game in Jacksonville. But Taylor is not the long-term solution. The 2017 season playoff game in Jacksonville was his last game as the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Taylor was traded to Cleveland a few months after the 10-3 playoff loss to Jacksonville. The Bill's ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yardage in Taylor's last season.
In Cleveland, Taylor lasted three games before he lost his starting job to Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. The Chargers are loaded with talented receivers and whoever starts needs to be able to get the ball into the hands of this talented group of receivers. In Buffalo, Taylor had a young, talented group of receivers in Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Chris Hogan. All three of these receivers improved after they left the Bills and have started on Super Bowl teams in the past two seasons.
In Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler, Taylor has a top five NFL receiving group. Both Allen and Williams had over 1,000 yards receiving last season. Running back Ekeler had 92 receptions for 993 yards and eight touchdowns, missing the 1,000-yard mark by just seven yards. Tight end Henry had 55 receptions for 652 yards and five touchdowns in only 12 games. This group is also relatively young, with Allen the old man at age 28, and the other three each at 25 years of age.
For Taylor, this is his last chance to make his mark as an NFL starting quarterback. At age 31, Taylor will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever had. Head coach Anthony Lynn has stated that Taylor "will probably be our Day 1 starter." That is a safe bet, given his experience. Lynn likes his ability to make plays with his feet and he knows Taylor will take care of the ball.
But Taylor needs to become a better NFL passer. His career high in passing yardage was 3,035 yards in 2015 at Buffalo. As a comparison, Rivers threw for over 4,000 yards for seven straight seasons and in 11 of the past 12 seasons. With the kind of receiving talent the Chargers possess, Taylor needs to have a career passing season. His running ability will only take him so far.
The reason Herbert eventually starts sometime this season is that he has more upside and he is signed for the next four seasons. Taylor is in the last year of his contract, which pays a modest $5 million dollars this season. Herbert is under contract through at least 2023 at a very reasonable price. At 6 foot 6 inches, 236 pounds with 4.68 speed in the forty, and with a strong arm, Herbert looks like a future NFL starting quarterback. He just needs playing time to develop.
What all three Chargers quarterbacks do bring to the table is the kind of athletic quarterback that Coach Lynn has wanted since he took the job as head coach of the Chargers. All three quarterbacks can run and that will add a dimension to the Chargers offense that has been missing for years. Rivers rushed for 609 yards in his entire 16-year career with the Chargers. Taylor rushed for 580 yards in 2016 with the Bills.
Look for the Chargers to call for quarterback runs with their athletic group of quarterbacks. Second year quarterback Easton Stick averaged 675 yards rushing per season his last three seasons at North Dakota State. Herbert had three rushing touchdowns, including a nifty 30-yard touchdown run to win the game, in leading Oregon to a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin in January, where he was named the Offensive MVP.
In the end, the starting job will come down to the best passing quarterback. If Taylor cannot improve in that area, it will just be a matter of time this season before he loses his starting job. There is just too much receiving talent for any Charger quarterback to struggle in the passing game. For Justin Herbert, he may not have to wait too long before he is named the starter this season.