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2020 NFL Draft: Justin Herbert has field-flipping arm strength but needs the right system

For Oregon’s Justin Herbert, the career arc got off to a great start. As a freshman in 2016, he posted a 77.2 overall PFF grade and then followed it with an impressive 90.5 mark as a sophomore, albeit on only 231 dropbacks. Herbert appeared destined for continued growth and a spot atop the 2019 draft class, especially given his 6-foot-6 frame with a strong arm and athleticism.

Unfortunately, Herbert regressed to a 76.6 overall grade in 2018, then decided to return to school for the 2019 season and earned an overall grade of 82.6, good for 27th among FBS quarterbacks. 

A college career that had so much promise took an unexpected downturn, and we never got to see a full, dominant season from Herbert despite his impressive tools and the encouraging start to his Oregon career. This is a concern as Herbert heads to the next level, and it’s a similar description that I used for Josh Rosen when he came out in 2018. Rosen was incredibly impressive as a true freshman, and he had the look of a No. 1 overall selection, but he never had the dominant season at UCLA that his skillset suggested was inevitable. Rosen’s peak grade was an 82.6 mark in his freshman season, ironically the same number Herbert posted as a senior in 2019.

When it comes to evaluating Herbert, it will be yet another battle between tools and perceived upside versus on-field production and which traits will translate to the next level. Let’s take a look. 

The Good

Most positive analysis about Herbert starts with his arm strength, and it’s certainly an asset. Much like velocity for a pitcher in baseball, arm strength allows more leeway for a quarterback when it comes to timing and accuracy. Putting more zip on the ball leaves a bigger margin of error for a quarterback if he’s a little late on a throw — he may be able to squeeze one in there with suboptimal ball location. Herbert certainly possesses the zip to fire the ball into tight windows, as we see here on one of the best throws of his college career from 2018. 

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