You have to say it in a hushed tone, but Justin Herbert is likely to take a step back in 2021. Nobody wants to hear it. We expect young players to just get better and better on a linear line to the moon as they develop and gain NFL experience, but it rarely happens like that.
For evidence, look no further than Carson Wentz, who hit the ground running as a rookie, looked like an MVP in Year 2 and was unceremoniously dumped by his team only a few years later.
In the interest of full disclosure, PFF didn’t love Herbert as a prospect coming out of college. We thought Joe Burrow was on another level and Tua Tagovailoa was a better prospect, so we were impressed and surprised by how well Herbert played in Year 1, particularly given some of the challenges he faced with the Chargers. But this analysis isn’t about settling old scores and being right about Herbert as a prospect — that ship has already sailed. This is about using all of the data we have on his impressive rookie season and projecting forward.
INCREDIBLE ROOKIE YEAR
Despite not starting in Week 1, Herbert broke the rookie touchdown record with 31 passing scores, putting up 4,336 passing yards and just 10 interceptions. It wasn’t the highest PFF grade we have ever seen from a rookie (it was the highest of 2020), but it was up there with the best seasons of the past 15 years. Russell Wilson’s rookie year is on another level in terms of debut grades (89.7) in the PFF era (since 2006), and Herbert was within four grading points of any other rookie year.
He finished as the No. 1-graded quarterback in the NFL when under pressure, earning a 77.1 mark — 3.5 grading points better than the next player, who happened to be some guy named Patrick Mahomes.
In fact, the list of quarterbacks at the sharp end of this statistic in 2020 include Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers as six of the next seven. Herbert threw just two picks when under duress and produced the lowest turnover-worthy play rate (2.3%) in the NFL.