When the 2020 NFL Draft finally rolled around, Justin Herbert and his fellow draftees had no idea what NFL they would be playing in. Just a month and a half into the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States, the draft didn’t feel as special as it had years prior.
Was it a distraction from the world? Absolutely. Did it affect draft stocks? Possibly. Was it a cherry on top of a weird draft process for the future Los Angeles Charger? Definitely.
The draft process for a quarterback is never simple, or smooth for that matter. Even when it comes to sure things at the position there are always quiet voices campaigning for something else. The Indianapolis Colts were split between Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, Trevor Lawrence had questions about not living up to expectations at Clemson, and in 2020 we had the emergence of Joe Burrow.
While Burrow had the question “is this a one-year thing?”, the other two quarterbacks had much more concerning issues at the time.
Stating it as “at the time” is crucial because joining Burrow in the 2020 class was the aforementioned Justin Herbert as well as Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa was coming off a major hip injury but had a clean bill of health but for Herbert, it boiled down to something a doctor couldn’t clear, personality.
He was Quiet…Too Quiet
The NFL draft causes teams and media to collectively go over prospects with a fine tooth comb. Sometimes when a player doesn’t present any glaring holes you can be forced to dig deeper and sometimes that presents illusions about a player. In the case of Justin Herbert, the illusion came in the form of a character trait.
For the Chargers quarterback the issue presented by the media and teams was that the Oregon product was too quiet, an introvert.
To be an NFL quarterback is to be the face of a franchise. Doing so requires a lot of media availability, and the confidence to motivate the team, and both of those things were rumored to not be strengths of Herbert. Was it a fair criticism? At the time, perhaps. As time went on though Herbert showed that the live arm and physical traits he had on film were more than enough to find success.
Trusting the Traits and Film Paid Off
The physical traits of Justin Herbert are that of the perfect NFL quarterback. That paired with film from his time in Oregon that showed he could make throws not only all over the field but accurately as well. In hindsight, one could even argue that the system limited his tools or at least kept things safe for him.
His ability to lead the team with his personality style was tested in his first NFL start. In week two of his rookie season he was forced to be named the starter after then starter Tyrod Taylor was injured by team medical staff while receiving an injection. Herbert stepped up and immediately showed folks that he had the tools to be the starter going forward.
Three seasons later that accumulated 14,089 yards passing with 94 touchdowns and a winning record as a starter, Justin Herbert was rewarded.
While Herbert’s reward proved to be of the financial variety, for the Chargers front office led by General Manager Tom Telesco it cemented their priors on him were right. They trusted the film, they trusted the traits, and in the end, they found themselves a franchise quarterback with top-five potential.