The Chargers have the real thing, once again, at quarterback in first-year starter Justin Herbert.
This past offseason, the Los Angeles Chargers put into place the sort of transition that the Kansas City Chiefs went through back in 2017-18. The goal was the same: to not only find the next franchise quarterback but someone who can carry them farther than the previous one did—even as that former quarterback was successful to varying degrees.
Justin Herbert looks the part so far through one full season as the team’s starter. For years, the Chargers had enjoyed the production of potential future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers under center since 2006. What you might not remember is that Rivers himself sat for a couple full seasons in San Diego waiting for the team to figure out what they would do with Drew Brees—yet another potential Hall of Fame quarterback.
In short, the Chargers last three quarterbacks have all been pretty good.
The Chargers held a high pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and had a chance to make their move this last spring. They clearly liked the incoming quarterback class enough because they allowed Rivers to leave in free agency to the Indianapolis Colts and they made the leap at No. 6 overall to take Herbert out of Oregon.
It wasn’t an automatic pick for the Chargers, even that high. Herbert had plenty of doubters about his ability to succeed in the NFL. Some pointed to problems with consistency while others nitpicked about his laid-back demeanor or inability to win over a locker room. Other concerns were right about accuracy and timing, and those are areas in which he’s certainly grown as a pro with experience and coaching.
Credit the Chargers for putting their plan into place and sticking with it. Tyrod Taylor was kept on the roster as the stopgap starter in a year without a preseason, but the Kansas City Chiefs saw Herbert up close for the first time when he was forced onto the field as the starter in Week 2 for an injured Taylor. Herbert would never relinquish the role.
In that first game against the Chiefs, the pro-level talent was clear even as some of the incoming issues were also proven. Some throws were off the mark and Herbert took his licks in that game. However, he also moved the chains with ease and made some eye-popping throws that made you wonder why the team ever delayed his arrival. He finished that game by completing 22 of 33 passes for 311 yards and 1 touchdown with 1 interception.
Since then, Herbert has broken the record for most touchdown passes by a rookie (28) with one game to go. He has a 66.3 percent completion rate and he’s passed for over 4,000 yards. He’s also thrown 10 interceptions and taken 29 sacks, so there are issues to work on with this offense and his protection, to be sure. That said, Herbert is most certainly the man moving forward.
When Herbert lines up on Sunday to take on the Chiefs, he’ll give the division champs a reminder of the potential that’s blossoming in L.A. these days. However, it’s also proof that the Chargers have done quite well in their choice of quarterback for two full decades now. That’s an impressive track record and now they can only hope that Herbert is the one to take them farther than they’ve been in a long, long time.