Justin Herbert Fast-Tracked Himself From a 6th-String Quarterback at Oregon to an NFL MVP Candidate

One of the hottest names in the NFL heading into the 2021 season is the Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. The former Oregon Duck took the league by storm last season, taking home the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

Herbert is used to taking people by surprise, though. At Oregon, Herbert started way down the depth chart but ended up starting his freshman season. Now, just like in college, Herbert is quietly becoming one of the best QBs in the game, and, in 2021, he’s a legitimate MVP candidate.

Justin Herbert started his career at Oregon as a 6th string QB

Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers throws the football during Los Angeles Chargers training camp at Jack Hammett Sports Complex on August 06, 2021 in Costa Mesa, California.
Justin Herbert | Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Herbert grew up in Eugene, Oregon, a town best known as the home of the University of Oregon. He grew up in the shadow of Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks play football. As the quarterback and multisport start at Eugene’s Sheldon High School, Herbert became an ESPN three-star recruit, per GoDucks.com.

He entered his college career as the sixth QB on the depth chart. According to the Los Angeles Times, one of his wide receivers once called him “Justin, the freshman from Eugene in his first season. I forget his last name.”

That would all change six games into the season when he became the first Ducks’ true freshman to start since 1983. He wouldn’t give the job back until he graduated four years later.

Herbert excelled at Oregon. He threw for 10,541 yards, 95 touchdowns, and just three interceptions with a career 64% completion rate. These numbers, combined with his 6-foot-6, 237-pound frame, a rocket arm, and elite athleticism, made Herbert a surefire first-round pick in 2020.

The Chargers’ first-round pick was the surprise of the 2020 season

The Chargers selected Herbert No. 6 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. The plan was to have the rookie sit and learn behind veteran QB Tyrod Taylor for at least the first part of the season. That all changed when team doctors accidentally punctured Taylor’s lung just before a massive Week 2 matchup vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chargers lost the game 23-20, but Herbert went 22 of 33 for 311 yards and a touchdown and nearly upset the defending Super Bowl champs. Once again, Herbert defied expectations and became QB1 for his team.

On his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year, the tall Oregonian threw for 4,336 yards, 31 touchdowns, had a 66.6% completion rate, and only suffered 10 INTs.

Herbert is an MVP candidate in 2021

In the NFL, quarterbacks win the MVP award. The last eight consecutive MVPs played the position. In the previous 30 years, only seven non-quarterbacks (all RBs – Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Marshall Faulk, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith) have won the award.

Looking at the betting odds, 2021 will likely be no exception. All the top candidates for the award are QBs, and Justin Herbert is right up there. In some sportsbooks, he is even as high as second-favorite to Patrick Mahomes, per BetSided.

There are several reasons prognosticators and oddsmakers like Herbert so much this season. Although he did great individually last year, the team didn’t perform well, finishing with a 7-9 record. That led the organization to bring in Brandon Staley from the LA-sharing Rams and Drew Brees’ former offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi.

The franchise built around him in the draft and free agency in the offseason as well. They picked tackle Rashawn Slater No.13 overall and also took a wide receiver (Josh Palmer), tight end (Tre’ McKitty), another tackle (Brenden Jaimes), and a running back (Larry Rountree III). In free agency, the front office added All-Pro center Corey Linsley, tight end Jared Cook, and more O-line depth.

Herbert should have the stats to be an MVP, but he needs the wins to go with them. If the team and coaching upgrades take in LA and Herbert make the next leap in his development, he may well shock the world again and take home one of the biggest awards in the game.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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