Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow will have a rookie of the year race for the ages.
Any high profile, first-round signal-caller who opts in to stay for another year in college has a tendency to be unfairly scrutinized and doubted by scouts, the media, and fans. So naturally, when LA Chargers franchise rookie quarterback Justin Herbert returned to Oregon for his senior year as a Eugene, OR native with his little brother and former 4-star tight end on the roster with him, he unfairly dealt with this.
Herbert wasn’t exactly working with the Marcus Mariota-Chip Kelly version of the Oregon Ducks. They were a PAC 12 and national championship contender each year of Mariota’s tenure from 2012-2015, hitting the peak of their coaching staff and recruiting quality.
Though Herbert ended his collegiate tenure with a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin to cap off a 12-2 senior season, the team struggled at times during Herbert’s time there, mostly due to coaching deficiencies and injuries. But again, naturally, all of the onus fell all on the first-round quarterback.
Fast forward to the midway point of Herbert’s first season as the face of the Chargers, he’s a few typical, Bolt-esque blown leads and heartbreaking losses away from potentially being the favorite for Rookie of the Year.
In Week 8, the Chargers suffered their fourth loss in which they blew a double-digit lead. Previously, Los Angeles blew an 11 point lead to Kansas City, and 17 point leads to the Bucs and Saints, all serious playoff contenders.
Yesterday, they topped all of those colossal failures as we watched a 21 point lead slip away to Drew Lock’s measly Denver Broncos. It’s just amazing that through Philip Rivers’ tenure we thought his Chargers had invented every possible way to lose, and the refreshing switch to Herbert might result in a shift in late-game execution. Nope.
But for Justin Herbert, completing 67.4% of his passes, throwing for 1,820 yards and 15 touchdown passes and 5 interceptions this season, Bolt fans can at least sleep at night knowing they have their franchise quarterback in the 6’6 236 lbs signal-caller. A very optimistic reality given he’s just 22 years old and plays the most important position in team sports.
The concern comes with head coach Anthony Lynn, whose job is very much in jeopardy at this juncture. Secondly, Herbert is forced to deal with a spotty defense outside of a few stars.
Forced to repeatedly watch his D break, unravel, and blow these “comfortable” leads provided by Herbert, a great one-two punch at wideout in Keenan Allen and a rising Mike Williams, and solid top-15 tight end in Hunter Henry. Herbert and his offense certainly have a bright future.
But meanwhile, Herbert finds himself in the passenger seat of the coveted rookie of the year honors despite the surprising overachievement and immediate success. With Joe Burrow, or ‘Joey B’, transitioning from conducting the greatest offense in college football history to an undefeated national title at LSU to overachieving in his own right with the always snoozy Cincinnati Bengals.
Though the blame of the Denver collapse only slightly falls on the hands of Herbert with a couple of costly turnovers, Burrow throwing for 416 yards en route to an eye-raising victory over the Tennessee Titans, gives him more breathing room in the race.
Normally, this wouldn’t be significant but in a very 2020 fashion, the Titans are a borderline top-five football team this year. In large part due to a great defense at all three levels.
So considering the Bengals still have a bottom-three offensive line in the league, this is an incredible feat for Burrow despite the services of his rising wideouts Tyler Boyd and first-round selection from this spring in Tee Higgins.
It’ll be quite intriguing to see how the race between the number one and six picks of the 2020 NFL draft develops in the second half of the season.
With Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert both having a strong group of skilled position players, spotty defenses and skeptical situational execution from their respective coaching staffs, expect both to be in plenty of shoot outs and exciting finishes as they lead developing squads with potentially bright futures.