While at first, I think the entire LA Chargers fanbase was shocked to see Justin Herbert get his first start in Week 2 against the Chiefs, it didn’t take long to fall in love with the Kid from Eugene.
One drive is all it took to sell the NFL world that Herbert was the real deal. In the next 15 weeks, Herbert only continued to show improvement, winning rookie of the week nine times, which ties an NFL record. But outstanding quarterback play is nothing new to AFC.
With an excellent mix of youth and vets, I will break the AFC quarterbacks into four tiers: elite, proven, fringe starter and unproven. I will also give my best explanation on why Herbert could fit into that category before my final decision.
I will be using starts for the 2020 season. For example, instead of assuming Trevor Lawerence will be the starter for the Jaguars, I will be using Gardner Minshew II, who started the majority of games.
LA Chargers: Justin Herbert vs. 15 other AFC quarterbacks
In this category, we have the obvious answers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson.
This group is the cream of the crop. Arguably four of the five best quarterbacks in the entire NFL are listed above. Two of them are playing in the AFC Championship this year. Lamar is an MVP, and Watson is probably the best dual-threat quarterback in the league.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to put Justin Herbert in this category in any sense of the word. What Herbert did this year was, quite frankly, elite. He went toe to toe with Mahomes and Allen and could have beaten them both if it wasn’t for poor decision making from the coaching staff. Herbert also outplayed the best of the NFC in Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
Now we look at the guys who have taken a step down from elite or aren’t quite there yet. Baker Mayfield, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers (retired), Ryan Tannehill.
The proven group is impressive because you have two Hall of Famers on this list in Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. They have declined in the past years due to the simple fact of age. Baker Mayfield is young enough still take that next step into the elite category, and Ryan Tannehill doesn’t get the credit he deserves in Tennessee.
If Justin Herbert did anything this year, he proved that he would be an NFL quarterback for a long time. To fans, to teammates, to coaches, to critics. Herbert proved a lot to a lot of people this season.
A fringe starter to me is a quarterback who could have been benched any given week. Drew Lock, Gardner Minshew II, Cam Newton, Dereck Carr.
These are the average or even below average QBs of the AFC. Fans and management aren’t in love with what these guys bring to the field and are always looking for an upgrade.
Justin Herbert does not fit in this category.
That’s it, that’s the paragraph.
Joe Burrow, Sam Darnold, Tua Tagovailoa are all that I would describe as unproven.
In the case of Burrow and Tagovailoa, they don’t have a big enough sample size. Whether it was an injury or wasn’t starting, neither of these two guys played enough in their rookie season.
In the case of Darnold, he is in a bad situation in New York. We haven’t been able to see him at his full potential because the Jets haven’t surrounded him with the pieces he needs to succeed in the NFL.
The case of Herbert is similar to the ones of Burrow and Tua. His sample size is too small to see what the rest of his career will look like thoroughly. We have witnessed rookie QBs do well and then seriously struggle in their sophomore year.
After Justin Herbert’s outstanding rookie year, I will place him in the proven category and here’s why.
I believe Herbert will make the jump to an elite quarterback within the next year or two, but it’s impossible to say someone is elite after a single year. Herbert is an excellent combination of a pocket passer who can run when he is needed to, and that is what the NFL quarterback should look like in 2021.
Herbert showed the NFL that he is going to be the Chargers quarterback for many years to come. He excelled in big games against the Chiefs and Saints, as I mentioned earlier. One of the biggest critiques of Herbert coming out of college was the consistency.
Herbert silenced the naysayers by playing smart football all year long. He took care of the football as well as anyone while still taking deep shots down the field. It was incredible to watch.
The AFC quarterback roster is only going to improve when a new fleet of rookies make their debut. Trevor Lawrence is going to be great for Jaguars. The Jets could draft a new star in April, same with the Steelers and Colts.
It’s more important than ever to have a good QB in the AFC, and the Chargers have a rising star in Justin Herbert.