Is Justin Herbert the Right Fantasy Fit for Los Angeles Chargers?

If the Los Angeles Chargers draft Oregon QB Justin Herbert, Shawn Childs breaks down his potential fantasy impact on LA's offense.
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As the 2020 NFL Draft approaches, fantasy owners have a wide range of opinions on the value of RB Austin Ekeler, WR Keenan Allen, WR Mike Williams, and TE Hunter Henry.

The Chargers have the sixth pick in this year’s draft with a giant circle around the quarterback position. The team seems content on not signing QB Jameis Winston or QB Cam Newton before they see how the draft shakes out.

Over the last three seasons, QB Philip Rivers has been one of the top QB each year, throwing the ball to the running back position. 

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In 2019, the growth in the catches at running back by LA came at the expense of the wide receiver position. Much of this could be the game plan, but the bump in chances for the RBs could also be tied to weakness in protection from the offensive line.

With Rivers now playing in Indy, Tyrod Taylor stands on the top of the Chargers’ depth chart heading into the draft. Over his three seasons at a starter for the Bills (22-20), Taylor helped his success with his ability to run (283/1575/14). Over this span, he passed for 8,857 yards (201 per game) with 51 TDs and 16 INTs. His M.O. is a ball controlled game manager, which may help Los Angeles win this year.

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As you can see by the above graph, Taylor looks willing to take the dump-off pass to the running back position or the TE. Granted, Buffalo had a much weaker offense than the current structure of the Chargers’ passing game.

The bottom line with Taylor is that he may keep LA in games, but the upside of the skill players will take a hit if he somehow survives to start for Los Angeles in September.

Just for comparison, here’s a look at the passing splits for Tampa Bay over the past three years:

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From 2017 to 2019, Winston started 40 of 48 games for the Bucs. He shows a willingness to throw to the TE, especially close to the goal line. The change in coaching staff last year led to a rise in targets for the RB position while his tight ends lost their scoring value shown in 2017 and 2018.

If Winston happens to sign with the Chargers after the draft, LA’s wide receivers and tight end should be active in the passing games. He would need a lot of growth and coaching to learn to feature the RB position in the short passing game.

By using his RBs more, Winston would see a sharp rise in his completion rate as the top QBs in this area generally feature their RBs in the passing game. Secondly, Winston would lower his interception rate by not forcing as many balls into tight coverage.

In the most recent mock draft at Sports Illustrated, Kevin Hansen went against the grain, based on his sources, giving the Chargers a chance at QB Tua Tagovailoa. For the most part at our site, Justin Herbert is the quarterback most believe that lands at the sixth pick in this year's draft.

Herbert has the stature and arm to draw plenty of attention for NFL franchises in 2020. Kalyn Kahler wrote in a December article that Herbert committed his days to watch film and to learn the quarterback position:

Herbert leaves for the football facility around 5:30 each morning and doesn’t return to his apartment until around 8 p.m. He does most of his solitary film study in the fourth-floor quarterback meeting room, which Arroyo has started referring to as Herbert’s office.

Last year Herbert completed 47 of his 286 completions (16.4 percent) to the running back position while not having a prolific option at TE. He did showing a willingness to throw his top three tight ends (51 catches for 668 yards) with success with them for TDs (10).

Recent First Round QBs

Over the last three seasons, 11 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. 

QBs with plenty of work to do:

  • Josh Rosen (3-10) struggled in Arizona while failing to beat out Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2019 in Miami. Rosen has a completion rate of 54.8 in the NFL with 12 TDs and 19 INTs.
  • Baker Mayfield went 12-17 over 29 starts for the Browns while completing 61.5 percent of his passes (68.5 in college) with 49 TDs and 35 INTs.
  • Sam Darnold made 26 starts for the Jets (11-15) with weakness in his completion rate (59.9). He has 36 TDs and 28 INTs.
  • Dwayne Haskins made only seven starts (2-5) in his rookie season. The Redskins lacked receiving talent, leading to minimal yards (1,365) with seven TDs and seven INTs.

QBs with some success:

  • Mitchell Trubisky came out flat in his rookie season (4-8 with seven TDs and seven INTs), but he looked ready to shine after an excellent 2018 (11-3 with 27 combined TDs, 12 INTs, and 66.6 percent completion rate). A bum right shoulder and regression by the Bears’ overall offense pushed him back with some of the have-nots in the NFL last year.
  • Daniel Jones went 3-9 in his rookie campaign, but his ups outweighed his downs. He finished four impact games with 26 combined TDs and 12 INTs.
  • Kyler Murray started all 16 games for the Cardinals, but he only went 5-10-1 with weakness in his yards per pass attempt (6.9). He finished with over 4,300 combined yards with 24 TDs and 12 INTs.

QBs with success over multiple years:

  • Patrick Mahomes rode the pine for all but one game in his rookie season. Over his first two years as a starter, he went 33-7 with a Super Bowl title highlighted by his 52 combined TDs in 2018.
  • Lamar Jackson has 22 career starts under his belt with a 19-3 record. His skill set is elite in the run game while showing growth as a passer last year. Jackson has 54 combined TDs and nine INTs.
  • Deshaun Watson missed the second half of the 2017 season with a torn ACL. Over 37 career starts, he went 24-13 with 85 TDs and 29 INTs. His completion rate (66.8) has been even better in 2018 (68.3) and 2019 (67.3).
  • Josh Allen is trailing most of the QBs on this list in completion rate (56.3) while showing improvement in 2019 (58.8). Over 27 starts, he went 15-12 with 47 combined TDs and 21 INTs. Allen gains his edge with his legs (198/1141/17).

All of the QBs with success would have rushed for over 300 yards if they had a full season starts expect Mahomes (2019 – knee) and Trubisky (2019 – shoulder).

Rosen, Mayfield, Darnold, and Haskins combined for 524 rushing yards on 190 carries (2.8 YPC) with eight TDs over 78 games (6.8 rushing yards per game). Haskins looks to be the outlier in this group (5.0 yards per rush) while lacking enough length on his resume to get a true feel for his direction and future value.

Herbert in 2020

My reason for listing the last three years of QBs was to get a mental picture of who had success and why. Landing in the right NFL spot is a key to winning. The NFL has six QBs (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger) currently playing that rank high on the all-time list in wins, passing yards, and TDs with minimal value with their legs. Rodgers ranks the best of this group as a runner.

Unfortunately, the next generation of QBs started with the success Russell Wilson, thanks to his ability to throw well on the run and make plays with his legs.

Herbert played basketball and baseball in high school with plenty of rushing attempts (231) in his college career, but he gained only 2.4 yards per rush in his career at Oregon.

The Chargers have the pieces to win this year at RB, WR, TE, and CB while also owning three other top players on defense. I question whether Herbert is another version of Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen. Here’s a look at all three players’ best two seasons in college while all playing in the Pac-12:

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Conclusion

Herbert no doubt has the talent, and all signs point to a hard worker with the smarts to help his decision making with more experience. His execution will need to be proven on the field.

In 2020, I would consider him a downgrade for the receiving corps in Los Angeles.

Overall, no matter who starts, the running back position looks to be at the most risk compared to last year. Regression should be expected in both catches and targets.

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