Top Quarterbacks in NFL Draft: Justin Herbert

Bill Huber

Oregon’s Justin Herbert checks in at No. 3 in our ranking of the top quarterbacks in the NFL Draft.

Oregon’s Justin Herbert is a story of the local kid who made good.

Herbert is a native of Eugene, Ore. In backyard games, he pretended he was Oregon stars such as Joey Harrington. Ultimately, he elected to stay home and play at Oregon. He went from No. 4 on the depth chart to starter as a true freshman. On the field, he threw for 10,541 yards and 95 touchdowns. The Ducks went from 4-8 his freshman season to Rose Bowl winners as a senior. The Ducks score 37.2 points per game during his tenure. Off the field, he was a three-time Academic All-American with a 4.01 grade-point average. Herbert repeated as the Academic All-America Team Member of the Year, joining Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow as the only other players to accomplish that feat. He won the William Campbell Trophy – aka the Academic Heisman.

“I’m a different person,” Herbert said at the Scouting Combine. “I think the kid that showed up at the University of Oregon isn’t me anymore. There’s aspects of my game that have changed. I’ve become more vocal, I’ve become more outgoing. There are things you have to do to be a quarterback and the way a quarterback carries himself. I think I’ve done a great job of becoming that over these past four years.”

He saved his best for last. As a senior, he completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 3,471 yards with 32 touchdowns vs. six interceptions. He was MVP of the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. At the Senior Bowl, he was voted player of the week by his peers and MVP of the game.

“He came in as a top-10, top-15 pick,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said. “He didn’t disappoint in any area. We had the peers vote on the awards during the week. I feel like as a player, that stuff means more coming from the other players. Justin came in and was good on Tuesday, good on Wednesday, good on Thursday and was good in the game.”

What we like

Going inside the numbers, his 102.2 passer rating vs. the blitz was a 45-point improvement over his junior campaign. He was efficient against pressure, man and zone. He’s big (6-6, 236) and possesses big hands (10 inches) and above-average athleticism (6.6 yards per carry; 4.68 in the 40). The raw skill-set and wealth of experience will make him an easy first-round pick.

What we don’t like

Like so many college passers, it’s a whole new world in the NFL. “A lot of it’s about never being under center, a lot of it is about never being in a huddle,” he said of scouts’ concerns. “Those are things that in college I never got to do so it’s stuff I’ve had to address these last two months and it’s stuff I’ve had to learn.”

For all his experience, his game was not without flaws. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked 50th in the nation in accuracy on passes 1 to 9 yards downfield. On those underneath passes, he completed 73.3 percent of his passes. By contrast, Joe Burrow completed 86.6 percent. And he was a fumbling machine, coughing it up a whopping 26 times in four seasons.