14 Mar CFO Jonathan Cartu Says Justin Herbert is underrated; Jalen Hurts the next Dak…
Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:
— My top-five small-school prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft.
— A dual-threat quarterback prospect who could fly up draft boards over the next month.
But first, a look at a top QB prospect who isn’t getting his due …
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I don’t get it.
I don’t understand why there isn’t more love for Justin Herbert as a potential franchise quarterback.
I’ve been racking my brain since the fall trying to understand why a four-year starter with prototypical physical dimensions and outstanding arm talent hasn’t been touted as one of the blue-chip prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, particularly when factoring in his athleticism and intelligence.
On paper, Herbert looks like a create-a-quarterback from a video game with a 6-foot-6, 236-pound frame, 10-inch hands and explosive athletic traits (SEE: 4.68-second 40-yard dash, 35.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-3 broad jump last month at the NFL Scouting Combine) that are uncommon for a big quarterback. Moreover, he is a three-time Academic All-American with a 4.01 GPA and a degree in general science. Want more? Well, there’s also the fact that he helped reinvigorate a program that had fallen on hard times in his first year on campus.
Yet, I haven’t seen or heard many verbal bouquets being tossed in Herbert’s direction to this point in the pre-draft process, which is a surprise given his accomplishments on and off the field. That’s why I made the trek to Oregon’s campus on Thursday for the school’s pro day, where I’d be able to get another look at No. 10’s game to see if he really has the tools to be an elite QB1 at the NFL level.
Studying his performance at the pro day, I was impressed with his combination of size, athleticism and arm talent. It’s hard to find big, athletic passers with Herbert’s mobility, running skills and passing skills. He looks like a classic dropback passer at first glance, but he flashes the ability to work on the edges as a mobile passer. I believe he’s at his best playing in the shotgun, but he has made strides to improve as a traditional passer from under center. He showed better balance, body control and quickness in his drops at Oregon pro day, and the quick improvements should encourage coaches to take a closer look at his progress since the end of the college season. In addition, Herbert flashed the ability to make pinpoint throws to short and intermediate areas on in-breaking and out-breaking throws.
On movement passes, No. 10’s combination of athleticism and arm talent stands out as he easily makes throws on the run while working to either side of the field. In fact, Herbert appears to be at his best when throwing off play-action, particularly on stretch-bootleg concepts designed to put him behind the offensive tackle when he’s ready to launch.
From a critical standpoint, I must point out that Herbert appears to guide the ball on his short and intermediate passes. He doesn’t appear to cut it loose and you wish that he would rip it at times to show off his arm strength and velocity. I can’t determine whether it’s the perfectionist in him that holds him back or if he is ultra-conservative on those throws, but he has to become a little more aggressive and decisive in this area to become a Tier 1 quarterback at the next level.
When I reviewed Herbert’s game film to compare it with his performance in the workout, I came away more impressed by how he managed the game with the Ducks. He wasn’t asked to push the envelope as a playmaker, yet he was willing to comply with coaches’ orders and played winning football by making the necessary plays when his number was called. This was apparent in the Pac-12 Championship Game (vs. Utah) and the Rose Bowl (vs. Wisconsin) when he utilized his running skills/athleticism to spark the Ducks’ offense.
I love watching Herbert throw off play-action. He is a superb ball-handler and he appears to have better rhythm when he fakes to a runner before firing the ball to the perimeter. Part of his comfort level could be attributed to the Ducks’ heavy reliance on play-action and RPO-like concepts, but I also believe he just performs better when he executes old school play-action plays. From traditional power-based play-action to stretch-bootleg movement passes, Herbert is at his best leaning on the threat of the running game. Teams interested in his services should have an extensive play-action package featured in the playbook to maximize his talents. Additionally, Herbert’s athleticism and mobility should encourage teams to sprinkle in some read-option and designed quarterback runs to add an element to the offense. Although Herbert isn’t a Cam Newton-like force as a runner, he is certainly dynamic enough to pick up easy yards on the perimeter against over-aggressive defenses failing to account for the quarterback in the running game.
When pressed to come up with a comparison for Herbert and his game, I believe teams would be wise to follow the Tennessee Titans‘ blueprint with Ryan Tannehill. As big, mobile quarterbacks, they are at their best executing a mix of old school bootleg/movement plays and new school zone-read concepts while pushing the ball down the field behind the second level of the defense on an assortment of intermediate throws. They also have the ability to connect on the home-run ball while displaying outstanding arm strength and range from inside the pocket.
Although I believe Herbert is a more polished player right now than Tannehill was coming out of Texas A&M, I believe the comparison is a solid starting point for how he will need to play as a young starter and how his game could evolve with the right coach crafting a plan to elevate his play. Given how well it worked for Tannehill in Tennessee (led the NFL in passer rating and was named Comeback Player of the Year), I believe Herbert is an underappreciated gem at the position. Teams should dig a little deeper when projecting his potential as a pro. If I’m looking for a quarterback in today’s NFL, I would want a big, athletic quarterback with smarts and a winning pedigree. That’s what I see in Herbert. I’m sold on his potential as a QB1. Now, as for the best landing spots for him …
Miami Dolphins: If head coach Brian Flores and GM Chris Grier follow the old New England Patriots model, Herbert should earn high marks for his on- and off-the-field accomplishments. As a high-IQ player, it’s easy to envision him playing in an offense that morphs from week to week based on matchups. Moreover, it’s quite possible that offensive coordinator Chan Gailey would build a dynamic offense around his talents as a strong-armed passer with movement skills and great awareness.
Indianapolis Colts: Head coach Frank Reich has successfully built a system that featured a variety of play-action passes and rhythm throws that worked for a cerebral athlete at the position (he did it in Andrew Luck’s final NFL…
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