How NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert Made the Jump to the Pros Look So Easy

Herbert finished last season as the all-time rookie record-holder in passing touchdowns and completions

February 24, 2021 8:41 am
How NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert Made the Jump to the Pros Look So Easy
Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers attempts a pass against. Miami.
Mark Brown/Getty

Forced into action in Week 2 of the NFL season after veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor was scratched just before kickoff due to a freak accident, Los Angeles Chargers rookie QB Justin Herbert threw for more than 300 yards against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in a 23-20 overtime loss.

Taken with the sixth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Herbert went on to have a monster year, finishing the season as the all-time rookie record-holder in passing touchdowns (31), total touchdowns (36), completions (396), games with 300-plus passing yards (eight) and games with three-plus touchdowns (six).

Named The Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Oregon product generally made the transition to the NFL from college look effortless during a pandemic-influenced season that was largely devoid of normal practice time and in-person instruction. While some players might have buckled under the pressure of being asked to start against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs with zero notice, Herbert was able to handle it because, in his opinion, he was ready.

“I thought it was an incredible opportunity,” he tells InsideHook. “To go out there and have fun and play football in the NFL is something that I’ve always wanted to do. When I was told I was going out there, I felt like I was ready. [Former Chargers quarterbacks coach] Pep Hamilton and I worked didn’t really know when or if I was going to start, but I had to train and prepare like I was the starting quarterback. Whether that was Week 1 or Week 17, I had to be ready for that moment. It’s all about battling adversity. Whether that’s a sack or throwing a pick or an incompletion, it’s all about the next play, getting up and putting your team in a position to win.”

Herbert, who just joined Panthers star Christian McCaffrey as a brand ambassador for premium clothing brand Flag & Anthem, clearly was up for the challenge of starting in the NFL, but he was also a quick study once he has given the reins to the Charger offense.

“I learned a lot about the speed of the game,” he says. “The NFL is such a fast game that you have to realize you can’t really get away with a lot of the things that you did in college. Throws or rolling out of the pocket is different. There’s a lot of footwork you need to use to find a good spot in the pocket to be able to step up and throw. You see a lot of pressures and a lot of coverages. The more you go through that, the more you understand. Going through 15 or 16 weeks of that was a great teaching experience.”

And the learning didn’t stop for Herbert when LA’s season ended in Week 17. For most of us, the Super Bowl between the Buccaneers and Chiefs was a chance to watch commercials and eat chips and dip. For Herbert, it was a chance to study two of his past opponents.

Justin Herbert come aboard as a brand ambassador for Flag and Anthem.
Flag and Anthem

“I thought it was a really cool experience being able to watch it with more of an NFL eye,” he says. “Having watched film on both the teams, I recognized some of the pressures and some of the coverages they played. I thought that was cool. I could sometimes see why they were playing a specific coverage based on studying and knowing their defenders. It was a lot of fun to watch that game. We would have loved to have been in it.”

Based on Herbert’s work ethic and dedication to his craft, the Chargers might be there soon.

“I think the most important part of my job is being prepared and playing football. There are other people who can handle the marketing opportunities and things like that,” he says. “As long as I’m studying, working hard and taking care of my body, I think good things will happen. Each game is super important and weeks of preparation go into it, so staying focused and staying mentally ready is my most important thing.”

So, looking back at what was a successful but also hectic year, is there a piece of advice Herbert wishes he could have given himself a year ago?

“It’d be to keep working hard and keep your nose down. Just grind and good things will happen,” Herbert says. “If you always get better, never give up and do your best, good things will happen. There are so many more important things than worrying about all that extra stuff.”

Thanks to that attitude and the skillset Herbert showed off during his rookie campaign, the rest of the NFL should be worried about facing the 22-year-old moving forward.

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