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What it’s going to take for Justin Herbert to enter the ‘elite’ conversation

Crissy Froyd

There are few topics in sports that are quite as polarizing as the conversation of when a quarterback becomes “elite.” Justin Herbert now becomes part of this conversation.

Even when quarterbacks have a quick ascension with little struggles as rookies, there are still several skeptics who would like to see them consistently perform that way over several years before they can be tabbed as great. There are also some who need to see the signal-caller lead a team to the promised land and get the Super Bowl victory to do so.

Heading into his third NFL season, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has entered the early “elite” discussion, with expectations that he could potentially lead the league in passing yards in 2022 while continuing his ascension to elite status.

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Justin Herbert looking to make that leap in 2022

justin herbert, los angeles chargers
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s rare that a quarterback is thrown into the fire in the first year and has a fairly seamless transition. But for Herbert, the rookie growing pains didn’t show themselves loudly in a year in which he and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow quickly took the league by storm.

Herbert finished out his rookie season in 2020 with a 66.6% completion rate, 4,336 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He took the next step last season with a 65.9% completion percentage, 5,014 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Justin Herbert stats (2020-21): 66% completion, 9,350 yards, 69 TD, 25 INT, 97.9 QB rating

Between those two seasons, Herbert is averaging an impressive 7.4 yards per attempt and has shown the ability to complete passes at all levels of the field. Throughout his young career, Herbert’s outstanding decision-making, level of arm strength, pinpoint accuracy on all throws, athletic ability and his knack for etching his way into the record books have been firmly on display.

It’s not super surprising that Herbert can handle change well. After all, he put on a great college campaign despite coaching staff changes. Herbert finished out his career with the Oregon Ducks with a 64% completion rate, 10,541 passing yards, 95 touchdowns and 23 interception.

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Success of Justin Herbert is even better than it looks

Herbert’s stat line is plenty satisfactory, especially for how early on he still is in his career. But considering the number of tipped passes that resulted in interceptions, his statistics in his own right should be even better than they already are.

The right side of the offensive line was also an area of question for the Chargers which was the cause of some of the pressure Herbert had to deal with at times. Offensive line issues play a role into a quarterback’s success and there’s no question that factored into the few mishaps that have occurred on Herbert’s end over the past two years.

And it doesn’t just come down to pass protection. It also hinders the run game and forces a team into a lot more situations in which they are forced to throw the ball.

If the offensive line had been more tuned up from end to end, it’s reasonable to assume this could have also given Herbert an even more crisp stat line. Look out for him to top the past two seasons come this fall.

Related: Philip Rivers ‘Los Angeles Chargers nailed it with Justin Herbert’

The 2022 outlook for Justin Herbert

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Herbert enters the 2022 season as one of the best quarterbacks in the league and has a chance to only continue establishing himself. There’s a lot for the Chargers to be excited and optimistic about when it comes to their quarterback based purely on his performance to this point. But also from a physical standpoint.

Herbert was already a good physical specimen, but has become an even better one. The quarterback appears to have added muscle mass in the offseason, telling the media back in May that he was at roughly 245 pounds — meaning that he’s added roughly nine pounds. He’s currently listed on the Chargers’ official website at 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds.

The apparent added weight Herbert speaks of has been a result of training.

“We’ve just been getting after it and I’m thankful to [head strength & conditioning coach] Jonathan Brooks, who’s been leading the charge.”

Justin Herbert on off-season conditioning program

There’s no question the Herbert has been putting in the work. In fact, he can’t stand being away from football.

“I feel like I just get bored sometimes without football,” Herbert said. “Saturdays and Sundays are nice, but at the same time, I’d rather be playing and having something to do because I hate hanging around my house and not doing anything or accomplishing anything.”

Supporting cast and offensive line obviously play a role in a quarterback’s success, and things look better for the Chargers in the upcoming season from that perspective. The Chargers have made some improvements in terms of the people around him this offseason.

They quickly remedied the right guard problem, selecting offensive lineman Zion Johnson out of Boston College in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Outside of this, the Chargers return talented left tackle Rashawn Slater, center Corey Linsley and left guard Matt Feiler.

It’s important to note the team did not take on a better player at right tackle, with Trey Pipkins and Storm Norton in contention for the starting role. But with who they have now, Herbert should experience an upgrade and fewer pressures — both of which will only help propel him to further success.

Looking at the wide receiver position, the Chargers have talent in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, who were ranked 11th and 13th in wide receiver scoring in fantasy football, respectively.

Allen finished out last season with 106 receptions for 1,138 receiving yards and six touchdowns while Williams reeled in 76 catches for 1,146 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Having established pass-catchers at wide receiver and tight end is a great bonus. But it helps even more the Chargers have been adding depth with developmental talent at WR3 and WR4. The presence of running back Austin Ekeler and the addition of pass-catcher Gerald Everett will only help matters.

Herbert is very much on track to become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and it’s reasonable to assume we’ll be hearing his name and “elite” in the same sentence sooner rather than later. The Chargers are doing what’s needed to assemble a team that can consistently contend for a Super Bowl, and there’s no question they have the right man taking the snaps under center.