Fantasy Football 2020 NFL Draft Profile: Does Justin Herbert live up to years of hype?

Justin Herbert's name has been on the tip of the tongue of draftniks for years. Now he'll rightly go in the top half of the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft

A starter of 42 games at Oregon, Herbert leaves the school trailing only Marcus Mariota in career passing yards and touchdowns. The tall, lanky gunslinger overcame a coaching change (his third with the Ducks) to help navigate Oregon to the 16th-ranked offense in 2019 (35.4 points per game) and a win in the Rose Bowl. He finished 19th in the nation with 3,471 passing yards and tied for 11th in passing touchdowns with 32. 

More notably, Herbert ranked 18th in on-target throws and 18th in air yards among Power-5 Conference quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts, according to Sports Info Solutions. The 21-year-old won the William V. Campbell Trophy, nicknamed the "Academic Heisman" because it's awarded to the college football player who does well on the field, in the classroom and with community service. While Herbert isn't guaranteed a starting job in Week 1, he should become a regular NFL starter for at least his first three seasons. 

Numbers to Know

Height: 6-6 1/4

Weight: 236 pounds

Hand: 10 inches

Prospect Stats

2019: 14 games, 66.8% passes completed, 3,471 yards, 32 TDs, 6 INT; 58 rushes, 50 rush yards, 4 rush TDs

In four games against top-25 ranked teams, Herbert completed 66.1% of his passes for an average of 213.3 yards per game, but just six passing touchdowns. He added another three rushing touchdowns. 

Career: 43 games, 64% passes completed, 10,541 yards, 95 TDs, 23 INT; 231 rushes, 560 rush yards, 13 rush TDs

Herbert had 28 games with multiple touchdowns in his career and nine with 300-plus yards. He improved his passing yards and touchdowns year-over-year from 2017 through 2019. 

Known Injury History

  • Broken leg, 2014
  • Fractured collarbone, September 2017

Strengths

Herbert's blend of good experience, footwork, mechanics and athleticism are all the more impressive when you consider his unique height. Statuesque he's not — Herbert moves fluidly around and out of the pocket to avoid pressure (was sacked 24 times on 452 dropbacks in 2019). He's fine when it comes to reading defenses and finding the open receiver. His short-area accuracy is unsurprisingly very good but he really shines throwing on the run (especially to his right). 

Herbert can throw with touch or velocity and has the arm strength to push the ball upwards of 40 to 50 yards downfield. And if that's not enough, Herbert also is willing and able to run the ball effectively. Though his rushing yardage in 2019 doesn't reflect it, Herbert proved on multiple occasions he can call his own number on zone-read plays and rack up rushing yardage (or touchdowns in the case of his game against Wisconsin). Unless coaches keep him from running, NFL defenses will have to respect the threat of his legs. 

Finally, Herbert learned three different offenses while at Oregon and has the intelligence to quickly grasp another in the NFL. There are questions about his leadership abilities but he seemed to do just fine leading his group of all-star players during the 2020 Senior Bowl, alleviating those concerns. 

Concerns

Herbert's best work came from clean pockets, meaning, like most quarterbacks, he had some jitters when pass rushers got near him. It was not uncommon to see Herbert's footwork and mechanics break down when pressure was on him, leading to inaccurate throws, near-turnovers and the occasional interception. A lot of times, Herbert would feel pressure and start running. For a first-round quarterback, this inconsistency is concerning. Does this mean Herbert needs a good offensive line around him in order to meet his potential? 

Herbert also saw his accuracy wane on deeper throws. Per Sports Info Solutions, Herbert was on-target on 58% of his throws traveling 15 or more yards through the air. Even during Senior Bowl practices, when he couldn't get hit, Herbert had some off-target tosses. Can he improve in this area? 

Pressured or not, Herbert sometimes seemed a beat too slow to find his second and third reads on offense. When he did find them, he'd give them a chance to make plays, but his internal clock didn't move as fast as it did for other quarterbacks. And despite being tall, Herbert isn't heavy. Defenders were able to take him down rather easily when he was in the pocket. 

Ryan Wilson's Take

No. 3 QB

Here's the good news: Herbert's 2019 season was much-improved over 2018, where he completed just 59 percent of his throws. That number was up to 66.8 completion for his senior campaign, and he topped off his Ducks career with an efficient effort against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, where he finished 14 of 20 for 138 yards with three rushing scores and an interception. Still, plenty of questions remain about one of the most physically gifted players in this draft class. In a word, Herbert is an enigma. We've been talking about him now for more than a year, and repeating many of the same talking points: His arm strength is otherworldly, his measurables — 6-foot-6, 237 pounds, insane athleticism and an ability to make plays with his feet — check all the boxes. And for as much as we want to like him the reality is that he has yet to put it all together.  

Fantasy Comparison

Fit is going to matter so much with Herbert. Despite a decorated college career, he could be benched to begin his career before being put on the field. Expected to be chosen inside the top 10, he'll probably join a franchise that is far from prepared to give a quarterback all that he needs to play flawlessly. It's very much like what happened to Josh Allen in 2018, who got in 12 games and averaged under 175 yards per game while contributing on the ground (52.6 yards per game). But we did see Allen's numbers improve in his second season (193.1 pass yards on average) while remaining a threat on the ground. Herbert could easily follow suit. 

Favorite Fantasy Fits

The team in the top-10 that might reasonably fit Herbert's strengths and give him the chance to develop as he plays would be the Jaguars. They have the best potential offensive line of the quarterback-needy teams, their West Coast offense is a fit for Herbert, and their run-leaning preference would take pressure off of the rookie. Jacksonville would have to move Foles and permanently demote Minshew to make this work. 

The next best spot would be in Carolina. Whether he waits behind Cam Newton or gets on the field quickly, Herbert would be in Joe Brady's quick-strike offense that has a lot of similar elements to what Oregon ran in 2019. The Panthers offensive line has questions, but surrounding Herbert with their intrepid group of receivers should help him progress.

Herbert has been linked to the Chargers and the Dolphins, both teams with older veteran quarterbacks and suspect offensive lines. Both also run similar offenses that rely on flexibility and gameplanning for each opponent with elements of deep-ball passing. The learning curve figures to be a little bit steeper in both places.

Fantasy Bottom Line

Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa are NFL-ready; Herbert is almost NFL-ready. Expect some growing pains, especially statistically unless he ends up going to an offense that willingly utilizes his legs and gives him a shot at 300-500 rush yards and 4-6 rushing touchdowns. He'll be a second-round pick in rookie-only drafts and a late-rounder in dynasty league startups. Herbert may not get chosen in any one-QB seasonal leagues, but he'll get nabbed by the end of Round 10 in two-QB/SuperFlex formats.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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