Staying for senior season at Oregon supports draft stock for quarterback Justin Herbert
The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.
Justin Herbert seemed to have little to gain and plenty to lose by returning to Oregon for his senior season instead of turning pro.
Many projected the 6-foot-6, 236-pound quarterback as a top-five pick in the 2019 NFL draft, when the crop of top passers — Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins — did not appear as strong as this year’s group headed by Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Herbert and Jordan Love.
Any slippage from a superb junior season in which he threw for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns could drop Herbert to the back of the first round or lower. A serious injury in 2019 could cost him millions of dollars.
But the chance to finish his career in hometown Eugene, Ore., and play with brother, Patrick, an incoming freshman tight end, was too alluring for Herbert.
Roots? He grew up watching Ducks quarterbacks such as Joey Harrington, Dennis Dixon and Marcus Mariota, and his grandfather played receiver at Oregon in the early 1960s.
There were no regrets after Herbert completed 286 of 428 passes for 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions to lead Oregon to a 12-2 record, the Pac-12 championship and a 28-27 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin in which he rushed for three touchdowns, including a 30-yard winner in the fourth quarter.
And his draft stock didn’t slip a bit. Herbert, who has been compared to Buffalo’s Josh Allen — the seventh pick of the 2018 draft — is expected to be top 10 pick and has been linked heavily with the Chargers at No. 6.
“I wanted to come back to finish out with the guys we came in with,” Herbert said at the NFL combine in February. “We talked about going 4-8 my freshman year and a group of seniors that stuck through it and ended up going 12-2. I also wanted to play with my brother and finish school, to become a better leader, a better player. These are all things I feel like we accomplished.”
Herbert has the physical tools to be an impact player in the NFL — superior size and field vision, a cannon for an arm, the intelligence and experience to go through his progressions without panicking and the mobility to extend plays with his legs.
But to star in the NFL, Herbert will need to develop a better touch on short- and medium-range passes, put a little more air under his deep balls, gain command of the huddle and learn to play under center.
Quarterbacks expert Greg Cosell talks with L.A. Times reporter Sam Farmer about top prospects in the upcoming NFL draft in this Zoom chat.
Herbert was a four-year starter who played for three different head coaches at Oregon, but he operated primarily out of the shotgun formation in a no-huddle offense.
“A lot of [the questions] are about never being under center, never being in a huddle — those are things I never got to do in college,” Herbert said. “But I think the Oregon offense did a great job of preparing us for the NFL.
“A lot of stuff fell on me to flip protections, to change runs. I really enjoyed that offense and am looking forward to learning as much as I can in the NFL. I’m excited to be here. I want to get better.”
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