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QB Klassroom: Oregon QB Justin Herbert, Part 2

Derrik Klassen
Oregon QB Justin Herbert vs Arizona (11/16/19)
  Left Outside Left Middle Right Middle Right Outside Total
20+ 2/2 (2 TD)     1/1 (1 TD) 3/3 (3 TD)
16-20 1/1   0/1 (1 INT) 0/1 1/3 (1 INT)
11-15 1/1 1/3 1/2 1/1 4/7
6-10 0/1     0/1 0/2
1-5 1/1 2/2 1/1 1/1 5/5
0 3/3 3/3 (1 TD)   2/2 8/8
Total 8/9 (2 TD) 6/8 (1 TD) 2/4 (1 INT) 5/7 (1 TD) 21/28 (4 TD, 1 INT)

Situational Accuracy

Outside the Pocket: 1/3

Under Pressure: 1/2 (1 TD)

Red Zone: 3/4

3rd/4th Down: 7/12 (1 TD, 1 INT, 5 conversions) 

Forced Adjustments: 1

Oregon QB Justin Herbert is the first repeat feature in the QB Klassroom. Way back in Week 1, Herbert was put under the microscope for his performance against Auburn. The Oregon senior had just come off a shaky junior campaign that raised more questions about his NFL future than it did answer them and he was looking to quell some of those concerns. While Herbert was not fantastic against Auburn, he put forth an effort deserving of a win and was effective through most of the game, especially in the first half before Oregon’s play caller took their foot off the gas. 

There was no way one game was going to answer all the questions Herbert was surrounded by, not even against a strong Auburn defense. As such, Herbert is back in the Klassroom for good reason, as no other top quarterback in this class is in need of a checkup the way Herbert is. 

Herbert stuck it to Arizona over the weekend. Not only was Herbert accurate on 75% of his passes on Saturday, but he was a perfect 3-for-3 beyond 20 yards. Whether it was flea-flickers or straight drop back concepts, Herbert flashed his well-documented arm strength and dropped every deep pass in the perfect spot to allow for them all to be ran in for touchdowns. Herbert had no issue finding explosive plays to complement his perfect work in the quick game. 

As far as specific ball placement goes, a few of Herbert’s best throws on the day were on back shoulder throws. Back shoulder passes, for the most part, are adjustments to vertical routes in which the receiver does not get into position to actually win vertically. The “if he’s even, he’s leavin’” rule is applied. By the time Herbert finishes his drop back, both he and the receiver should know whether the receiver is at or beyond the cornerback’s shoulders to be able to separate unimpeded. If the cornerback is still stacked over the receiver, then the quarterback and receiver both adjust to playing for the back shoulder pass instead of the straight vertical route. 

In this instance, Herbert takes a short drop and the receiver does not get to the “even, leavin’” point by the time the drop is finished. Both Herbert and the receiver adjust for the back shoulder pass. Rather than drive on the throw, Herbert eases the ball out like a three-point shot in basketball and tries to drop it in just outside the cornerback for the receiver. Herbert puts the ball in a good for the receiver to cleanly get both hands on it, but the receiver lets the ball slip through his hands, hit his chest, and fall to the grass for an incompletion. Both in terms of processing and placement, Herbert had it all right on this play. 

Herbert made the same adjustment later in the game for a touchdown on a slightly different concept. Rather than just having the isolated receiver, like many back shoulder throws, Oregon ran a tunnel/wheel concept with their tight end getting vertical as the #2 receiver in the formation. Herbert and the tight end still abide by similar rules, but it’s a bit of a different throw for Herbert than the one before. 

Oregon shift their tight end from the right side of the formation to the left side. The shift creates a two receiver set to the left side. At the snap, the wide receiver steps up the field then trails back behind the line of scrimmage as if he were running a tunnel screen. The tight end releases wide to somewhat mimic his blocking path to get to the second level on a tunnel screen, then turns up the sideline on a wheel route. Arizona’s defender across from the tight end plays it exceptionally by staying in front of the tight end and stacking him on the inside shoulder, but Herbert sees the coverage and adjusts to find the tight end on the back shoulder. The tight end is able to make a smooth turn for the ball and spin his way into the end zone after an easy catch. 

Even during his “down” junior season, Herbert always showed the ability to throw around defenders in coverage. His understanding of exactly what certain coverage techniques are trying to accomplish and how to beat that with ball placement is quite impressive, arguably the best in the class. 

Where Herbert hasn’t always put his best foot forward is with regards to pocket management. All throughout Herbert’s junior season, he was a bit skittish against pressure. Herbert also rarely showed the ability to maneuver the pocket well, both with pressure and without it. Herbert’s entire skill set was founded upon getting the ball out on the first or second read, or bailing altogether to make a play. Thankfully, Herbert flashed a bit of that much-needed pocket adjustment in this game. 

At first glance, Herbert’s dash up through the pocket seems frantic or extreme, but it’s his best option at this point in the play. The edge rusher to his right has extended well wide of the pocket, while the interior of the pocket hasn’t budged at all. Herbert has a valley’s worth of space in front of him and needs to throw at least 10 yards to get to the sticks. Sitting 7-8 yards behind the line of scrimmage is useless when he has room to step up. Herbert dashes a few steps up, then veers to his right to set himself up in an open throwing lane and to get himself a better angle to throw to his intended target. At no point in Herbert’s movement does he drop the ball or actually look to run. He’s trying to gain as much ground toward his receiver as possible. With a bit of a sidearm flick while on the move, Herbert hits the pass beyond the sticks for an Oregon first down. That’s some of Herbert’s best work ever in terms of moving off his original spot to make a throw from the pocket. 

Of course, Herbert will need to show more of the subtle stuff. Not every pocket movement can be as pronounced as this and Herbert will need to find a way to make his lanky body maneuver in tight spaces to create time and comfort for himself. At the very least, it’s encouraging to see Herbert have moments like this considering how much of a coin flip he was in spots like this last year. 

The lone blemish that sticks out for Herbert in this game is the interception, but it is more a blow to his stat sheet than it was a critical blunder in real time. While the interception was not a result of a dropped pass or a miscommunication, the circumstance in which Herbert threw the interception was somewhat acceptable. 

Oregon were in a 4th-and-10 situation on the Arizona 29-yard line. A 46-yard field goal is pushing it for a team that has dealt with kicker issues all year, while punting that close to the end zone is a waste. Especially considering the down and distance, Oregon were in a situation that presented no real choice but to swing big. 

To the right side of the formation, Oregon are running a crosser, a 12-yard in route, and a flat route toward the sideline. Herbert initially has his eyes toward the crosser moving right to left, but comes off of it and fires toward the 12-yard in route without any delay. Presumably, Herbert assumed the strong side outside linebacker (to his right) would fan out to cover the flat route. The strong side flat player instead came off the flat route to undercut the 12-yard in route and tip the ball up for an interception. Herbert had the right idea to attack beyond the sticks, but Arizona did well to protect the sticks and not over-index toward any route underneath the sticks. 

The reward for Herbert throwing this somewhat blind would have obviously been a first down and great field position to score a touchdown over the next four plays. Anything less than attacking the sticks would have resulted in an Oregon turnover one way or another. There was almost no reason for Herbert not to attack. Granted, the interception return allowed Arizona to get to their own 48-yard line instead of the 29-yard line Oregon was at, but if there were ever a relatively understandable spot to throw an interception, it’s in the “no man’s land” part of the field on fourth down. That is not the kind of interception that should stain Herbert’s record that deeply.

By this point in the season, there is enough evidence to decide one way or another if Herbert has progressed the way he needed to. While Herbert hasn't prove himself outright better than the other quarterbacks in this class, he has shaken off some of the issues he showed all throughout his junior season, primarily his questionable pocket movement. Almost all of Herbert's NFL Draft stock heading into this year was based on his fantastic sophomore season in 2017 and it's fair to say Herbert has returned to that level of play. In fact, statistically, he might be better

Herbert's 167.7 passer rating and 69.6% completion percentage are both career highs, with his passer rating just edging out his 167.5 mark from 2017. His current completion percentage is also more than a full 10 percentage points better than last season (59.4%) and slightly higher than his 2017 rate (67.5%). Herbert has also managed to maintain the lowest interception rate of his career, giving up an interception on fewer than 1% of his passes (0.0095%). While Herbert's ability to find explosive plays has been slightly worse this year compared to his sophomore season, the overall cleanliness of his game should be more appealing to teams as that down-to-down consistency is more translatable to the NFL. 

With a few games and a potential CFB Playoff run left to go, Herbert still has plenty of time to prove himself to NFL scouts and GMs. Through this point in the year, though, Herbert has already made great strides in retaining his status as a lock to go high in the NFL, likely in the top-10. Teams are always willing to go all-out for tall, athletic, strong-armed quarterbacks and Herbert has shown more of the down-to-down consistency to complement the massive potential. While Joe Burrow and, barring health, Tua Tagovailoa probably still have a step on Herbert, the gap between Herbert and everyone else behind him is vast. Considering Herbert seems to have all the tools and traits to excel at the NFL Combine, Senior Bowl, and through the interview process, that gap shouldn't close any time soon.