Following the Rookies: AFC West Los Angeles Chargers
The LA Chargers ended up with 2 picks in the 1st round of the 2020 NFL Draft. With their 1st pick they took QB Justin Herbert out of Oregon who they hoped to be their franchise QB. Something I found interesting about Herbert was that had he come out of college for the 2019 draft, analysts absolutely loved him and projected him to be the number 1 overall QB taken. Fast forward a year to the 2020 NFL Draft and some analysts had Herbert projected to fall to the end of the 1st round and even fall out of the first round. Here was my projection for Herbert coming into the draft last year, "Project QB who would be best if able to sit behind a veteran for a year and improve on his overall decision making and accuracy so he can adjust to the NFL. If given that opportunity with the right coaching/veteran, he will become a very good starting QB in the NFL with the ability to make every throw as well as make plays with his legs." Well get back to that projection. With the 2nd pick in the first round the Chargers traded up with the New England Patriots to draft off-ball linebacker Kenneth Murray.
Justin Herbert started his NFL career with an unexpected week 2 start against the Kansas City Chiefs and has not looked back. He has started in all 5 games he played in, completing 124 passes on 184 attempts for a very good 67.4% completion percentage, which is higher then his career best college completion percentage of 66.8%. He has 1542 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. On top of that he has made some plays with his legs with 25 rushes for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. Herbert has by far exceeded any expectations of him. I thought it would take him a solid year in the NFL to get down the speed of the game and better understand how NFL defenses operate.Although I did believe he had all of the physical tools to be elite in the NFL I thought it would take him a year to become more consistent with his decision making and accuracy. Apparently Herbert only needed 1 week on the bench because he has looked like the best QB in this draft, which is saying a lot with the way that Joe Burrow is playing in Cincinnati. His accuracy has been elite, he has yet to allow pressure to really affect him, and his mobility has allowed him to make some fantastic plays from outside the pocket. The game where I believed Herbert showed that he was legit was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he was pressured often against one of the best defenses in the league and took the game to the end. His touchdown throw at the end of the 3rd quarter shows just how much he has been able to mature in such a short time. Tampa Bay blitzed 7 defenders making Herbert have to retreat and throw a deep ball off of his back foot. Herbert handled the pressure and threw a perfect pass leading his receiver and allowing him to take it to the endzone. He was not flustered by the moment of a heavy blitz, on top of the opposing teams offense having just made a great comeback to take the lead after being down 10+ points. Although they did not end up winning the game, Herbert showed the NFL that he can handle playing in big moment against elite defenses. The future is extremely bright for Herbert and the Chargers if he can continue to play at the level he started the year with.
On the other side of the ball Kenneth Murray has been very hot and cold to start the year. He has started all 6 games with an average of 93% of defensive snaps played. He has totaled 43 tackles (23 solo/20 assisted), 1 tackle for loss, an 3 passes defended. His biggest struggle has been against the pass where he has let up 20 completions on 26 targets for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns with a completion percentage of 76.9%. Against the run Murray has looked good where he has been very physical at the point of attack, often meeting running backs in the hole and being a very athletic sideline to sideline backer who can make tackles all over the field with very good angles. In the pass game he has obviously been targeted often and it has worked for offenses. He has struggled in man to man coverage against both tight ends and running backs where he just has not seemed comfortable so far this season. This could be due to the speed of the NFL as well as Murray being thrown into the fire from the start of the season. Murray has the athletic tools to be a very good pass coverage backer and I think as he develops and gets more comfortable with the speed at which the NFL is played he will play much better in the pass game.
*All stats from pro football reference.