Did Oregon Fail To Develop Justin Herbert?

David Marsh Editorials

Justin Herbert was the NFL’s 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year. His first year in the NFL with the Los Angles Chargers was a resounding success and silenced his doubters. As Oregon fans, we all knew his potential but even we were surprised by just how good he was in his rookie year. Herbert showcased a set of abilities in the  NFL that he really didn’t show in college. Did Oregon fail to develop Herbert, were his years at Oregon wasted?

In terms of having a reliable supporting cast and a scheme that allowed him to show off his physical ability: yes, Oregon didn’t maximize Herbert’s talent. Though, it is notable Herbert’s time at Oregon was fraught with coaching transitions and was the most turbulent time in the last thirty years of Oregon Football history. Herbert started his Oregon career in 2016, the year that Oregon bottomed out in the last season of the Mark Helfrich era which ended with the firing of not only Helfrich but the entire coaching staff.

Willie Taggart came in as an outsider and had a moderately successful year at Oregon in 2017, but it is most remembered for Herbert breaking his collar bone against Cal and the season’s collapse that followed. Taggart left before their bowl game and the Ducks finished the season under the guidance of Mario Cristobal, as his era began with a Las Vegas Bowl that is decidedly not worth remembering.

Justin Herbert was the backbone of a rebuilding Oregon Football team.

The Cristobal era came with yet another new offense for Herbert to learn, but still lacked in potential playmakers as Oregon lost the majority of a promising receiver class when Taggart left for Florida State. We tend to forget how much chaos ensued from Taggart’s departure and how much Cristobal and the rest of the coaching staff had to scramble to keep Oregon’s 2018 recruiting class together. Furthermore, Oregon lost its veteran receiving corps because the group of receivers who played a key role in Oregon’s 2014 National Title run had graduated or left the program.

Herbert really only had one game-changing receiver in his time at Oregon, Dillon Mitchell, who left following the conclusion of his breakout 2018 season. Even in 2018, Herbert was handicapped by a lack of dynamic receiving threats. Most opposing defenses knew Mitchell was the main offensive weapon they needed to stop because the rest of the receiving corps struggled to get separation from defenders and catch the ball.

Unreliable receivers who also lacked the athletic ability to get separation from defenders took away deep passes, which is one of the most exciting aspects of Herbert’s NFL career to date. Instead, offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo relied heavily on shorter passes and a myriad of screenplays. The Chargers have better receivers than anyone Herbert ever had at Oregon, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Herbert has managed to achieve more with better pass-catchers.

However, Oregon did develop Herbert, because Herbert was ready for the NFL on day one.

Justin Herbert was a breakout star his Rookie season with the Los Angles Chargers.

Herbert did not have a typical rookie offseason since everything was turned on its head due to the Coronavirus canceling the pre-season and adding additional restraints to practice. The result was that the 2020 offseason ending up being far less productive than a typical year.

There would be a much stronger argument that Oregon did not develop Herbert if he started his NFL career slow and with more glaring mistakes. Yes, Herbert made mistakes, but that’s to be expected of any rookie. The mistakes did make were few and far between, and overshadowed by performances like his surprise debut.

Consider how impressive it was for fans seeing Herbert step into his first start with only a few minutes to prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl Champions, and put on a show against the ultra talented Patrick Mahomes II. Herbert and the Chargers offense did everything they could to win the game, only to be let down by a leaky defense, very un-special teams, and poor late-game playcalls. This pattern would continue for the majority of the Charger’s 2020 season and result in the firing of Chargers coach Anthony Lynn.

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Herbert wasn’t only developed by Oregon, but prepared Herbert to be an NFL starter and franchise quarterback. As Oregon fans, we are thankful for Herbert’s time at Oregon as he proved to be the foundation for Oregon’s rebuild. Herbert had three head coaches and had to learn three offenses in his four years at Oregon; that lack of stability is typically detrimental to young quarterbacks, though in Herbert’s case, this would help prepare him for the NFL as he prepares for his second head coach and second offensive scheme of his NFL career.

Herbert has grown and developed even more in the NFL, but that should be expected. No rookie quarterback out of college plays like a veteran, though there were times that Herbert certainly looked the part. The real question isn’t did Oregon fail to develop Herbert, but has Oregon failed to develop a supporting cast of pass catchers for their quarterbacks?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: Kevin Cline

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