As the calendar is creeping towards 2020, those associated with the Cincinnati Bengals are resigned to keeping close tabs on the NFL Draft. It’s part-and-parcel of a team sputtering through a 1-13 campaign at the moment.
One of the major positions of interest for the team this year is at quarterback. Cincinnati has Andy Dalton under contract for next year, but after somewhat-underwhelming performances and a three-game benching, a selection of an heir apparent seems inevitable.
Even though the team selected Ryan Finley this past year, he didn’t show much beyond being an NFL backup in his three starts. Thus, “The Big Three” at the position in next year’s class (Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert), are quickly coming into focus.
A couple of weeks ago, we kicked off our “2020 Prospect Watch” segment on The Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast, including names like Michael Pittman, Jr., Samuel Cosmi, Kenneth Murray and Willie Gay, Jr.
This week, we looked at both Tagovailoa and Herbert. For help with the latter, we tapped Joseph Yun of SB Nation’s Addicted to Quack Oregon Ducks site.
Weight: 238 pounds
Hometown: Eugene, OR
College career passing yards: 10,403 (3,333 in 2019)
Career touchdowns: 95 (32 in 2019)
Career interceptions: 22 (five in 2019)
Career completion percentage: 63.9 (66.7 in 2019)
Career rating: 153.7 (158.7 in 2019)
Herbert started eight games in both 2016 and 2017 before starting 13 apiece the past two seasons. Before proclaiming he’d come back for a potential title run with the Ducks in 2019, Herbert was thought to be a possible No. 1 overall draft pick in the NFL Draft.
Since joining the Ducks, Herbert has endured three head coaches and offensive coordinators, as well as two major scheme changes. Even so, he has maintained a high first-round stock the past two seasons.
Herbert won the 2019 Campbell Trophy, which awards a collegiate athlete for their combination of on-field accolades, charitable endeavors and academics. He was not a finalist for the Heisman Trophy this year.
Strengths and weaknesses
On the plus side of things, Herbert brings the prototypical size and arm strength every NFL team covets. He has shown flashes of being able to make all of the throws, including those difficult out-routes to the opposite hash.
He also is quite nimble for his size, accumulating 531 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground. Keep in mind that sacks are noted as negative rushing yards for a quarterback in college, so the actual number here is skewed.
Aside from dealing with the aforementioned coaching carousel, dropped passes by receivers have also decreased already-high productivity. Oregon was one of the worst teams in the NCAA in dropped passes in 2018 and there have been many instances of that being the case again this past season.
Still, as Yun noted, Herbert has a couple of bad habits. One such is that he doesn’t always keep his eyes up to extend plays. This is a must in the NFL—especially at a time when effective offensive tackle play is coming at a premium in the league.
Yun also says that Herbert doesn’t “throw guys open”. He’ll hit the open man and fit beautiful throws into windows, but the anticipation isn’t always there.
In the overall scheme of things, Herbert’s production has been very high. Exactly 6,484 of his 10,403 career passing yards yards and 61 of his 95 career touchdowns have come the past two seasons. He’s thrown only 13 interceptions in 26 games the past two seasons.
And, in terms of gauging statistical improvement upon returning as a senior, he’s done so in almost every major category. He has a 7.5 percent rise in completion rate, three more touchdown passes than last year with three less interceptions and 14.1-point rise in rating.
Still, there is a sentiment where fans and pundits were left wanting more from him this year. He also didn’t play well in two losses—the team’s most important games of 2019—versus Auburn and Arizona State.
Questions and comparisons
When we asked Yun about the possible ceiling for Herbert, he claimed that the athleticism and raw talent is huge. However, names like Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill were ones that came to his mind.
While these might elicit some groans, Cutler did have a 12-year career and made the Pro Bowl, while Tannehill is currently experiencing a career renaissance with the Titans. Others see a lot Carson Wentz in Herbert’s game.
On the “floor” side of Herbert, names like Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert come to mind. And, that’s one of the big questions with Herbert: Is he simply an athlete playing quarterback, or is he an athletic quarterback with his best ball in front of him?
Not too long ago, respected NFL films man, Greg Cosell, noted that Herbert is a scheme-diverse quarterback, thus heightening team interest. Couple that with the tools and he could fly back up draft boards by next spring.
Even so, Herbert remains a big boom-or-bust player in next year’s class. Patience, proper development and his own maturity will all need to fall in place—if it does, look out.
Our thanks to Joseph Yun of SB Nation’s Addicted to Quack for his insight on Herbert and the 2019 Ducks. We’ll be continuing this series throughout the rest of 2019 and into 2020. If you want the full version of the podcast in YouTube video form, you can find it here.
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