In the two weeks leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, NESN.com will be taking a closer look at this year’s quarterback class and how each player could fit with the New England Patriots. Next up, Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
6 foot-6, 236 pounds, 10-inch hands
Projected Round: Early first
2019 Stats: 66.8 percent, 3,471 yards, 32 touchdowns, six interceptions, 9 yards per attempt; 58 carries, 50 yards (subtracting sacks), four touchdowns
Strengths: Arm strength, mobility, deep accuracy, poise under pressure, experience, prototypical size, can throw on the move, limits interceptions
Weaknesses: Shallow accuracy, processing, propensity for fumbles, lack of progression during college career
Testing numbers: 4.68-second 40-yard dash, 1.62-second 10-yard split, 7.06-second three-cone drill, 4.46-second short shuttle, 35.5-inch vertical leap, 10-feet, 3-inch broad jump
Analysis: The draft machine moves quickly. Just ask Justin Herbert, who once was the college football wunderkind for whom teams would be “tanking” to take in the draft.
Then he was passed by Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Then Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence caught the world’s fancy. And then LSU’s Joe Burrow had perhaps the best season by a quarterback in college football history.
Meanwhile, Herbert kept chugging along, dipping a bit during his junior season then having his most productive year as a senior.
And since rankings are constantly fluxuating, Herbert might have leapfrogged Tagovailoa on draft boards over the course of the last few weeks. Herbert has prototypical size and hasn’t been injured since his sophomore season (broken collarbone). Tagovailoa stands 6-feet and suffered multiple injuries, including a season-ending hip ailment in 2019.
Herbert will likely be gone by the sixth overall pick. Things can certainly change, but we heard the Los Angeles Chargers were infatuated with Herbert at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Miami Dolphins need a quarterback and pick fifth. The Cincinnati Bengals will almost certainly draft Burrow with the top pick.
It’s tough to envision scenarios in which Herbert starts falling, but among draft evaluators, he’s not a consensus top-10 prospect. Dane Brugler of The Athletic sees him as a fringe first-round prospect. He’s 30th on Pro Football Focus’ big board. NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah ranks him 20th. He’s 27th on ESPN’s big board and 18th on CBS Sports.
And remember, Aaron Rodgers did once fall all the way down to 24th overall.
So, while it seems unlikely as of Thursday morning that Herbert could get to the New England Patriots’ No. 23 pick — or within range for a trade-up — it’s at least possible.
Herbert does seem like a quarterback the Patriots would be willing to move up to draft. He has prototypical size and perhaps the best pure arm strength in the 2020 NFL Draft. His throwing mechanics are tight, he never had more than eight interceptions in a season and can huck the ball downfield with efficient results. He’s also impressively mobile for his size within the pocket, scrambling and throwing on the move. His testing numbers are in line with an athletic tight end.
He went 27-of-69 for 874 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions on deep throws in 2019, per PFF. He’s not Burrow, but he showed above-average poise under pressure, completing 36-of-83 passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions with pressure bearing down, per PFF.
There are some concerns with his accuracy in the shallow part of the field and in his ability to read and process a defense quickly.
So, if Herbert did start to fall, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots put a package together to move up and grab him. They could either package their own 2020 picks, include left guard Joe Thuney or even trade future picks.