Justin Herbert signs with Chargers, but will he be the next Philip Rivers, Dan Fouts?

Justin Herbert, Oregon Ducks. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Justin Herbert, Oregon Ducks. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Can Justin Herbert be a star quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers?

Justin Herbert will be a member of the Los Angeles Chargers for the next four years.

The former Oregon Ducks standout quarterback was taken with the No. 6 overall pick by the Bolts in the 2020 NFL Draft. Though he was the third quarterback picked in the draft after Joe Burrow to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 1 and Tua Tagovailoa to the Miami Dolphins at No. 5, he too is expected to be a star at the quarterback position for his struggling AFC franchise.

Ian Rapoport of The NFL Network reported on Saturday evening that Herbert and the Chargers were close to a four-year deal worth $26.6 million with a fifth-year option. A few hours later, the deal was official and now Herbert is under contract with the Bolts through the 2023 NFL season. Can Herbert by the next great quarterback in Chargers history or will he be Ryan Leaf?

Does Justin Herbert have what it takes to be Philip Rivers or Dan Fouts?

That’s where the bar is set when it comes to playing quarterback for the Chargers. From John Hadl to Dan Fouts to Philip Rivers, there has been greatness at the quarterback position for the Bolts. Hadl is a Hall of Very Good player. Fouts has been enshrined in Canton for years. Rivers is still playing for the Indianapolis Colts, but he one day will have a bronze bust in the same hall as Fouts.

Drew Brees also started his career with the Chargers and the only quarterback to lead the Bolts to the Super Bowl was Stan Humphries. This is the situation Herbert is walking into with this AFC West franchise. It is the birthplace of Air Coryell, the passing-centric offensive system that propel fellow Duck Fouts to Canton after an illustrious career in the 1970s and 1980s. He cannot fail.

If Herbert does, he’ll sadly be labeled a bust like Leaf was coming out of Washington State back in 1998. This was the guy who went one pick after Peyton Manning in the 1998 NFL Draft. Leaf busted catastrophically in San Diego, while players like Charles Woodson and Randy Moss went on to have Hall of Fame careers as first-round picks made after him. Again, Leaf has set the floor.

In terms of overall upside, Herbert has a big, strong arm, played in plenty of big games at Oregon, won a lot of big games at Oregon and won the William V. Campbell Trophy as a senior. The “Academic Heisman” winner can move a little bit with his legs too, as illustrated by his impressive performance against the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2020 Rose Bowl.

If there is criticism of Herbert, his Oregon offense was largely bland and ground-centric. Herbert was never seen as a guy who ad-libs all that well off-script. While he can really spin the football, we don’t know where it’s going half the time. Overall, he’s some combination of Josh Allen, Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford. The Chargers can certainly win a lot of games if he plays like them.

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Simply put, if Herbert plays like Hadl or in those good fleeting moments of Brees, he will be worth the top-10 selection. If he’s anything like Fouts or Rivers then the Chargers have themselves a quarterback capable of getting them to a Super Bowl. There’s no reason to think he’ll be Leaf, but being compared to Fouts or Rivers isn’t fair for any rookie quarterback. Then again, he went No. 6.

We’ll know within a year-and-half’s worth of starts if Herbert is of the Fouts/Rivers ilk or not.