-- Justin Herbert, QB: Everybody in the country knows how good Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is. While he has few knocks against him, one of them has to be his inability to get a marquee win during his time in an Oregon uniform. He had a great chance earlier in the year against Stanford, and although he did everything he could (26-of-33 for 346 yards and one touchdown), the Ducks still fell late in heartbreaking fashion after his final pass attempt was intercepted in the endzone.
Even with that interception, scouts fell in love with Herbert during that game.
Against a secondary that featured a few potential NFL prospects, Herbert picked them apart with a combination of accurate deep passing and arm strength to the sidelines. He showed that he can make every throw needed in the NFL, including the 17-yard out across the field and the 25-yard back-shoulder pass to the sideline. He also showed off his athletic ability, extending drives with his legs by rushing for 35 yards.
“He’s got size, arm strength, better touch than people think. He’s athletic for a big man, he can really throw on the run,” one NFC executive told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “And he’s a great kid, has off-the-charts intangibles, wants to be a doctor, he has it all squared away. He wasn’t raised to be a quarterback, but he’s from a football family… He’s only 21, so he could use an extra year. But if he’s a top-5 pick, he has to consider going.”
But what impressed scouts more was his demeanor in the pocket, refusing to be rushed by the oncoming Cardinal players. Herbert stayed calm in the pocket by stepping up or running out, often finding his second or third option because he kept his eyes downfield.
“He has all the tools, all the traits,” one AFC executive told Breer. “He’s a bigger [Marcus] Mariota to me. He could use another year in school, another year of maturing. But I could definitely see him going high, just based on talent and traits, if he came out.”
Against Washington, Herbert is going to be tested like never before. Scouts will be able to see how much he’s improved considering his first career start was two years against Washington, a 70-21 loss at home.
The Huskies have five legitimate NFL prospects in their secondary, headlined by safeties JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp and cornerback Byron Murphy. This unit is fast and physical and does a phenomenal job of staying attached to receivers and forcing quarterbacks into throws that appear open but aren’t.
To take the next step in his game, Herbert will have to do more than throw to open receivers, he’ll have to throw his receivers open… put the ball in places only his players can make plays on. He can’t afford to be baited into mistakes and must make smart decisions with the ball, whether it be throwing it away to live another play or hitting the perfectly timed 12-yard out.
Breer wrapped up his piece in SI by writing “And here’s another fact: As those scouts catch up on him, they all seem to fall for him. A few mentioned the impression he made on them at practice and how those around the Oregon facility talked about him during their school calls in Eugene. You also can’t coach a guy to be 6' 6" and 233 pounds, or be able to move at that size as smoothly as Herbert does, and the thought is he can be coached through his flaws.”
Depending on whether Herbert decides to enter the NFL draft after this season, this might be the last chance the hometown legend has at cementing his name as one of the Oregon greats to beat its most-hated rival, Washington.