Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Justin Herbert Is QB1, but Will He Declare?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 5, 2018

Justin Herbert is establishing himself as this year's top QB prospect, but will he make the jump to the NFL?
Justin Herbert is establishing himself as this year's top QB prospect, but will he make the jump to the NFL?Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

Justin Herbert is everything the NFL wants in a franchise quarterback. In a year not dominated by pass-rushers Ed Oliver (Houston) and Nick Bosa (Ohio State), he would be a bona fide No. 1 overall prospect. The NFL is ready for Herbert, but he might not be ready for the NFL.

Who is Herbert? He's a 6'6", 235-pound junior with the accuracy, arm talent, athleticism and potential to have scouts very excited.

The 20-year-old has the types of tools sending scouts to Eugene, Oregon in herds this season. "He's a bigger Marcus Mariota" is what one longtime evaluator said of Herbert this summer. Another, speaking this week, said, "You watch guys like Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck ... that's the type of player he is in terms of traits and potential." 

"Traits" is a buzzword that can get scouts in trouble. Said one critic of Herbert, "Tell me why he's not another [Blake] Bortles? Big guy, good athlete, but turns the ball over and isn't particularly accurate."

There are also those scouts, who did not want to be named, who say Herbert is "soft" or "immature" or "quirky, not really a leader of men." Those opinions, if shared by the general managers who will evaluate Herbert not only on the field but also off of it, are the type that can torpedo a draft stock. But folks at Oregon remain steadfast that Herbert is rock-solid.

Through five weeks of the season and summer practices, one Oregon official said all but one NFL team has been through the campus; most are looking at Herbert. It's easy to see the New York Giants—a team with a likely top-five selection and a future hole at quarterback—falling in love with a quiet, no-nonsense player who won't get sucked into the bright lights of the Big Apple.

"He really reminds me a lot of [Mitchell] Trubisky, from everything I've heard" said one East Coast scout. "Maybe he's not Baker Mayfield getting everyone dancing, but guys know he's the real deal. They'll follow him."

In a class that's weak across the board at quarterback, Herbert is the one standing out above the rest. He entered the year as the top-ranked signal-caller on my board and is still there one month into the season. With his size, tools and experience as a third-year starter, Herbert seems like a lock to declare in an era when every college player is rushing to the pros. But one evaluator used the Luck comparison here:

"Andrew Luck would have been the No. 1 pick [in the 2011 draft] but went back to Stanford and got better as a player and grew up a little. That's Herbert for you."

Luck and Mariota both benefitted from another year in college before turning pro.
Luck and Mariota both benefitted from another year in college before turning pro.Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

Luck. Wentz. Mariota. Even from a comparative perspective, Herbert is in good company. Not bad for a guy who, just three years ago, thought he'd be signing with Montana State before Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost came across his tape. 

From obscurity to a potential No. 1 overall pick and savior of the New York Giants sounds like a fairy tale, but will Herbert take the bait?

Bleacher Report talked to eight NFL evaluators, and not one polled thinks it's a given Herbert will declare. The same goes for officials at the school, who are doing their most important recruiting this season trying to convince Herbert to come back for the 2019 season.

What else is happening this week?

  • NFL draft prospect stock watch
  • Rumors from around the NFL and NCAA
  • Stick to Football podcast Tailgate Tour details
  • Parting shots

                 

The Scout's Report 

Bryce Love is hurt. Again. The Stanford senior running back was a Heisman finalist in 2017 but has been slowed by two injuries this season—the first one undisclosed but the most recent being an ankle issue. At 5'10" and 200 pounds, Love already had questions about being able to hold up in the NFL after missing time during the 2017 season due to an injury in the same ankle. As arguably the most well-known back in the nation, there is always buzz around Love, but scouts aren't as high on him as the general public. He has a late Day 2 grade from three teams polled this week.

Darius Leonard, a second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, took home Defensive Rookie of the Month honors from the NFL for the month of September. Said one Colts scout Thursday morning when the announcement was made, "So much for [Chris] Ballard reaching for Leonard!" Many in the draft media blasted the Colts for drafting Leonard where they did, but through one month, he's been a bright building block for the young defense.

—Atlanta Falcons rookie Calvin Ridley was similarly named Offensive Rookie of the Month. While the selection of Ridley in the late first round wasn't as widely panned, there was a strong pushback against him as a prospect due to his age.

Ridley's stat line: 15 catch, 264 yards and 6 TDs. He makes the most of his opportunities.
Ridley's stat line: 15 catch, 264 yards and 6 TDs. He makes the most of his opportunities.John Amis/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

A 23-year-old rookie, too many in the media claimed Ridley was only dominant at Alabama because of his age. He's proving that assumption wrong as he makes a claim to the WR1 job in Atlanta.

—Small-school player to watch: Elon left tackle Oli Udoh. The big man (6'6", 356 lbs) has popped up in more than a few conversations with scouts this season. He's an agile blocker but is largely seen as a potential right tackle in the pros.

—If you're looking for an interior offensive lineman this season, head to Starkville and check out Elgton Jenkins. The Bulldogs' senior center has a Round 1 grade on my board. That was confirmed by two teams this week as well. Jenkins has incredible versatility along the line and could be a plug-and-play starter at guard or center. 

                

Stock Watch

Stock Up: Ohio State Cornerback Damon Arnette

Supply versus demand is always a tricky thing when it comes to cornerbacks. Every year we see players like Artie Burns or Eli Apple shoot way above their draft ranking because of the need for long, speedy cover men. One player who is already starting to move into the Round 1 conversation is Damon Arnette. A tough, fast corner, Arnette is well-coached and has the coverage instincts to be a late first-round player in a shallow corner group.                

                        

Stock Up: Alabama Running Back Damien Harris

Harris is starting to show his complete talent in the 2019 class again.
Harris is starting to show his complete talent in the 2019 class again.Butch Dill/Associated Press

All summer, Damien Harris was discussed as a top back prospect, and then it seemed like he was forgotten as the season started and Alabama steamrolled opponents in a way that kept the offense from putting up video game numbers. But Harris still looks like one of the best backs in the 2019 crop. He's powerful and patient and has the cutback ability rarely seen from the punishing big boys Nick Saban plugs in at running back.                 

          

Stock Down: South Carolina Quarterback Jake Bentley

The 2019 quarterback class was seen as so weak this summer that scouts started looking under every rock for a quarterback. One name that popped up often was Jake Bentley, a 20-year-old junior starter. Bentley has struggled all season, though, tossing six interceptions to just seven touchdowns. Some of this is no doubt caused by the scheme and play-calling for the Gamecocks, but Bentley's NFL draft buzz has cooled.

                        

Stock Up: Notre Dame Defensive Tackle Jerry Tillery

After a four-sack performance against rival Stanford, Tillery is moving up the board once again this season. A senior, Tillery has been nonstop all season and is making the case for a Round 1 grade with his motor, pass-rushing ability and developed game when facing blockers both head-up and in double-team situations. A strong finish to the season plus a big week at the Senior Bowl could cement his status in the top 32 picks.

                                       

                   

Parting Shots

6. Recently I was asked to put together a short list of potential general manager names by a former league executive for a watch list he's compiling. That list will then be presented to owners who ask this former exec to consult should they have openings in the winter. Here's a condensed version of that list.

      

Mike Borgonzi, Chiefs Director of Football Operations

First it was Chris Ballard. Then it was Brett Veach. The next future general manager from the Andy Reid tree in Kansas City will be Mike Borgonzi. A trusted scout, Borgonzi also brings with him a connection to a large coaching circle that can make it easy to flip over a staff in a single offseason. That's one reason candidates like Ballard (now in Indianapolis) are so attractive to ownership. Borgonzi has that trait on his scouting report.

            

Nick Caserio, Patriots Director of Player Personnel

Stew Milne/Associated Press

Caserio is, for all intents and purposes, the general manager of the Patriots even though no one officially holds that title. While Bill Belichick is coaching through the regular season and playoffs, Caserio is heading up a staff that's tasked with player evaluation. Those reports are then presented to Belichick to help him pare down the upcoming draft class. It's very unlikely Caserio would leave New England, but every owner must at least call and see if he's interested whenever they have an opening.

     

Ed Dodds, Colts Assistant GM

One of the chief architects of the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl runs, Ed Dodds went to Indianapolis with Chris Ballard. His name remains on the short list when you talk to NFL sources about the best scouts in the league. Dodds isn't the type of guy to seek out media attention or push his name for jobs, but smart owners should be aware of his instincts and eye as an evaluator.

     

Joe Douglas, Eagles VP of Player Personnel

The best way to get a general manager job is to win football games. Joe Douglas' team has done that, capping last season off with a Super Bowl. Owners are in love with how Douglas and boss Howie Roseman flipped the Eagles roster after firing Chip Kelly and want some of that magic. He could be the top candidate for any openings this season that would include hiring a new head coach (i.e. not Oakland).

      

Brian Heimerdinger, Jets VP of Player Personnel

Heimerdinger has been rumored as a candidate for an opening with the Oakland Raiders if/when Jon Gruden makes his move in the front office. Heimerdinger is only 32 years old and was given credit for the trade that allowed the Jets to draft Sam Darnold. He's considered somewhat of a football version of Theo Epstein in league circles and is someone who can speak to both the coaching and scouting sides, which Gruden will be looking for. 

                       

Will McClay, Cowboys VP of Player Personnel

Like Caserio, Will McClay is the de facto general manager of the Dallas Cowboys working under Jerry Jones and his son Stephen. It's McClay's job to do the actual evaluating while the Joneses make many of the final calls. McClay has turned down interviews in the past and is rumored to be paid well enough that he won't consider leaving Dallas anytime soon. And yet, if a job opened, owners should know to call McClay to see if he'd like to try building his own team.

        

Eliot Wolf, Browns Assistant GM

Passed over for the Green Bay Packers general manager job his father once held, Eliot Wolf joined John Dorsey in Cleveland and will no doubt receive plenty of credit for helping the Browns turn over their roster and make the call to draft Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall. Wolf has the pedigree, experience and connections around the league to be a general manager very soon.

   

5. Speaking of the Raiders job, what's real and what isn't? There is considerable buzz around the league that Gruden will make a move to rid the team of GM Reggie McKenzie and hire his own football executive. 

D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press

Gruden will want a young football mind—someone able to talk on his level when it comes to schemes and personnel but who will also gain the respect of the scouting department. That might limit those candidates who are coming from prestige teams like the New England Patriots (Nick Caserio) and those coming from roles where they are the de facto general manager already (Will McClay). 

The job in Oakland (and eventually Las Vegas) would be very similar to what Brett Veach and Andy Reid have in Kansas City. Or what Bill Belichick and Caserio have in New England. The head coach has final say, but he needs a trusted evaluator and architect underneath him building the team.

As Alex Marvez reported last summer, Gruden was rumored to be interested in Heimerdinger but ultimately decided to stick with McKenzie to navigate the Khalil Mack holdout and then trade. The opening in the front office should happen soon after the season ends unless the Raiders continue to struggle on the field. If that happens, Gruden would have his excuse to let McKenzie go. 

              

4. Game balls for Week 5 of college football:

  • Will Grier, QB, West Virginia: 27-of-41, 370 yards, 3 TDs
  • Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson: 27 carries, 203 yards, 3 TDs
  • Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State: 175 yards rushing, 286 yards passing, 2 TDs
  • Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: 17-of-21, 432 yards, 6 TDs
  • Jerry Tillery, DL, Notre Dame: 4 sacks, 6 total tackles
           

3. Here are the college games you'll want to scout this weekend:

  • No. 5 LSU at No. 22 Florida
  • No. 19 Texas vs. No. 7 Oklahoma (Dallas)
  • No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 24 Virginia Tech
  • No. 8 Auburn at Mississippi State
  • Utah at No. 14 Stanford

          

2. The Stick to Football Tailgate Tour rolls down to LSU for a huge matchup between the Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs on October 13. If you're in the Baton Rouge area and want to check it out, details are on our Twitter page.

        

1. Stick to Football talks first- and second-year quarterbacks and stock up/down for the 2019 draft class this week, and we discuss college football previews and picks on the Friday morning show. Check it out and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.

                                    

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.  

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