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Chargers Would Be Making Big Mistake Starting Tyrod Taylor over Justin Herbert

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystSeptember 3, 2020

Los Angeles Chargers quarterbacks Justin Herbert, left, and Tyrod Taylor stand on the field during an NFL football camp practice Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Costa Mesa, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Chargers are about to fall prey to an old-school mentality at the game's most important position instead of focusing on the franchise's chance at long-term success. 

A rookie quarterback's timetable should be determined by the individual in question, not a quaint notion of winning the job over some nondescript veteran who is merely a placeholder anyhow. 

Yet, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn told media members Wednesday that's exactly the direction his team will take to start the 2020 campaign. 

"Right now, Tyrod Taylor is our starter," Lynn said. "Until someone steps up and shows that they can run this team, that's the way we're going into it. Tyrod Taylor is our starter."

The Athletic's Daniel Popper presumes Taylor will start "most, if not all, of the games this season." 

Maybe this year's sixth overall pick, Justin Herbert, isn't quite ready. But he should be given every opportunity to prove he is instead of relying on a familiar face, and that's essentially what the Chargers will be doing with Taylor predominantly starting throughout the season. 

Lynn hasn't been shy about his affinity for the 31-year-old veteran, whom he previously coached during their time together with the Buffalo Bills. Taylor's best seasons came during the 2015 and '16 campaigns with Lynn serving as the running backs coach/assistant head coach turned offensive coordinator/interim head coach. In fact, the quarterback made the Pro Bowl after his '15 performance, which included career-highs in passing yardage (3,035) and passing touchdowns (20) as well as 568 rushing yards. 

Since February, the Chargers have hinted at Taylor being their guy to replace eight-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers after the two parties decided to end their relationship. Rivers started 224 straight regular-season contests for the franchise and became its all-time leader with 59,271 passing yards and 397 touchdowns.

The transition was never going to be easy. So, the idea of having a reliable option behind center is understandable. But the approach also stunts progress in favor of a conservative direction. 

"He's a pro, and he's an exciting quarterback," Lynn told reporters about projected starter last month. "He understands the concept and philosophy of taking care of the football and not losing games, so we're excited to see what he can do."

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

NBC Sports' Peter King reported before April's draft that Lynn didn't view Taylor as a bridge quarterback and could be the starter beyond the upcoming campaign

Two years ago, another franchise sat in the same position and made the wrong decision. The Cleveland Browns traded a 2018 third-round draft pick to acquire Taylor from the Bills. 

"First and foremost, he's a great kid. Great leader, smart as a whip," then-Browns general manager John Dorsey told reporters after the deal was finalized. "... He's got more than enough arm talent, and he doesn't turn the ball over. When you play that quarterback position at a high level like he does, I think that will do nothing but help us moving forward."

Sound familiar? It should, since Dorsey basically said the same thing as Lynn. 

The Browns started Taylor to open the '18 season even though it was blatantly clear throughout training camp and preseason that No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield was ready to take the reins. Taylor suffered an injury in Week 3 only to have Mayfield take over the job, never look back and set an NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. 

By now, everyone knows exactly who Taylor is as a performer. The previous statement isn't a slight of any kind. His DNA as a signal-caller is easily identifiable. The nine-year veteran is an athletic dual-threat quarterback and a risk-averse passer who doesn't threaten every part of the field. 

As a starter, Taylor ranks among the bottom third of the league. He's not the type of quarterback who can shoulder an offense and elevate the play of others around him. Instead, he's far more valuable as an experienced backup. 

Whereas the organization invested this year's sixth overall pick in a quarterback for a reason: It needed someone with franchise potential to take over from Rivers now and years down the road. 

When Lynn mentioned the possibility of "someone [stepping] up and [showing] that they can run this team" other than Taylor, he meant Herbert. As Popper noted, Herbert admitted during an episode of HBO's Hard Knocks that the information being thrown at him in regards to his first NFL playbook is a lot and "catches up" to him. 

"I'm getting barked at over there. Some of the guys are like, 'It's not Washington State.' Well, yeah, obviously I know that," the quarterback said during the show

Everything is overwhelming, which is true for all rookie quarterbacks. None of them are ever really ready until they're on the field with an opportunity to perform. 

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

Some will point toward Patrick Mahomes and how the Kansas City Chiefs handled their top-10 investment. Mahomes played in one game as a rookie. He became the league MVP in his second season and a Super Bowl champion in his third. He's the exception to the rule after landing in the perfect situation behind a better-than-average veteran starter with a future Hall of Fame head coach/play-caller. 

Most first-round quarterbacks start sooner rather than later. From the previous five draft classes, only threeMahomes, the Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson (thanks to a season-ending injury) and Denver Broncos' Paxton Lynchstarted fewer than seven games as a rookie. 

Granted, the Chargers and the league as a whole are dealing with an unprecedented approach to the upcoming season. The rookies haven't been in the building since late April. There weren't any organized team activities or minicamps. Even now, training camp is limited with no preseason to work out some kinks. 

Even so, the goal remains the same: Give the team the best opportunity to win. In the Chargers' case, Taylor starting is as much of a hindrance as it is a solution, especially as the season progresses when his limitations become evident. His presence in the lineup won't provide Los Angeles with what it takes to reach the Chiefs' current level. As of now, Herbert doesn't either. But he has the potential to do so after he takes his lumps as a first-time starter. 

Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen already catered the offensive scheme to his new-look quarterback room. 

"You want to build some things around what your quarterbacks do," Steichen told reporters. "What your quarterbacks do, let's work to their strengths and build off that."

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

With Taylor and Herbert, the Chargers should rely more on pocket movement, bootlegs and half-field reads while throwing some zone reads and quarterback-run action into the mix. The 6'6", 237-pound Herbert is built differently than the 6'1", 215-pound Taylor, but the rookie moves relatively well for his size, which allows him to be a part of the running game. 

More importantly, a heavy reliance on those things mentioned plus play-action with Austin Ekeler now serving as the lead back can protect an inexperienced signal-caller. Steichen has already changed the offense. The coordinator can continue to do so and highlight Herbert's strengths, while downplaying his weaknesses. 

The rookie falls on the opposite side of the spectrum to Taylor when it comes to threatening every blade of grass. Herbert creates easy velocity with the arm strength to rip any throw. When he's in a rhythm, very few throw a more beautiful ball. 

Consistency is Herbert's biggest issue coming out of Oregon, and that won't develop without quality reps. He needs to be on the field and learning. By the end of the season, the Chargers will be far better off than delaying the process for a quarterback substitute who, at best, might be able to keep them within striking range of mediocrity. 

            

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski. 

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