Chargers QB Justin Herbert Is Set Up for 2022 NFL MVP Campaign

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2022

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert celebrates after throwing a pass to wide receiver Jalen Guyton during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Gregory Bull/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Chargers have positioned Justin Herbert to become one of the most accomplished NFL players through his first three seasons. He has a chance to achieve Offensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Bowl, All-Pro and MVP honors before his 25th birthday. 

Herbert has already checked off the first two accolades. With some continuity, offensive balance and a playmaking defense, the latter two are well within reach.

While Herbert would probably prefer to win a Super Bowl rather than achieve any individual feat, we cannot ignore his historic career start. In 2020, he broke rookie records for completions (396) and passing touchdowns (31), and then built on that momentum in his second year. 

Per Pro Football Focus, Herbert sits atop the list in multiple passing categories through a player's first two seasons:


Justin Herbert in his first 2 seasons: ⚡️ 839 completions (1st in NFL HISTORY) ⚡️ 69 passing TDs (1st in NFL HISTORY) ⚡️ 9,350 passing yards (1st in NFL HISTORY) https://t.co/qw8qgrFZxJ

Despite changes in the Chargers' coaching ranks—from former head coach Anthony Lynn to Brandon Staley—Herbert has taken a rocket ship to NFL stardom. In 2022, he'll have a chance to grow in second-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's offense, which Staley pointed out during an interview on The Rich Eisen Show:

"I think he's such a hard worker and I think that he puts so much into the game. He makes the improvements because of how much he puts into it. And then, obviously, there's a lot of talent to work with. ... This is the first time in six years that he's had the same offense going in. It just doesn't happen for this guy, and that's what makes him so unique. But I think that comfort zone of being in the same offense, being in rhythm where we can go over the plays that he's actually run and build on that, build that chemistry with our receiving corps, tight ends, backs."

On the collegiate level, Herbert started for four terms and had to overcome instability in his early years at Oregon. He had three different head coaches: Mark Helfrich, Willie Taggart and Mario Cristobal.

Herbert played under Cristobal's staff for two full seasons, and that's when he saw significant growth, blossoming into one of the nation's top prospects with 61 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions between 2018 and 2019. On top of that, he avoided injury after missing five games in 2017.

On the pro level, Herbert could take his game to even greater heights with consecutive seasons in the same system, which bodes well for a Chargers offense that ranked fifth in scoring and racked up the fourth-most yards last year.

John Cordes/Associated Press

On the subject of stability, Los Angeles re-signed wideout Mike Williams to a three-year, $60 million deal. He'll pair with Keenan Allen, and they'll likely continue to produce as one of the league's best wide receiver duos after both pass-catchers eclipsed 1,137 receiving yards in 2021.

Beyond the two wideouts, Austin Ekeler has emerged as one of the top dual-threat running backs in the league.

Herbert doesn't have to force the ball downfield. He can toss a high-percentage pass to Ekeler, who's racked up 282 receptions for 2,726 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns through five seasons.

Aside from his top three offensive playmakers, Herbert has also developed a connection with Jalen Guyton and Joshua Palmer, who provide the wide receiver corps with the necessary depth. He'll look to do the same with Gerald Everett, an athletic pass-catching tight end coming off his most productive season after logging 48 catches for 478 yards and four touchdowns primarily as a starter for the Seattle Seahawks.

Though we often see Herbert use his mobility to extend plays and big arm to thread the needle 40 yards downfield, he has a stout offensive line that allows him to stand in the pocket and throw darts.

Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

As a rookie, left tackle Rashawn Slater earned a Pro Bowl nod. In his first season with the team, All-Pro center Corey Linsley didn't give up a sack across 1,076 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

In this year's draft, the Chargers selected Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer in the first and sixth rounds, respectively. According to Pro Football Focus, they allowed 10 quarterback pressures combined last year.

Johnson projects as the opening-week starter at right guard, though he played on the left side of the offensive line at Boston College. If necessary, the coaching staff can move him to left guard and shift Matt Feiler to right tackle, where he has previous experience while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Salyer, who played right guard at Georgia, could become an option to fill that same position in Los Angeles. 

At right tackle, the Chargers have an open competition between Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins III. If Johnson struggles on the right side, Feiler can become the solution to the lone uncertainty along the offensive line while the rookie moves to a familiar spot in a personnel grouping that may provide Herbert with optimal pass protection.

Furthermore, rookie running back Isaiah Spiller's physical style could be a nightmare for opposing defenders as he runs behind a strong front line. In three years at Texas A&M, Spiller averaged 5.5 yards per carry. The 6'0", 217-pound tailback can complement Ekeler and open up passing lanes. 

This season, opponents may have to pay a little more attention to the Chargers ground attack, which potentially creates opportunities for Herbert to convert more big plays downfield when a safety drops into the box. 

Herbert has help on the other side of the ball as well. The Chargers' new-look defense could allow him to capitalize on shorter drives to the goal. 

Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

The front office made a concerted effort to improve a defense that gave up the fourth-most points in 2021. Los Angeles acquired edge-rusher Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears and signed cornerback J.C. Jackson. The Chargers should have a stronger unit with the addition of an All-Pro defender in the front seven and a true ball-hawking cover man in the secondary.

As new additions to the interior of the defensive line, Sebastian Joseph-Day, who played under Staley when he served as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, and Austin Johnson can bolster the run defense.

Before anyone paints a sunset of Mack's career after his injury-riddled 2021 campaign, keep in mind that he only missed two games prior to last year. Don't place him in the category of injury-prone players yet. If healthy, the 31-year-old can significantly bolster the Chargers run defense and wreck offensive lines with new pass-rushing partner Joey Bosa. After all, the 2020 Pro Bowler registered nine sacks and three forced fumbles just two seasons ago.

As for Jackson, his ability to track the ball and force turnovers can provide the Chargers with extra offensive possessions. He's recorded 25 interceptions—tied for the most in NFL history through a player's first four seasons. 

The Chargers have done just about everything possible to aid Herbert in his rapid ascension to the top of the quarterback hierarchy. He has the offensive weapons, quality pass protection and perhaps an improved defense that can force more three-and-outs or take the ball away and give it back to the offense.

Los Angeles has done exactly what teams should do with a quarterback on a rookie deal: Support him with high-end playmakers all over the field. 

If you thought Herbert had an electrifying start to his career, watch him put together an MVP-worthy 2022 season with the help of a stable operation and a loaded roster.


College football statistics provided by cfbstats.com.

Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.