Thursday, June 20

Justin Herbert’s former Chargers teammate thinks QB lacks ‘clutch factor’ others possess

No one questions the talent Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has. He’s shown through his four NFL seasons that he can sling the rock. 

While the No. 6 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft has thrown for over 4,300 yards in three of those four seasons with 114 total touchdowns and 42 interceptions, Herbert is lacking a trait the the league’s top QBs possess.

Playoff success is what truly matters for players in the NFL, and Herbert hasn’t had it despite his regular-season body of work. He’s had just one appearance in the playoffs, and it was a colossal meltdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars two seasons ago in the wild-card round. 

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Despite Herbert’s physical attributes, the Chargers haven’t been able to make a run at a Lombardi Trophy, and a former safety for the squad thinks he knows why. 

“He’s (missing) that clutch factor,” Chris Harris Jr. said of Herbert. “It’s that fourth-quarter dominance that you can see from a [Tom] Brady, that you see from [Patrick] Mahomes or Big Ben [Roethlisberger]. When I played against those guys, if the game was a touchdown or three points, I was nervous.”

Harris was with Herbert and the Chargers his first two seasons in the league, and he watched the Oregon product go 15-17 as a starter, including a Pro Bowl 2021 season, his best to date. 

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Herbert threw for 5,014 yards with 38 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and a 65.9 completion rate after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year the previous season. But 9-8 wasn’t good enough for the Chargers. They missed the playoffs. 

While Herbert has only played one game in the playoffs, he has had clutch moments early in his career. He’s put together 11 fourth-quarter comebacks and has 14 game-winning drives under his belt.

So, that “clutch gene” is something Herbert has shown he can tap into. Harris also believes new head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has been a quarterback whisperer throughout his coaching career, can help Herbert reach new heights. 

“I think he does have it, but it’s going to take an experienced coach to bring that out of him,” Harris explained. “That’s why I think Harbaugh is going to be a great fit for him.”

Of course, football is very much a team sport, meaning the offense can be dominant but lose games due to poor defense and vice versa. Chargers fans have watched their offense put up lots of points only to lose in the end, and the 27-point lead that evaporated for them in that playoff game against the Jaguars is just the tip of the iceberg.

But the only thing that matters is how the Chargers begin this new era under Harbaugh. Herbert will be doing so without two of his top targets, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, as well as his trusty running back Austin Ekeler. Even tight end Gerald Everett signed with the Washington Commanders (as did Ekeler), so it’s a new-look offense despite the same signal-caller. 

These roster losses and a new offense could add some pressure for Herbert in his fifth season. But the great ones fight through adversity and make it work. And Harris believes that can be the case with Harbaugh working alongside Herbert. 

“It used to be all on Justin, and he probably felt the burden of that every week,” Harris admitted. “Having that protection up front. Having a run game. Having a solid defense. … Those are the little factors that I think will help him get to that next level.”

Whether that level is playoff worthy remains to be seen. 

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