July 20, 2024

Dynasty Dilemma: Justin Herbert

9 min read

At the start of the ’23 season, Justin Herbert was untouchable. In fact, since the moment he stepped on the field (thanks to a team doctor puncturing Tyrod Taylor‘s lung), Herbert has been widely regarded as a top-5 Dynasty QB. But change is afoot in Los Angeles. A new era is beginning, and it’s bringing a lot of uncertainty with it. 

Which begs the question: What do we do with Justin Herbert?

 

Dynasty Dilemma: Justin Herbert

REASON TO SELL

New Coaching Staff: There is a new Sheriff in town – Head Coach Jim Harbaugh replaces three years of incompetence from Brandon Staley. Harbaugh also brings along Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman to replace Kellen Moore, who has since joined the Eagles under the same title. This is a lot of change to bestow upon a young QB.

Lack of Weapons: In an attempt to simultaneously rebuild and solve one of the league’s worst salary cap situations, the Chargers have dismantled Herbert’s supporting cast. Keenan Allen was traded to the Bears, and Gerald Everett will follow him. Mike Williams signed a one-year deal with the Jets, and Austin Ekeler followed Anthony Lynn to the Commanders.

These four playmakers have made up 57% of Herbert’s career completions, marking the great unknown for Herbert as we enter the ’24 season. As the dust settles in LA, all that remains is an underwhelming and unrecognizable offense consisting of 29-year-old RB Gus Edwards (previously of Baltimore), WRs Josh Palmer and Quentin Johnston, and TE Will Dissly (previously of Seattle). This doesn’t exactly exude confidence for real-life or fantasy purposes.

Volume: The narrative surrounding Harbaugh is that he prefers a more run-focused, balanced approach to the offense as he built with Michigan. In 62 career starts, Justin Herbert has averaged an astounding 39.1 pass attempts/game. The Chargers have a history of poor clock management and embarrassing losses, which has helped elevate Herbert’s passing volume and fantasy value, consistently trying to overcome his own defense and inept coaching staff.

In comparison, over the past two years as the Michigan starter, QB J.J. McCarthy averaged just 22.6 pass attempts/game, ending his tenure with a 27-1 record. In Harbaugh’s prior stint with the 49ers, QB Colin Kaepernick averaged 24.5 pass attempts/game. Both of these numbers are alarmingly lower than Herbert’s career average and suggest that this team will look to build in the trenches and on defense.

Justin Herbert

Fear / Uncertainty: There are a lot of questions worth asking here. What will this new offense look like? Will Greg Roman be a good fit as OC? Will this limit Herbert’s ceiling? Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers to any of these questions. This year has all the makings of a slow, boring rebuild – and if you’re not feeling patient, you may be ready to jump ship.

REASON TO BUY

Draft Capital: It is not by luck that Justin Herbert has had so much success early in his career. Despite many question marks coming into the draft, he was chosen as the sixth overall pick in 2020, indicating the level of confidence the Chargers had in him.

We see many top-10 picks, such as Sam Bradford and Baker Mayfield, continue to see starting opportunities despite floundering for most of their careers. I feel safe assuming we agree that Herbert is the most talented of these three, and if that is the case, this should imply that he will be an NFL starter for the next 8-10 years. Draft capital matters, Friends. 

Performance: For the first three seasons of his young career, Herbert finished as the QB9, QB2, and QB11, respectively. He was a locked-and-loaded QB1 until this season (where he finished as QB17), but there was also a series of unfortunate events that unfolded this season: 

  • In Week 4, fractured a finger on his non-throwing hand, forcing the Chargers into a “strictly shotgun” playground-style offense for most of the season. This not only made his job more difficult, but it also made the opposing Defensive Coordinator’s job easier, allowing them to prepare for a much more predictable offense. Justin Herbert played through this injury for over two months.
  • Missed the final four (essentially five) games after being placed on IR due to a separate fractured finger on his throwing hand. Playing fewer games will naturally skew your numbers, but Herbert’s 18.5 PPG when on the field was still ranked QB11 on the year. If we extrapolate those 18.5 PPG through the remaining four games, he would have finished as the QB6 – right in between Jordan Love and Brock Purdy. Now I know we all love cherry-picked statistics, but this is not insignificant, and it is being overlooked.
  • The Chargers’ offensive line was middling at best, with PFF ranking their pass blocking at 14th and run blocking 32nd (also known as dead last). This was not helped by losing former All-Pro center Corey Linsley due to a heart issue in Week 3. We wish him the best, as his career status remains in doubt.
  • The Chargers’ receiving core faced a myriad of injuries. Mike Williams tore his ACL in Week 3. Josh Palmer was only available for 11 games. Keenan Allen had a career year but was playing through injury and was in and out of the lineup in several games.
  • There was a lack of efficiency in the run game, with Austin Ekeler appearing to be peering over the proverbial Dynasty cliff. An imbalance in the offense puts far more pressure on the QB to make game-winning drives and plays.

Skillset: Not only is Herbert a prolific passer (finishing top-10 in passing yards and touchdowns in each of his first three seasons), but he also adds a rushing element that is often forgotten about. Over the past four seasons, he has averaged 228 yards and 2.75 TDs on the ground each year. Those are bonus points that Kirk Cousins and Matt Stafford will never provide.

Those numbers could actually increase this season if Herbert is forced to scramble more with a new, young receiving core around him. Although these are middling rushing numbers, he is still one of the more athletic QBs in the league, both as a rusher and a passer.

Longevity: Justin Herbert started his first game in Week 2 of his rookie year and did not leave the field for 62 straight games. Although this streak was finally broken this season, it was the second-longest active streak behind only Josh Allen. If “the best ability” truly is availability, then you can’t ask for much more.

Though the season-ending finger injury was unfortunate for fantasy managers, it is of no concern to his long-term outlook. Herbert will have no health concerns entering this season, and one could certainly argue that at just 26 years old, he’s only entering his prime. With more and more QBs playing well into their late 30s, I’d like to reiterate that there is no reason not to believe Justin Herbert will be a starter in this league for the next 8-10 years.

New Coaching Staff: People are lumping all of this change together, and treating it like a negative. However, if you watched even a single Chargers game over the past three years, you know with absolute certainty that this was a necessary move for the organization. Although it may not look that way right now, this will be a good thing in the long run.

Jim Harbaugh is not some random coach. He has a 44-19-1 record in the NFL, including taking the 49ers to three straight NFC Championships (and one Super Bowl appearance). He is coming in fresh off a rebuild and Championship win with the Michigan Wolverines and is in LA to turn the Chargers into a winning culture.

Greg Roman, you may ask? Well Greg Roman was Harbaugh’s associate Head Coach at Stanford from 2009-2010. He then followed Harbaugh to San Francisco, where he served as the OC for four years and played an integral part in their dominant stretch. After that, Roman spent four years in Baltimore, where he was immediately crowned Assistant Coach of the Year, helping Lamar Jackson to an MVP trophy, while the Ravens led the league with 531 points and a 14-2 record. Roman is also no slouch, folks. And although his offenses do tend to lean on the run, they also tend to be efficient, score a lot of points, and win.

Lack of Weapons: As we mentioned above, we are entering unknown territory this season. In fact, only 8% of Herbert’s career attempts have taken place without both Allen and Williams on the field. So, how could this be a good thing? Well, despite the admittedly small sample size, it’s worth noting that, during this time, Herbert held a 68% completion rate (above his career average), a 13-2 TD-INT ratio, and a 7.4 YPA. Justin Herbert is the type of leader who elevates the players around him.

Second, and more importantly for this argument, I believe this current lack of weapons is actually creating an opportunity to buy “low” and take advantage of people’s insecurities. Harbaugh is not an idiot. He is well aware that his offense needs to be addressed, and where better to do that than with the fifth overall pick?

Mock drafts may not be the most reliable sources, but as of now, they almost unanimously (including our own Dustin Ludke) have the Chargers selecting either Marvin Harrison Jr. or Malik Nabers with this pick. In fact, Nabers has already Instagrammed himself house shopping during his visit with the Chargers. There is certainly a chance they trade back, but if either of these comes to fruition, the arrow shoots straight back up for Herbert. By then, the window will be shut.

Price: Justin Herbert is currently valued at the lowest point of his career, opening a sliver of a window of opportunity. At this very moment, he is valued at QB8 on KeepTradeCut, marking the first time in his career he has fallen below QB5. 

VERDICT: BUY

I am buying Justin Herbert anywhere I can, and I’m doing it before the NFL Draft. 

Is there a chance he will struggle this year? Absolutely. With a brand new coach, scheme, and supporting cast, there will likely be a steep learning curve. But this isn’t Redraft. This is Dynasty. This is what separates the men from the boys. We’ve seen Herbert perform at an elite level for four straight years. And, although this will require a bit of patience, I’m willing to let the process unfold and see how he performs with some real coaching.

I am actively using fear as a bargaining chip and am more than happy to take on whatever risk comes with that. In SuperFlex leagues, I will happily move 1.02 on for Herbert, and I would be open to moving the 1.01 as well (although I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking the “mystery box” in Caleb Williams). Personally, I have been using this as an opportunity to “tier down” at QB, improving my team elsewhere  – for instance, sending Lamar and 1.05 for Herbert and 1.03.

While I’d be willing to bet on Lamar having a better year this season, I feel that Justin Herbert is safer to have a longer career due to his playing style. This was a lateral move at QB (in my rankings) but it helped me move up two spots in the upcoming rookie draft. You could also aim for Herbert + {insert player here}  in this theory.

*With all of this said, everything in Dynasty is situational. If your window to win is this year, and you don’t feel you can wait one to two years for a rebuild, then do what you need to do. If you simply disagree with this entire article, I have nothing but respect for your opinion. But either way, unless you get a true solid offer, I would personally wait until the Draft for his stock to rise again. Let the Chargers fill their offensive holes, and then see what offers are out there.

Thank you for being here, and best of luck to your teams this season!