Minutes before the Los Angeles Chargers were set to host the Kansas City Chiefs in week two, Justin Herbert learned he would be starting in place of Tyrod Taylor. The news was a shock for the rookie, but also his opportunity.
No one would have blamed Herbert if he played poorly considering the circumstances against the then-reigning Super Bowl champs, but he was unflappable, throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Los Angeles would fall in overtime, 23-20, but there was no looking back for Herbert.
The No. 6 overall pick finished the year throwing for 31 touchdowns (NFL rookie record) 4,336 yards and setting the all-time rookie record for completions with 396. He also rushed for five touchdowns, setting the all-time rookie record for total touchdowns and came 38 yards shy of Andrew Luck’s single-season rookie passing record. He was an easy pick for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Even with a record-breaking season to begin his career, Herbert’s focus is on improving on a 7-9 record and the overall betterment of the team when he was asked to grade his first year.
“I thought we did some really good things and some not so good things,” he said. “There’s definitely room for improvement. I wish that we could have won a couple of more games here and there and I think that’s the most important part of our season. We lost some close games that we felt we could have had, but I think we have a great locker room. This new coaching staff coming in, I’m really looking forward to it because it’s all about putting the right pieces of the puzzle together and I think we have a lot of good pieces.”
Like most rookies, Herbert had to adapt to the speed and physicality of the NFL. Even with training camps being altered and no mini camps or preseason games, he quickly saw that some of the throws and decision making he could get away with at Oregon wasn’t going to fly at the pro level.
He also had to make sure he had pre-made meals handy as he didn’t have an opportunity to cook like he wanted to. He also had to acclimate to new recovery methods from the physical toll of the schedule. He attributed cold tubs, yoga, stretching and soft tissue massages for helping keep him loose and durable throughout the season and plans to keep the same methods implemented into his offseason training regimen.
Another element he has prioritized is rest. After his MVP-winning performance at the Rose Bowl last year, Herbert only took a few days off before beginning to train for the draft. While he is anxious to get back to training, he’s learned to look at the bigger picture and wants to make sure he’s at his best when the season starts.
“I think one of the biggest things has been taking some time off for my arm,” he says. “Last season, coming from the Rose Bowl, I immediately started training. I think we started throwing the ball maybe around Jan. 6 or 7 and we had played on Jan. 1, so we didn’t have a lot of time off. I had been throwing the entire year and that builds up.
“I’m at the stage where I’m a professional and your body is a business,” he continued. “You have to take care of it because that’s how you make your living and you only get one.”
Herbert has spent the early part of his offseason with family and friends, playing golf, kicking back at the beach and getting the chance to enjoy some of the lifestyle of his new home. Off the field, Herbert recently became an investor with snack company Stryve Biltong. He was introduced to the company through a family friend who works for the company. The friend initially sent over some product for Herbert to snack on, and he became hooked.
“It just fits my lifestyle,” he says. “I love to snack and it’s an exciting company that I’m happy to be a part of. I’m really looking forward to what’s to come.”
With a new coaching staff in place, the Chargers will be expected to improve on their third-place finish in the AFC West. While his talent coming into last year’s draft was unquestionable, no one could have predicted how poised Herbert would be in his first year. Even with the expectations on him being greater next season, he’s not going to let that overwhelm him and will stay true to the best advice he’s received as a pro.
“To have fun,” Herbert says. “It’s one of those things that coach [Pep] Hamilton told me every day and every game. I think I play best when I’m relaxed, loose and having fun and enjoying the game. You go out there and you’re going to make some mistakes here and there, but it’s always about the next play and putting your team in a position to win.