National Football League
Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert taking "go long" to another level in the NFL
National Football League

Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert taking "go long" to another level in the NFL

Updated Dec. 15, 2021 11:57 p.m. ET

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer

Easy gas.

That’s how throwing guru Tom House described watching Justin Herbert throw a football for the first time during his predraft workouts in Orange County in the lead-up to the 2020 NFL Draft.

House is a former major-league pitching coach who transitioned over the past decade to improving the throwing motion of NFL quarterbacks. He has worked with major leaguers such as Jacob deGrom and NFL greats including Tom Brady and Drew Brees, so he knows a thing or two about arm velocity. For House, watching the 6-foot-6, 237-pound Herbert throw fastballs brought back memories of Nolan Ryan in his prime.


The night before House drove from San Diego to the 3DQB facility in Huntington Beach for Herbert’s first workout, a buzzing Adam Dedeaux, a trainer at 3DQB, told House on the phone: "You’re not going to believe how the ball comes out of this kids’ hand." 

Like Dedeaux, House left Herbert’s workout dazzled by not only his physical ability but also his mental makeup, saying he had the "it" factor that elite competitors possess.

"When I walked up, they were already working out," House said. "Obviously, he’s a big kid. And they were absolutely right with his assessment. The ball coming out is something special. It’s a sound spin rate makes that’s like baseball. You can stand next to a guy that’s throwing 100 mph, and you can hear the ball leave that hand and spin until it hits the catcher’s glove. It’s the same thing with a guy like this young man. His spin rate and his arm strength/arm speed are special.

"A young Joe Flacco is the only one that I can remember seeing that kind of arm speed and arm strength in combination. You can literally hear the ball leave his hand."

Chris Harris Jr. on Justin Herbert: 'I knew he could be a top QB from day one' I THE HERD

Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. joins Colin Cowherd to discuss the growth and development of quarterback Justin Herbert. Harris compares Herbert to Peyton Manning, outlining the similarities and differences between the two QBs.

Herbert, now 23, has put his elite arm strength to good use in his first two years in the NFL, quickly developing into one of the best deep-ball passers in the game.

With the Chargers sitting at 8-5 and hosting the AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) on Thursday at SoFi Stadium (8:20 p.m. ET on FOX), Herbert’s big plays have vaulted him into the MVP conversation down the backstretch of this season. He is fourth in the NFL in passing yards (3,822) and third in touchdowns (30).

According to Next Gen Stats, he leads the league with 10 completions on passes traveling 55-plus yards of air distance since he was drafted in 2020. He also leads the league in 70-yard touchdown passes (three) and 50-yard passing scores (seven) since entering the NFL.

The Oregon product set a rookie record with 31 touchdown passes in 2020, and he has already thrown 30 passing touchdowns this season. He is the only player in league history to throw 30 or more TDs in each of his first two NFL seasons. 

But it’s Herbert’s absurd deep-passing ability that has piqued NFL observers’ interest.

Late in the first half of his team’s 37-21 victory over the New York Giants last week, Herbert once again put his impressive arm strength on display.

Looking to get his team into field-goal position, on third-and-11 from the Chargers' 41-yard line, Herbert moved to his right outside the pocket, creating space to launch yet another downfield heave to Jalen Guyton for a score and taking a hit from Giants pass-rusher Lorenzo Carter as he released the ball. 

According to Next Gen Stats, Herbert’s otherworldly toss traveled 63.8 yards in the air, making it the second-longest completion in the league this year.

Justin Herbert airs it out to Jalen Guyton for a 59-yard touchdown

Justin Herbert finds Jalen Guyton for a 59-yard Los Angeles Chargers touchdown.

Herbert doesn’t know just how far he can throw it.

"I haven’t really tested it," he told reporters after the win over New York. "But however far that one was, I guess that’s a good answer right there."

Fox Sports NFL analyst Geoff Schwartz was amazed by the throw — but not surprised. The former NFL offensive lineman and University of Oregon product had seen Herbert make "wow" throws in college when given an opportunity in the Ducks' conservative offense. 

"One of my thoughts was like, ‘Dang, why didn’t we see this at Oregon?'" Schwartz said. "'Where was this at in college?' But that’s the Oregon fan I am. It was incredible.

"I did see that at Oregon, but the problem is it just didn’t happen very often. Their offense was not designed to make throws like that. So the only time you saw it was in moments when it was third-and-8, and Oregon was like, ‘Just go try and save us. Just go be Justin Herbert.’ It just wasn’t a big part of their offense. … What I always said is if you give him an offense that goes through him with NFL players, you would see this player."

Herbert was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his 275-yard, three-touchdown effort against the Giants, marking the third time he has won the award this season.

Drew Brees joins Colin to explain what makes Chargers QB Justin Herbert special I THE HERD

Drew Brees joins Colin Cowherd to analyze the growth and development of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and why he is years ahead of traditional development at his age.

Beyond his impressive stats and stature, Herbert’s ability to complete deep passes with pinpoint accuracy stands out among his peers, and it's something Chargers head coach Brandon Staley has seen him do consistently in practice and in games.

"When you see something special, normally, it looks easy," Staley said. "That’s what he does. He makes the really, really challenging stuff look easy. That’s a pretty good indicator that you are witnessing something rare.

"He’s capable of that. The more that I’m with him, the less I’m surprised."

Rob Rang, FOX Sports' NFL draft analyst, notes that Herbert’s physical skills paired with elite arm strength and field awareness were apparent on his deep ball accuracy during his four years at Oregon.

"No. 1, he’s got a big-time arm," Rang said. "And then he has always shown terrific accuracy. I don’t know if his numbers provided a true measurement of how accurate he was because Oregon was plagued by drops during his time there, including on the deep ball.

"So I don’t think the numbers bear it out, but he was able to hit guys in stride pretty consistently. And if not in stride, he could certainly put it up in jump-ball situations where a guy could turn around and make a play on the ball. It’s a combination of arm strength, accuracy and then the awareness and field vision of being a taller quarterback who does have good field vision to be able to put the ball where he wants to put it."

Along with those traits, the Chargers surrounded Herbert with playmakers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and they drafted talented left tackle Rashawn Slater to protect Herbert’s blindside. 

Now in his fifth NFL season, Williams has created a name as a big-play threat in the NFL. The Clemson product has a league-leading seven receptions of 40-plus yards this season, and his 19 catches of 40-plus yards since 2018 are tied for second-most in the NFL.

Williams said he had to make an adjustment from a cerebral Philip Rivers, who threw with accuracy and anticipation, to the big arm and athleticism of Herbert.

"The first time I saw Justin throw the ball, it was a lot different from when I had Phil," Williams said. "He could throw the ball deeper down the field, so I felt like I had to run a little bit faster. He was kind of dropping it in the bucket and making it easier for us.

"He has an amazing arm. Any pass in the deep part of the field, he has a chance to make the throw  — no matter if he has pressure on him or whatever the case might be. We feel like he has the arm strength and the power to get the ball to us. Every route is alive."

Colin Cowherd: Justin Herbert is what a franchise quarterback looks like I THE HERD

Colin Cowherd breaks down how Justin Herbert has everything the Los Angeles Chargers should want in a quarterback, and Cowherd is very impressed.

Former NFL offensive guru Mike Martz, the architect of "The Greatest Show on Turf" who won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams, said one of the reasons Herbert is so accurate down the field is his ability to spin the football. Martz said that when he evaluated the first-round quarterbacks for the 2020 draft, he had Herbert as the top QB coming out, over first overall selection Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, who was selected No. 5 overall by the Miami Dolphins, a pick ahead of Herbert at No. 6.

"He puts the ball where the receiver has to chase it," Mike Martz said. "He doesn’t give the defender an opportunity to get involved, which is unusual. Russell Wilson is like that. Obviously, Aaron Rodgers can do that. Guys that can use a lot of spin are more accurate, and he puts great spin on the ball.

"So he keeps it out there in front, where the receiver has to reach for it and go to it, instead of slowing them down a bit. He’s unique. There has not been anyone like him with the Chargers. He’s elite in the league in terms of being able to throw the football — period. He has been blessed with all the skills."

House expects Herbert’s rare ability to drive the football deep to help elevate him as one of the top passers in the NFL year after year. But Herbert still must prove that he can make those dynamic throws when it matters most: in the postseason. 

"It’s a gift," House said. "But it’s a gift that you have to nurture and work on. And he absolutely does that. That kind of genetic arm strength and arm speed is kind of, like, why is there a Nolan Ryan or a Jake deGrom? There are guys that have those kinds of tools out there, but what he’s able to do is turn those tools into a presence that is not only timely but accurate.

"If he stays healthy, he’ll create his own ceiling. Physically, he has the same kind of arm or accuracy that Tom Brady does. But he’s bigger and stronger, and he’s getting an earlier start." 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune.


Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more