INDIANAPOLIS — Justin Herbert distinguished himself from a few other notable quarterbacks in this draft class before he even stepped on the field this week.
He did so by simply confirming he will throw during NFL Scouting Combine drills.
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"I’m a competitor," Herbert said when asked what he wanted to show teams this week. "I want to come out here, I want to do everything, have fun, get better, learn. I think it’s all about the long haul. Anything I can do to extend my game is what I’m going to do."
Sitting out is en vogue these days, at least for prospects whose college tape speaks louder than a workout in shorts. Presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow isn’t throwing, and likely top-five pick Chase Young isn’t participating either. Those covering the event are essentially obligated to ask each prospect if he’s participating or not, be it due to injury or attempting to maximize their current stock.
Herbert still has things to prove to NFL scouts, who still likely regard him as a first-round talent, but need to see if he can perform essential tasks he wasn’t asked to do at Oregon. Among those tasks: Receive the snap from under center and gather the offense in a legitimate huddle.
Oh, and throw. Unlike the Burrows of the world, throwing in these orchestrated drills could help Herbert’s standing. It always helps to see a quarterback prospect excel at his main job.
Herbert has been on the NFL radar since his true freshman season at Oregon in 2016. He’s encountered a few hurdles and bumps along the way — like the departure of his head coach and an injury that shortened his sophomore season — but he finished strong, leading his Ducks to a Rose Bowl victory in his last game, realizing his final Oregon form by evolving from an intelligent but timid passer to a confident leader ready to take on his next challenge.
Somewhere along the way, he learned he needed to step out of safe surroundings to improve. He’s doing that again in the pre-draft process.
"Force yourself to be uncomfortable," Herbert said. "When I showed up, I was shy, didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes and the quarterback can’t be that. … I’ve done a better job of being vocal, stepping up and stepping out of my comfort zone to get that."
His next transformation will include playing somewhere not located in Oregon for the first time in the Eugene native’s career, but more importantly, it will require an acquisition of additional skills and an understanding of a new offense. He’ll likely be scooped up by a team looking for its next face of the franchise, but just because he’s whip-smart — he won the William V. Campbell Trophy, college football’s academic Heisman, in 2019 — doesn’t mean he’s sure he’s going to play from day one.
"To be honest, I don’t know," Herbert said when asked if he’s ready to play immediately. "I’ve never played a down in the NFL. I couldn’t tell you what the speed of the game is like. I’ve watched as much as I could and I feel confident with my abilities but I’ve never played in the NFL before, so to give you an answer whether I could play right now, I don’t think that would be in my best interest."
When the time comes, it’s safe to say Herbert will have put in the work — an effort that will have continued with his participation this week.
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