Justin Herbert is off to the greatest start for any quarterback in NFL history, rewriting the league record books after just two seasons in the league. Herbert has the most completions (839) and passing yards (9,350) through the first two seasons of a career in league history, while also being the first quarterback to throw 30-plus touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons.
Herbert’s 2021 season was one of the best for a second-year quarterback in NFL history. He completed 65.9% of his passes for 5,014 yards with 38 touchdowns to 15 interceptions for a 97.9 passer rating — becoming just the third player to throw for at least 5,000 yards in a season in one of his first two years (Patrick Mahomes and Dan Marino are the others).
What Herbert has accomplished this early in his career has made him one of the NFL’s youngest superstars. Becoming one of the faces of the league, Herbert is the newest member of Tom Brady’s co-founded NFT company, Autograph, to launch his collection that will promote young superstar athletes. “The Future Is” collection features Herbert, PGA Champion Collin Morikawa, WNBA All-Star Sabrina Ionescu, tennis star Coco Gauff, and NBA All-Star Devin Booker in a series of NFTs fans can purchase on the Autograph website. Herbert’s collection in the series drops next Tuesday.
In an exclusive interview with CBS Sports, Herbert discussed the Los Angeles Chargers‘ stellar offseason, and also opened up on his role with the Chargers organization, contract extension talks, and the improvements he’s making to his game for this season and beyond.
The last time we spoke, the AFC West didn’t have Russell Wilson and Davante Adams in it. You know all the other moves the division made over the past few months. What was your reaction to the division getting even better?
Herbert: “It’s tough, but I think it’s a great opportunity for us to go play the best. The Chiefs have gotten better, the Raiders have gotten better, and the Denver Broncos have gotten better — and that’s exactly what you want. We believe we can play really good football and it’s up to us to go out and execute.
“At the end of the day, if you want to be the best you have to beat the best. Those guys have certainly proved that over the past couple years. This is going to be a fun division to be a part of.”
The Chargers were able to keep Mike Williams in the fold for you. How has he aided your development over the last two years?
Herbert: “Mike Williams has been huge. He’s one of those guys that if you need a conversion on third down — he’s going to be open. As special and as talented as he is as an athlete, he’s an even better teammate. For us to keep him around, I thought that was big for this franchise because he’s such a big part of our offense.
“Without him, we’re not the same team. It was really good to keep him.”
What steps has Williams taken to improve his game and build upon last year?
Herbert: “Just being out there timing wise and having more reps with him in OTAs. It’s all optional. He didn’t have to be out there and for him to commit and be there for the team (was great). I thought we got a lot of time together. We got to work on a lot of reps, a lot of routes together. I feel more comfortable throwing him the ball and I hope he feels the same way about me.”
This is your second year with Brandon Staley and Joe Lombardi (offensive coordinator). How are you feeling more comfortable going into this season with this staff knowing what to expect?
Herbert: “The tough part about last year was we didn’t get a whole lot of reps. Walkthroughs were great, but there’s nothing like a live rep and going against a team. I thought it was great we were able to do that this year. We got to see a live defense. We got to see our guys on defense like J.C. Jackson move around and I thought it was a great opportunity for us to get better.
“All that competition that we had, I think it helps. That was much better this year.”
How’s J.C. Jackson been looking, since you brought him up?
Herbert: “He looks good. He can fly around. There’s not too much separation between the receivers and him and he’s done such a great job of establishing himself as a corner over the past few years. He’s definitely picking up where he left off.”
Talks of an extension will be coming your way shortly since you’re going into your third year. Have the Chargers approached you regarding an extension at this point?
Herbert: “We haven’t discussed anything but I’ve been so fortunate to play for the Chargers. Whatever happens, happens. I’m just so excited to be here and play football. This has been a great opportunity and I don’t wish it went any other way.
“I love that I was drafted here and that I have been able to play here. I think we’re doing all the right things. I believe in the staff, all the teammates, the front office. So all I can do is hope for the best. It’s out of my control, but I’ll keep playing football.”
One of the criticisms that seem to come your way is you haven’t played in a playoff game yet. I know that’s not your fault, but how do you handle that adversity and how important is it for you to get to the playoffs and establish your own legacy there?
Herbert: “The great thing for me is that I don’t spend too much time on social media, so I don’t get to see all that stuff. It’s always a challenge of being better and we haven’t won a playoff game in the past two years. That’s obviously a tough challenge, but I believe in our team and the coaching staff.
“It’s up for us to play football and continue to execute.At the end of the day you can’t get too worried about all these outcomes because you can’t control them. All you can do is your best and whatever happens, happens.”
What aspects of your game are you looking to improve upon heading into year three?
Herbert: “A lot of it is footwork. I think I can continue to step up in the pocket, feel pressure and get the ball out. I think if you can remain calm in the pocket, go through all your reads, and find a tailback if if all else fail. I think that’s the huge part about playing quarterback and (Chargers quarterbacks coach) Shane Day and all the quarterbacks in our room have been working on that a bunch.
“And just being comfortable and moving. Small, quick movements and being able to get the ball out. I think that’s been really helpful too.”
From Year 1 to Year 2, what did you think was the biggest gain in your development as a quarterback?
Herbert: “I just think experience. Seeing all the defenses and going through the game and realizing just how fast the game really is. Everyone on defense is faster than I am so I have to be protective of my body and not take too many shots and hits like that. But just being out there and seeing it and understanding more about defenses and understanding our offense better. I think that was huge too.”
Do the Chargers ask you for your input on roster construction? Do they ask you what you need in order to improve the roster?
Herbert: “The great part about the Chargers is they have asked. They definitely want to keep communication open there, but my response to them is ‘I just want to play quarterback and I trust you guys. I know you guys are going to get things handled. I believe in you guys and whatever you decide to do, I know it’s right.’
“I’m not too worried. I don’t want to cause trouble between the two. They’ve done an incredible job. (General manager) Tom Telesco and the entire front office, they get things right. I believe in those guys 100%.”
You saw the Rams win the Super Bowl in SoFi Stadium this year. The feeling around the city when the Rams won captivated Los Angeles. Are you looking to allure the city with the Chargers and have a Super Bowl run like that that can gravitate the city toward your franchise?
Herbert: “That’s always the goal, to be the best team that you can be. For us that’s the ending, and one day we hope to be able to get there. It’s going to take a lot of work and I think we did a great job this offseason of putting in that work. It’s up to the regular season of staying healthy, continuing to execute, and having a great protection plan and playing with a good defense — all those things go into it to make that happen.”
I have to ask you about the vacation thing since that was brought up this week. You don’t take any vacations?
Herbert: “I haven’t yet! The best part about California is you don’t really need to. We live in a great city. It’s always nice here. I do go back to Eugene (Oregon) from time to time so see my family, but playing football — that’s my vacation.”
Can you tell me what your latest venture is with Autograph and explain ‘The Future Is’ collection?
Herbert: “I thought it was a great opportunity because they have so many big names that have gone through and have been established. Whether it’s in football or golf and now they’re bringing in this new group of people in. It’s an honor for me to team up with Collin Morikawa, Devin Booker, and create something that I’m proud of and it’s a new way to interact with fans and at the same time make something cool like a trading card.”
What does your NFT trading card look like?
Herbert: “There are a couple moments from my career. One is from the Rose Bowl (MVP of 2020 game), another is from my rookie season (2020), and the final one is from this past year. They are all just moments from my life I felt were important to my career and I think they came out pretty cool.
“I had some input on what moments I wanted and they came out pretty good. They’re the ones that kind of jumped out to me when I look back at those games and they were incredible opportunities for me to go out, play football, and have fun. I think that’s what they captured.”
You have to tell me how this works. Did Tom Brady call you and ask you if you wanted to do this?
Herbert: “He actually did! That’s the second time I’ve talked to Tom Brady now. He’s an incredible football player and he’s had so much success over the past two decades and that’s who any (quarterback) wants to be like.
“For him to reach out and start this up, I thought that was really meaningful for me.”
When someone like Brady calls you, what’s your reaction? You know the GOAT is on your phone!
Herbert: “You have to answer when he calls (laughing). No matter what time it is, when you see that name pop up, you gotta answer it!”