Minutes before the Los Angeles Chargers were due to host the Kansas City Chiefs in week two, Justin Herbert learned that he would be starting in place of Tyrod Taylor. The news came as a shock to the rookie, but so was his chance.
body would have blamed Herbert if he had played poorly against the then reigning Super Bowl champions given the circumstances, but he was steadfast, throwing 311 yards and two touchdowns. Los Angeles would fall in overtime, 23-20, but there was no looking back on Herbert.
Number 6 overall ended the year with 31 touchdowns (NFL rookie record) from 4,336 yards and set the all-time rookie record for deals with 396. He also rushed to five touchdowns, setting the all-time rookie record for total touchdowns, trailing 38 yards behind 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 season early in his career, Herbert was focused on improving a 7-9 record and the overall improvement of the team when asked to rate his freshman year.
"I thought we did some really good things and some not-so-good things," he said. "There is definitely room for improvement. I wish we could have won a few more games here and there and I think this is the most important part of our season. We lost some close games that we thought we would Could have but I think we have a great locker room. I'm really looking forward to this new coaching team 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 newbies, Herbert had to adapt to the speed and physicality of the NFL. Even when training camps changed and there weren't any mini-camps or preseason games, he quickly saw that some of the throws and decisions he could get away with in Oregon weren't going to fly at pro-level.
He also had to make sure he had prepackaged meals on hand, as he didn't get a chance to cook the way he wanted. He also had to get used to new methods of recovery from the physical stress of the schedule. He attributed cold tubs, yoga, stretching, and soft tissue massages to keep him relaxed and long-lasting throughout the season, and plans to use the same methods in his off-season exercise program.
Another element he prioritized is rest. After his MVP winning performance at the Rose Bowl last year, Herbert took just a few days off before starting to train on the draft. While anxious to get back to training, he has learned to look at the bigger picture and wants to make sure he is at his best at the start of the season.
"I think one of the biggest things was taking time off on my arm," he says. “When I got out of the Rose Bowl last season, I started training straight away. I think we started throwing the ball maybe around January 6th or 7th and we had been playing on January 1st so we didn't have a lot of free time. I've been throwing all year and that builds up.
"I'm at the stage where I'm a pro and your body is a business," he continued. "You have to take care of it because that's how you make a living and you only get one."
Herbert spent the first part of his off-season with family and friends, playing golf, kicking back on the beach and getting the chance to enjoy the lifestyle of his new home. Herbert recently became an investor in the snack company Stryve Bitlong. He was introduced to the company through a family friend who works for the company. The friend initially sent Herbert a product to nibble on and became addicted.
"It just fits my lifestyle," he says. "I love snacks and it's an exciting company that I enjoy being part of. I'm really looking forward to what's to come."
With a new coaching staff, the Chargers are expected to improve their third place in the AFC West. While his talent for last year's draft was undisputed, no one could predict how even Herbert would be in his freshman year. Even if the expectations of him increase in the next season, he will not be overwhelmed by it and he will stick to the best advice he has received as a professional.
"To have fun," says Herbert. "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, easy-going, fun and enjoying the game. You go out there and you will be here and there some make mistakes, but it's always about the next game and about enabling your team to win.