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Charging Fantasy Football Preview: QB Justin Herbert

How high will Justin Herbert bounce after a down 2022 campaign?

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Deep in the doldrums of the offseason, let’s start a little series covering Chargers in fantasy football. This of course won’t cover the whole roster, as only a handful of players will be fantasy-relevant, but it’s a fun exercise while we have little news to discuss, and actually provides some over/under baselines on player performance worth debating.

Let’s start this series off with the player whose performance comes with the most consequence: the co-founder of the Sheldon High School Fishing Club, quarterback Justin Herbert.

2022 Season

Justin Herbert had a disappointing 2022 given the trajectory his first two seasons set. In 2020, he sprang on the scene with the 10th-highest quarterback point total despite operating in an offense originally “tailored” to Tyrod (yes, I’m a little proud of that one)... until a punctured lung sidelined Taylor long enough for Herbert to prove himself irreplaceable.

After that 10th-place finish, Justin Herbert took command of Joe Lombardi’s offense in 2021 and jumped up to a 3rd place fantasy finish, propelled by his first 5,000 yard season, a league-leading nine games with over 300 passing yards, and 38 passing touchdowns.

Although a 3rd place finish left little room for upward movement in the rankings, no one expected Herbert to plummet back to 10th in 2022. A myriad of misfortune that was largely out of Herbert’s control was to blame, including losing All-Pro left tackle Rashawn Slater for fourteen regular season games, Corey Linsley and Trey Pipkins battling through injuries throughout the season, and the wide receiver room struggling with depth to replace Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both missing time. When you add that Justin Herbert’s broken rib cartilage and torn shoulder labrum, it’s a wonder he was able to produce as much as he did.

Best-case scenario for 2023

Despite the struggles of last season, all signs point to 2022 representing a statistical “floor” for a Herbert-led offense, rather than a trend anyone should expect to continue. Justin doesn’t need any of his offensive pieces to improve for the unit to excel, he simply needs health.

Fans can expect Justin’s ribs and surgically repaired shoulder to be fully healed by the start of the season, which in itself will unleash a completely different quarterback than we saw in 2022.

The return of Rashawn Slater, and moving Zion Johnson to his natural left guard position, should create a dominant blind-side of the line. Jamaree Salyer was a revelation in 2022, filling in admirably for Slater when he was lost for the season, and Trey Pipkins played admirably despite fighting through multiple debilitating lower body injuries. Corey Linsley is one of the top centers in the league when his knees cooperate. If this unit can stay healthy for the majority of the season, it has the potential of a top-three unit.

The wide receiver room has added depth, versatility, and playmaking ability. Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis, and Jalen Guyton’s return creates depth and creative opportunity for one of the best offensive coordinators in the league, Kellen Moore.

Whether improved injury luck or Kellen Moore’s influence will have a bigger impact on this offense is likely a toss-up, but the culmination of both should propel them to new heights. Moore fought through adversity last year with the Dallas Cowboys, losing starting quarterback Dak Prescott for five and a half games, and still coached to the third-highest point total for all offenses, outscoring the Chargers 467-391. In 2021, a healthy Dak helped lead the entire league in yards at 6,919 and points with 530.

Things will go bad this season if...

This is an easy one. The only two paths to the offense underperforming is with another performance-altering injury to Justin, or another run on injuries to the boys up front.

While Salyer was exceptional in his reserve role last year, he is replacing an underformering starter from 2022 who was a key contributor in 2021. The only effort by Tom Telesco to backfill the reserves with an adequate depth replacement was drafting rookie Jordan McFadden in the fifth round. Although McFadden has an extremely impressive collegiate resume, relying on Day Three lightning to strike two years in a row is a risky gamble. Will Clapp is the only reserve lineman with considerable experience, and despite PFF giving him decent grades, the Chargers’ guard play mysteriously fell off a cliff when he stepped on the field. Brendan Jaimes and Foster Sarell have yet to show they can provide a reliable presence as well. When Foster Sarell was forced to take meaningful snaps last season (more than ten snaps in a game), the Chargers went 2-4, including devastating losses to beatable teams in the Jaguars, Broncos, and Raiders.

Health is everything for this squad, and Justin Herbert’s fantasy production, in 2023.

Buying or selling PFF’s projection for 2023

Pro Football Focus has Justin Herbert ranked 5th in their quarterback rankings, posting a 4,573.5 yard, 31.6 TD, and 11.4 INTs line. They also expect him to rush for 222.7 yards and 3.2 touchdowns. In Herbert’s down year where he looked like a shell of his past self, he still posted 4,739 yards, 25 TDs, and 10 INTs. Projecting him to decline in yards next year is an insane proclamation.

Looking at Kellen Moore’s recent history, Dak Prescott rocked a 4,449 yard, 37 TDs, and 10 INTs line in his last full season, 2021. He only rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown.

I would slam the “buy” button on Herbert’s line. PFF’s projection would set Herbert on a per-game average of 269.03 yards and 1.86 TDs, which feels underwhelming for what should be a wildly explosive offensive. Go ahead and assume those numbers represent Justin’s “floor,” and don’t be surprised to see him exceed 5000 yards for the second time in his career, and flirt with reaching 40 touchdowns for the first time in his career.

Kyle’s Adjusted Line for Justin Herbert

I’m going bullish, and editing my PFF preset projections for a 5100 yards 40 TDs, 12 INTs passing line for Herbert, with 190 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. This would give Herbert 371 points in a standard PPR league, an extra 31.5 points over PFF’s current projection of 339.5, and bump him to the fourth-highest projected quarterback in the league.