It’s fair to say that both Los Angeles football teams need more from their franchise quarterbacks after each had disappointing campaigns in 2022. The Rams’ Matthew Stafford and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert both seem to be stuck in the realm of “good” instead of “great” or “elite”.
That’s dangerous territory to live in the NFL. In a league of parity perhaps the worst long-term outcome is being caught in the middle of the pack—and that’s the risk both teams run unless their signal callers take a step forward in 2023 and beyond.
But what if we could create the perfect quarterback for the city of Los Angeles by inserting the mind of Stafford into the body of Herbert? Would you be able to mask their individual flaws and engineer a collectively elite signal caller? Let’s revisit their short-comings and why the mash up is so intriguing.
Justin Herbert’s short-comings:
A strong 2023 campaign could easily erase all doubts for the Chargers’ lead man; however, there’s just been something missing in his career up to this point. Herbert has all the physical tools and on 95% of snaps he makes the play that the offense dictates—but based on his gifts you’d like to see him accomplish more outside of structure.
Instead of repeated check downs underneath and to running backs, it seems the offense would be better-served for Herbert to make more low probability attempts and push the ball downfield even when his target might be covered. Mike Williams has made a living in the NFL on contested catches, but the Chargers probably needed to add more receiving help than they acquired this offseason. Herbert has all the physical gifts to complete passes that other QB’s cannot, but he is severely risk-adverse and reluctant to just let it rip. His best moments as a quarterback come in the two-minute drill when he has no choice but to “do or die”.
What was your favorite Justin Herbert play from last season?— NFL (@NFL) June 1, 2023
Here's 10 of 'em. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/vud1hD1N7h
The biggest indicator of Herbert’s pathological conservatism is the fact that he led the NFL in PFF’s turnover-worthy play percentage at 1.7% and conversely ranked in the bottom third of QB’s with a big-time throw percentage of just 3.1%. Trailing him in BTT% were the likes of Jared Goff (3.1%), Baker Mayfield (2.2%), Marcus Mariota (2.2%), and Brock Purdy (2.0%). Even players that are conventionally thought of as highly conservative like Jimmy Garoppolo (4.0%), Derek Carr (4.0%), and Mac Jones (4.7%) ranked significantly higher than Herbert in this metric.
Effectively Herbert has all the physical skills as Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, but he instead plays stylistically more like Garoppolo or Carr. If that doesn’t change, his career could unfold similar to Carr as a player with a big-time arm that never seems to translate it to production.
Herbert’s short-comings prove just how hard it is to scout the quarterback position. The Chargers got it 90% right (which is usually an “A” grade) when they selected him in the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft, but it remains to be seen whether he can unlock the final 10% that is currently holding him back. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s all mental with the young signal caller.
Matthew Stafford’s short-comings:
Somehow, even after 14 seasons as an NFL starter, Stafford is still a fairly enigmatic quarterback—largely in part to his lack of consistent play and usually questionable supporting casts. There are years where Stafford is firmly a top-10 passer, but most of the time it seems more fair to slot him in the 12-15 range.
The Rams’ signal caller plays with a trademark aggression, one that seems to work in his favor at times and then works against him just as often. Even in the 2021 season where he was playing at a high level and helped lead the Rams to a victory in Super Bowl LVI, he still led the league in interceptions and made commonplace what fans referred to as “arm punts” (which are really just deep interceptions).
Stafford reads defenses at a high level and is able to guide them out of position with his eyes, which is also how he made his historic no-look pass to Cooper Kupp on the game-winning drive in the Super Bowl.
He has all the natural playmaking ability and willingness to take risks that Herbert seems to be missing from his DNA, though Stafford seems to be approaching the end physically. The veteran QB will play the 2023 season at age 35, and sometimes the cliff can come suddenly. Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan are older passers that have struggled in recent years despite being among the best at their position once.
Stafford is coming off a season where he missed seven games due to multiple stints in the NFL’s concussion protocol and then suffered a season-ending spinal cord contusion. As his body winds down, why not insert his mental acumen into a body with all the physical gifts you could ever want?
Would the Frankenstein QB work?
Should we call him Matthew Herbert or Justin Stafford? What about Mattin Herfford (kind of like a cow)?
The bottom line is that the AFC is loaded with top QB talent and Herbert won’t lead the Chargers to the top unless he takes the training wheels off. The Rams are also paying Stafford a lot of money over the next couple of years as they embrace the youth movement—can he show that he has enough left in the tank physically to be a part of the rebuild and the next generation of the roster?
Combining these two quarterbacks would answer both of the burning questions surrounding them and their franchise.