The 2020 NFL Draft class was stacked with great quarterbacks, with four of them starting in the league currently. Two of them are considered to be among the best in the league. Justin Herbert has been a great replacement at quarterback for the Chargers, while Joe Burrow led the Bengals to the Super Bowl, falling to the Los Angeles Rams last season. Campus Correspondents Sam Calhoun and CJ Dexter debate who would be more ideal in the future at starting quarterback in today’s segment of Point/Counterpoint.
Sam: Currently, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer to this question. Justin Herbert was a Pro Bowler last year and has been the best quarterback the Chargers have had since Philip Rivers. Joe Burrow, however, has accomplished more so early in his career already. As mentioned in the paragraph above, Burrow has led the Bengals to the Super Bowl last year, also becoming the NFL Comeback Player of the Year after suffering a season-ending injury in his rookie year. He was also the completion percentage leader in the NFL last season. While Burrow has more talent surrounding him, including former college teammate Ja’Marr Chase, he has won games where there is much more on the line. He had arguably the best season in Cincinnati Bengals history at the quarterback position last year, breaking many franchise records already. Due to Burrow’s ability to win when it matters most, I think Joe Burrow would be better in the long run.
CJ: While it may be easy to look at Joe Burrow and the Bengals magical run to the Super Bowl last season, people forget just how impressive Justin Herbert’s sophomore year with the Chargers was. Surrounded by a bottom-three defense and an inexperienced head coach, Herbert had the greatest second year by a QB in NFL History, piling up 5316 total yards and 38 touchdowns in 17 games last year. In terms of comparing the two franchise quarterbacks, it is only fair to give a closer look at each of their supporting casts. Joe Burrow without question has the advantage in coaching, defense, weapons and for this season, offensive line. The coaching factor isn’t even debatable, as Zac Taylor of the Bengals finished second in coach of the year voting and Brandon Staley of LA has coached himself onto the hot seat after just 29 games. Defensively, the Bengals have ranked 13th and 18th the past two seasons in points per game allowed while the Chargers have ranked 29th in back to back years. Even with star players like Joey Bosa, Derwin James and Khalil Mack, “defensive guru” Brandon Staley still has the Chargers reeling towards the bottom of the pack defensively. Joe Burrow has the slight edge in the weapons over Herbert. Guys like Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon definitely have been more productive and less injury prone than the corps of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler. Despite a lesser supporting cast, Herbert is throwing more yards and more touchdowns with a higher QBR to start his career than Burrow. While they are statistically similar, I give Herbert the advantage in arm strength, athleticism, efficiency and overall talent. Both quarterbacks are on their way to Hall-of-Fame-caliber careers, but I believe Justin Herbert is the better quarterback.
Sam: I think it’s fair to say both quarterbacks could potentially be in Canton after their careers conclude. They’re certainly on pace, I agree with you on that. I think both of them have strong weapons, especially if both teams are at full strength. The Bengals, however, have not prioritized protecting Joe Burrow as much as the Chargers have prioritized protecting Herbert. I think both quarterbacks were not behind a great offensive line when coming into the NFL. The Chargers added Rashawn Slater, which has boosted their offensive line, avoiding any potential injuries to Herbert so far in his career. Burrow is more accurate in his career so far (68.5%), even though Herbert is not far behind, but has thrown for 2000 more yards because he was healthy in his rookie season. Zac Taylor finished as high as he did in the Coach of the Year voting because of Burrow, carrying the Bengals all the way to Inglewood for the Super Bowl. The Chargers, in my opinion, have a better defense on paper than the Bengals. Cincinnati’s defense is led by safety Jessie Bates III and defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Their secondary is actually not as strong as it can be, with Eli Apple as their top cornerback. The Chargers defense is run by Renaldo Hill, which is more of the problem than Staley. The Chargers have much more on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage, so the Chargers don’t necessarily have to rely on Herbert as much.
CJ: At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what names the depth chart reads. The Chargers have still been statistically the third-worst defense in football over the last two years, surrendering 26.4 points (29th) and 365 yards per game. I also don’t believe the argument that “Zac Taylor is carried by Joe Burrow” is a valid argument. In four seasons at the helm, Taylor has brought a new-look offensive scheme to Cincinnati that Burrow and the offense have thrived in. The Bengals previously had traditional pocket passers such as Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer the last decade before Burrow, and the offenses they were in were never as efficient as Zac Taylor’s current offense. Also, the drop-off between Zac Taylor and Brandon Staley as a head coach is huge. I truly believe that Brandon Staley is the second-worst head coach in football after Nathaniel Hackett of the Broncos. Staley, deemed a “defensive mastermind” by many, was brought in off the McVay coaching tree to elevate the Chargers to the status of a super bowl contender. He has underperformed significantly through two seasons and especially this season, as many had the Chargers winning the AFC West and making a deep playoff run. Many people also question the late game decision making of Staley, where you can point to a large number of close games that his poor game management cost or almost cost the Chargers over the last two seasons. With the poor coaching, disappointing defensive play and piling of injuries, the Chargers do in fact rely on Justin Herbert too much. They have thrown the ball the second most in the league this year and threw the ball the third most in the league last year. This is what happens when you have a defense that struggles to keep teams under 25 every week. You will often see the Chargers abandon the run in the second half and rely on the arm of Herbert to keep them in the game while they chase points all afternoon. Hopefully one day we can see Herbert flourish in a balanced offense with competent coaching and better defensive play.