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Why Justin Herbert is in the Early NFL MVP Discussion

Herbert Buzz 10.09

Justin Herbert has been among the NFL's best through his first four games into his season.

The Bolts quarterback has been on a tear to start, ranking fifth in the NFL with 1,106 passing yards through four games and has a 7:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He's also ran for three touchdowns and shown the ability to scramble when needed, keeping defenses on their heels on key downs.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell dove into the top performers of the NFL season through the first quarter of the season, ranking his top three candidates for each award.

And third on Barnwell's list for the Most Valuable Player was none other than Herbert, whose numbers speak for themselves under Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore.

Barnwell wrote:

Herbert has just one turnover in four games, an interception in the third quarter against Vegas. He has fumbled once. He ranks second in completion percentage over expected (CPOE) behind [Josh] Allen while throwing more than 15 perecent of his passes 20 or more yards downfield, which is the second-highest rate behind Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill. He also has scored three rushing touchdowns, including two sneaks and a 12-yard scramble in Week 4.

Herbert has been a one-man wrecking crew in the red zone. His 95.3 QBR there is the third-best mark in football among quarterbacks who have started all four games. Inside the 20, he is 14-of-22 for 73 yards with six passing touchdowns and no picks. Add in those three rushing scores and I'm not sure anybody has been more ruthless in scoring range.

Herbert is throwing deeper more often, as expected after the arrival of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, but that's probably the area where he can still stand to improve if he wants to win MVP. His 86.4 QBR on passes traveling 20 yards or more in the air ranks 16th. He has attempted more deep throws than anybody else, but he has completed 39.1% of those passes. His 5% CPOE on those passes ranks 19th.

Before the Chargers bye week, Herbert ranked eighth among all quarterbacks at 0.178 EPA per play. His average depth of target (ADOT) is third at 9.1, meaning he's pushing the ball down the field in Moore's offense.

And he's been under some heat through his first four games as well, being blitzed on 69 drop backs, good for second-most in the NFL through Week 4, according to Pro Football Focus. When being blitzed Herbert has stood tall and also had the most completions through the first four games among all quarterbacks, completing 50 of 63 pass attempts (79.4 percent).

No game was more evident of Herbert taking all the pressure than Week 3 in Minnesota, when Herbert set career highs in passing yards (405), completions (40), and completion percentage (85.1) for a single game while being blitzed over 81 percent of the time.

It was one of Herbert's big time games of the early season, and he will have more opportunities to showcase himself on a grander stage with at least six primetime games coming up after the bye week.

And Barnwell believes the Bolts quarterback's best chance to win the MVP award would be leading them to the top of their division by the end of the season.

Barnwell wrote:

We know Herbert can be a devastating downfield passer, but if he can pull that off without Williams -- who's out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee -- that might be the last barrier remaining for Herbert as a passer. The other big roadblock is the guy in Kansas City. Mahomes might not win MVP this season, but the award winner in real life almost always comes from a division winner. The last time a league MVP didn't finish the season with his team in first place was 2012, when Adrian Peterson carried the Vikings to the wild-card round. If the Chargers can somehow topple the Chiefs, Herbert might have his best shot of taking home hardware.

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