ESPN continued its position rankings in recent days, with a trio of Chargers making various lists.
Justin Herbert, who could be a bonafide superstar by the end of the 2022 season, was ranked as the No. 7 quarterback in the NFL.
The rankings were compiled by Jeremy Fowler, who spoke with 50 coaches, players, scouts and front office executives.
While the Chargers young quarterback received plenty of praise, some thought he should be even higher on the list.
In December, when Herbert rolled deep to his right and calmly heaved a deep ball that traveled 61.2 air yards (per NFL Next Gen Stats) across the field for a Jalen Guyton touchdown against the Bengals, I texted a screenshot of the play to a high-ranking NFL source.
"You'll become less and less surprised as the game goes," the source said. "He'll be the best QB in the game."
The following week, Herbert rolled out to his right and made perhaps the play of the year, throwing the ball 63.8 air yards -- via NFL Next Gen Stats tracking -- while being tackled from behind to hit Guyton in stride for a score against the Giants.
Winning helps in the voting, which explains Herbert's standing. The two quarterbacks ahead of him are coming off the Super Bowl, while Herbert's Chargers fell short of the playoffs. But he probably won't be outside the top five for long. Consider that his 65.6 QBR last season was No. 3 in the NFL, behind only Rodgers and Brady.
"When you're that talented physically and you're smart, it's mind-boggling," a longtime NFL coordinator said. "Adding his strength and power, he's hard to tackle, all of that; and he's seeing things for another season so will have a better understanding."
Since entering the league in 2020, Herbert has the second-most completions (839) and attempts (1,267), along with the third-most passing yards (9350). He also ranks fifth in passing touchdowns (69), and his 25 completions gaining 40 or more yards trail only Stafford.
"Passing on him is going to haunt [the Dolphins] for a long time," said the coordinator about the 2020 draft, when Miami took Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5 over Herbert (No. 6).
Herbert, who received votes for as high as fifth, ranked ninth in this poll a year ago.
Chargers safety Derwin James, Jr., also received praise in his position group, landing as the No. 4 safety across the league.
"Wow" moments have never been an issue for the 6-foot-2, 215-pound James, blanketing top-tier tight ends and running in stride with elite receivers downfield.
"He's one of the few safeties you can do everything with," an NFL front-office official said. "He's a special player when he's out there."
But being out there has long been James' problem. He missed a combined 27 games from 2019-20 with multiple foot injuries. James bounced back in 2021 with 117 tackles (tied for third among defensive backs), two sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles in 15 games. But he still had a few minor issues, including a hamstring injury and a separated shoulder. Offseason shoulder surgery hasn't stopped the Chargers from rightly making James a centerpiece of the defense, though.
"He's in the same style of player as [Jamal] Adams and [Budda] Baker, but has been a better cover guy than them," an NFL coordinator said. "You wonder if the injuries will start to affect that, but this season will say a lot as far as how high he is on the list."
Like Herbert, James also placed ninth a year ago in these rankings.
Linsley was the third Chargers player mentioned, as he came in at the tenth-best interior offensive lineman.
Those around the league said Linsley's presence up front has helped Herbert thrive early in his career.
Long unheralded in Green Bay, Linsley was a catalyst for the Chargers after signing a five-year, $62.5 million deal in free agency in 2021. The Chargers believe Linsley was worth every cent as a calming force for quarterback Herbert.
Here's the best way to quantify Linsley's value: The Chargers ranked fourth in the NFL in expected points added at 116.4, a sizable jump from the previous year's 14th-ranked EPA (99.42). Internally, the Chargers credit Linsley as a big part of that jump.
"I think for what they do, he's the best center because he's so smart and instinctive that he makes life easier for Herbert," said a high-ranking NFL official unaffiliated with the team. "He might not be able to overpower like other guards and centers, but his technique is top notch, and you're going to play a clean game with him offensively."
His command of the offense shows up. The Chargers had three delay of game penalties all year, and Linsley had just six total penalties all season. And he allowed zero sacks on 1,013 snaps to go along with a 95.9 percent pass block win rate (fifth among centers).
J.C. Jackson, Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack were also recently ranked in the top 10 of their respective position groups.
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