“Vincent Van Gogh. Everyone told him, “You only have one ear. You cannot be a great artist.” And you know what he said? “I can’t hear you.””
That’s the iconic quote from Steve Carrell’s character, Barry, in the comedy film Dinner for Schmucks.
“I don’t know about this guy, he might actually be too tall.”
“He’s never lived or played outside of Eugene, Oregon. You have to wonder if that will impact his readiness and maturity in the league.”
“He’s a soft-spoken introvert. I just don’t see that translating into leadership you can rally behind in a locker room.”
These are all criticisms that current Los Angeles Chargers quarterback, Justin Herbert received from NFL talent scouts coming out of Oregon to enter the draft.
While I doubt Van Gogh actually received that criticism (sorry, Barry), I present to you the theory that Justin Herbert was the victim of what I refer to in homage to this movie as the Van Gogh Complex; this happens when critiques and nit-picks that are completely irrelevant are placed onto the evaluation of something.
Justin Herbert, 6’6, 236 pounds coming out of Oregon as a senior who won the MVP of the Rose Bowl and the William V. Campbell Trophy for Academic Excellence, was picked sixth overall in the 2020 draft, and not even his own team believed that he was going to be playing this well this early.
The Chargers initially had Herbert as the backup behind Tyrod Taylor, a serviceable veteran starter, to get Herbert adjusted to the lifestyle of the NFL before throwing him into the fire as a rookie and groom him for success.
However, that blueprint might as well have been thrown into an actual fire in week two against the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs literally minutes before kickoff. Tyrod Taylor was slated to receive a pain-killing injection pre-game and the team doctor accidentally punctured his lung in the process. Herbert had no choice but to make his debut on minutes’ notice, to which he came out and shocked the world with his gunslinging cannon of an arm. Despite the loss against the reigning champs, it was a narrow defeat in overtime and Herbert went 22/33 with 311 yards.
Unfortunately for Herbert, I feel as if I could preface every game recap with “Despite the loss” because his record currently sits at 1-6 with some terrible collapses in the second half, including three losses in which they lead by at least 17 points. This has been a story we’ve seen unfold many times in the past during the preceding Phillip Rivers Era, but this time Herbert is their bright spot. Based upon how he’s looked in the losses, avoiding the pass rush, taking hits, and slinging the ball like a grappling hook 40+ yards down the field, the Chargers at least know they’ve got their guy. They just need to figure out how to not “pull a Chargers” as a team.
On an individual success scale, no one expected Herbert to be this good in his rookie year; he was the third quarterback taken behind Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. That much of an evaluation is fair considering the merit that those two held as college players at the college football powerhouses they played at, LSU and Alabama.
Much like the people that doubted Barry’s Vincent Van Gogh just because he only had one ear, however, we came up with reasons to not like Herbert. When a scout said he was “too tall” at 6’6 it was one of the most preposterous notions in recent memory; it just merely has to do with the trends. Teams used to always look for the “golden boy” bodied pocket quarterback that was tall, but when shorter quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray) began to have success and get drafted higher, are we now supposed to believe that having height is a negative trait? If anything, Herbert needs the extra size to brace for all of the hits he’s taken behind that Chargers offensive line thus far, but he still possesses the elusiveness and mobility to throw outside the pocket like a shorter QB.
Then, there was the illusion created that because he wasn’t some loud-mouthed motivational speaker type and instead of an intellect who’s quieter than most and chose to stay at college close to home amongst his family that he couldn’t possess the fire that rallies the team when they’re down in a big spot. There may have been some comparisons made; Marcus Mariota was an introverted, tall quarterback raised in the Oregon Ducks system and won a Rose Bowl.
Justin Herbert is ALSO an introverted, tall quarterback in the Oregon Ducks system and won a Rose Bowl. As talented as Mariota was, he’s a backup quarterback now. The comparison between the two is merely an easy cop-out, but Herbert is just different than Mariota, who had injury history and was more of an RPO-style, play-action quarterback than Herbert and his Thor’s hammer-level of an arm. Forgive Herbert if he isn’t barking at his teammates to play better on the sidelines like Tom Brady as a 22-year-old; what he lacks in verbal communication he more than makes up for in his passing skill set.
Herbert is living proof that maybe scouts should look at more things like, oh, I don’t know, on-field performance or physical intangibles when evaluating whether or not they have what it takes to make it in the league.
It’s the Van Gogh Complex- and he can’t hear the schmucks who passed on him.
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