Herbert hopes Senior Bowl helps him like Wentz

NFL

MOBILE, Ala. — Justin Herbert quickly rattled off the list of names: Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones. Those are quarterbacks who reversed the trend of skipping the Senior Bowl in recent years — and used the January showcase to help turn them into top-six overall draft picks.

Of course Herbert would love to follow suit as one of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s NFL draft. Some analysts still consider him a potential top-5 pick because of his big arm, athleticism and 6-foot-6, 227-pound frame. Others could see him dropping because of some inconsistency he showed after deciding to stay for his senior year at Oregon.

But more than anything, Herbert insisted, he came to the Senior Bowl this week because he grew up watching this game and it was an honor to be invited.

“I think I was just more excited and thrilled for the opportunity,” Herbert said before he took the practice field for the first time on Tuesday. “Not a whole lot of people get this invite. To come here, it’s special. And I’m gonna do my best and have some fun.”

Of course this is a big week for every quarterback here in Mobile. Utah State’s Jordan Love will get the opportunity to prove he is a clear first-round pick while playing alongside a higher level of talent. Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts is trying to prove the same by showing his game can translate to the next level. But Herbert has been the top-ranked guy in this group all year long. And ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay made it clear that the pressure is on him this week to “look the part.”

“The best players always find a way to stand out by the end of the week, and (Herbert) needs to separate himself from the pack,” McShay wrote in his Senior Bowl preview.

When asked a couple of times Tuesday what distinguishes him from other top QB prospects like Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa (who aren’t participating in the Senior Bowl), Herbert said he hasn’t studied them closely enough to “truly give a good comparison.”

“But what I can tell you about myself is I work extremely hard, I prepare very well, and I think arm strength is a big thing I pride myself on as well,” said Herbert, who finished his senior season with 3,471 yards, 32 touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Herbert also flashed his running ability late in the season. Three of his four rushing TDs came on designed runs during the Ducks’ 28-27 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Herbert said he got a better feel for the offense, became a better decision-maker and did a better job of flipping plays at the line of scrimmage.

So all in all, Herbert said it was “a great decision” for him to go back to school instead of entering the draft last year.

“We accomplished everything that we wanted to. We won a Pac-12 championship, we won a Rose Bowl, we did the things that we wanted to,” Herbert said. “We didn’t win every game, and it’s tough, we would have liked to. But we got better, we stuck together and were really excited with the way we (finished).”

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who is coaching Herbert’s South squad this week, said he liked what he saw from Herbert on Day 1.

“He’s an impressive kid. I think he’s got a good grasp of what we’re asking him to do. … You can see a lot of power in his arm and in his form,” said Taylor, who also complimented Herbert’s command of the huddle.

“That’s what we challenge these guys to do, take full ownership of the offense,” Taylor said.

Herbert didn’t quite do enough to cement himself as one of the top two QB prospects in the draft while Burrow soared past him in that race. Herbert battled some inconsistency — especially during a stunning late-season loss to Arizona State. He still needs to prove he can progress further into his reads. And he said he has worked in recent weeks on footwork and mechanics, while acknowledging that “never taking a snap from under center in college is big” when it comes to NFL evaluations.

Herbert, who has already met with several NFL teams here in Mobile, also said he thinks teams are “worried about leadership and me being a pretty quiet guy” — a narrative he’d like to start proving wrong this week.

“I would say I’m not too quiet, and unfortunately I’ll talk your ear off. And so there are these things I want to be transparent with and give a good representation of myself,” said Herbert, who admitted to being quiet and shy early in his college career before he “forced myself to be uncomfortable.”

“I kind of found myself and where I fit in with the offense,” said Herbert, who considers himself somewhere in between an introvert and extrovert. “There are shades of both in me. That’s something I’ve really worked on, and the coaches have done a great job of pulling that out of me.”

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler contributed to this report.

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