Could Justin Herbert be a dark-horse MVP candidate in 2021?

Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Herbert
NFL Analysis Network

The Los Angeles Chargers look like they have struck gold at the quarterback position again. After having Drew Brees and transitioning to Philip Rivers, they now have Justin Herbert under center and he looks like the real deal.

Herbert was selected 6th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft and was expected to have some time to learn behind Tyrod Taylor. After a freak accident in which a doctor punctured Taylor’s lung, Hebert was thrust into the starting lineup and never looked back.

His rookie season with the Chargers was a historic one. He became the first rookie to throw at least two touchdowns in seven consecutive games and rewrote the record books. Herbert completed the most passes, threw the most touchdowns and scored the most total touchdowns. He is the youngest player to throw for 30+ touchdowns and fell only 39 yards short of setting the rookie passing yard record.

Keep in mind, Herbert accomplished all of this playing in only 15 games. Only Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees have thrown for at least 4,300 yards, 30+ touchdowns and completed at least 60 percent of their passes in that amount of games.

To be in that company already, Herbert is certainly a dark horse candidate for the MVP award in 2021.

He is already productive and the supporting cast around him has been upgraded. Los Angeles spent major capital on improving the offensive line, signing center Corey Linsley away from the Green Bay Packers and selecting Rashawn Slater with their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The coaching staff changes are also an upgrade for Herbert. Anthony Lynn and his staff just couldn’t get the job done. With Brandon Staley taking over as head coach, Herbert will be in a better system that should result in some wins. Despite the shortcomings from the coaching staff, Los Angeles was a handful of plays away from winning double-digit games and making the postseason.

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The second-year jump is also a real thing. Despite having to learn a new offense in his second season, he should be more comfortable with things, especially as the offseason programs returned closer to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic threw things for a loop in 2020.

There is a recent history of that second-year jump yelling MVP success, as Mahomes in 2018 and Lamar Jackson in 2019 both won the award in their second season. Kyler Murray was in the running in 2020 in his second season before injuries derailed his production.

With all of the improvements the Chargers have made, Justin Herbert should be in the running for the MVP award right down to the wire.