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Justin Herbert | The Lightning Leading the Chargers to another level

The AFC West is a blood bath. Patrick Mahomes leads the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos traded for Russell Wilson, the Las Vegas Raiders acquired Davante Adams. But the Los Angeles Chargers must not be overlooked: Justin Herbert is ready to take them to another level after three years missing the playoffs, and it was clear in the regular season opener against the Raiders.

In the first game of the season, Herbert completed 26 of 34 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns, with no picks. He's second in the history of the NFL in percentage of career games with at least three TDs (42.4%), only behind Patrick Mahomes.

"You feel pretty fortunate that you have a quarterback like that, that can make those throws. They were fantastic. We're glad we have him," said Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi after the game.

On Thursday, his ability will be on display for the first Thursday Night Football game of the season, when the Chargers face the Chiefs.

Herbert game against the Raiders:

Passer rating: 129.4

PFF grade: 79.8

QBR: 84.8

Ability to throw on the move and from different arm angles

A strong NFL trend indicates quarterbacks have to be able to create positive plays out of structure and when things are falling apart — which The Athletic's Nate Tice calls "a quarterback that can get you a bucket". And that's exactly what Herbert is able to do. Besides being a very efficient and smart system quarterback, Herbert has the tools to move outside the pocket and throw on the move and with different arm angles.

Pocket movement

Herbert is good at leaving the pocket, but that doesn't mean he can't move well inside the pocket too. The Chargers quarterback has the ability to make sudden moves and generate extra time to throw, something particularly important considering the Chargers offensive line has some question marks.

Arm and accuracy to hit short windows

The most important aspect of Herbert's game is his arm. And that's not only about his capacity to execute long passes, but his ability to hit intermediate throws in short windows — his accuracy in those throws is impressive, even compared with fellow young stars like Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow.

Asked if these kinds of completions still surprise him, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi admitted they do.

"It still kind of does. It shouldn't because he does it over and over again, but yeah it's impressive."

Justin Herbert has good offensive weapons at his disposal, but he is the center of it. Against the Raiders, nine players had between two and four receptions — Keenan Allen, DeAndre Carter, Gerald Everett, Austin Ekeler, Tre' McKitty, Joshua Kelley, Mike Williams, Alexander Horvath, and Josh Palmer.

The Chiefs are still the favorites, and the AFC West offers a difficult path to the playoffs. But Justin Herbert is a short- and long-term answer for those challenges, and the Chargers are right to invest in making it happen.

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