Drew Brees has seen some quarterbacks in his day. The future Hall of Famer battled five league MVPs in the playoffs alone, not to mention all the regular-season meetings versus the very best over the past 20 years.
On Wednesday, the retired star took in a Chargers practice as part of his new analyst role with NBC. Brees noted afterward that it was just the third time he's encountered Justin Herbert. That was enough for him to draw at least one striking conclusion about the 23-year-old QB.
"I think his physical tools are as good as anybody I've ever seen," Brees told Fernando Ramirez of Sports Illustrated’s Charger Report. "By all accounts, he's a great worker. He's got great leadership qualities, he's got a lot of intangibles. So I think the sky's the limit for a guy like him."
While that tracks with what Herbert put on film during a dazzling debut season, Brees' endorsement adds another layer of credibility. The latter's career overlapped with prime years from the likes of physical marvels Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. For what it's worth, none of them were as good in Year 1 as Herbert, whose 31 touchdown passes, 396 completions and eight 300-yard games last year were all rookie records. The 6-foot-6 dual threat also ran for 234 yards and five touchdowns en route to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In just his fourth career start, Herbert effectually outdueled Brees by tossing four touchdowns without an interception. That game, as many did for L.A. in 2020, ended up being a narrow loss. (It was one of seven one-possession defeats during an eight-game stretch.) But it further validated the Chargers' decisions to part ways with franchise icon Philip Rivers following the 2019 campaign and draft Herbert No. 6 overall.
Of course, the club's extended run of elite QB play in the 21st century began with Brees, who was pushed aside in 2006 to make room for Rivers. Perhaps, Herbert will accomplish everything for the Chargers that Brees didn't get the opportunity to. For 2021, there's a more tangible connection between the two passers: New Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was the Saints' quarterbacks coach for the past five years and worked alongside Brees in 12 of his 15 seasons with New Orleans.
"I love the fact that he's in this offense now with Joe Lombardi," Brees said. "He brings a ton of knowledge and experience, not only coaching quarterbacks but also within the system that we ran. And I think he'll be able to tailor-make that for Justin's skills and obviously the tools and weapons that he has around him."
Lombardi, again, is working with a unique talent at QB.