Alexander: Chargers make Justin Herbert a quiet No. 6 pick

The Chargers got their quarterback with the No. 6 pick Thursday night, almost stealthily.

This first virtual NFL draft was weird in so many ways, including the sight of Roger Goodell appearing to interact with fans on a Zoom feed behind him, kids helping their dads with the picks and Jerry Jones making his selections from his $250 million yacht. We’ll refrain from comment on the latter.

Amid all that, the Chargers had Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert fall to them with the No. 6 pick, before trading up to get back into the first round and grabbing Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray, another potential major talent on the other side of the ball.

In the grand tradition of draft day, of course, everybody in the league got exactly the players they wanted. For the Chargers, no sense bemoaning the Dolphins choice of Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5, even though that pick and the hype surrounding it basically sucked all of the oxygen out of ESPN’s coverage and meant that Herbert’s selection got barely more than a passing mention by the talking heads when it was made.

It may have been downplayed by ESPN, but the Chargers now have the potential face of their franchise going forward. Tyrod Taylor may be the current QB1, he may have made a Pro Bowl and gotten into the playoffs as Buffalo’s starter, and he may have Charger coach Anthony Lynn’s trust, but he is now effectively a temp.

Herbert, a four-year starter at Oregon who passed for 3,471 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior, is a known quantity on the West Coast, and Chargers scouts have had multiple opportunities to look at him. General manager Tom Telesco had two particular opportunities: The game against USC at the Coliseum last November, when Herbert pretty much had his way against USC’s defense in a 56-24 rout, and the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, when he scored three rushing touchdowns including a 30-yard sprint to the end zone for the winning touchdown in a 28-27 victory.

In other words, any resemblance between the kid and the former incumbent, Philip Rivers, stops the moment he takes off with the football.

“There’s different ways to win, and he showed that,” Telesco said on a Zoom conference Thursday night. “He can move a team and put up points in different ways. In the USC game he finished strong, and he had a great second half in the Rose Bowl. He doesn’t turn it over very often, and he puts points on the board. There’s a lot there to work with, and I’m very excited about it.

” … He would have some games – and all players have these – where he may have a bad first quarter, a bad series, a bad half. But he’d come back in the second half and put the team on his back and win some games that way. That shows resolve.”

Although Telesco talked about a competition, the plan right now appears to be for Herbert to come in and serve an apprenticeship behind Taylor, though the guess is that it will be a lot shorter than the one Rivers served when he joined the Chargers in 2004, after being picked No. 4 overall by the Giants and traded west for Eli Manning. Rivers held a clipboard for two seasons behind Drew Brees, and then didn’t miss a start for the next 14 seasons.

“I’m going to do everything I can to be the best quarterback I can be,” Herbert said Thursday night. “If I’m the guy, that’s great (to start). I love to play football and I want to be the guy. But if I have to sit back and learn, I’m going to do everything I can to become the quarterback I can be. I’m so excited to go down there and do everything I can.”

And the general manager made it clear Herbert isn’t being asked to shoulder any undue burden. Face of the franchise? Not just yet.

“I know he plays a high-profile position, but there’s no pressure walking in on day one,” Telesco said. “We’re not asking him to carry the football team whatsoever. Just come in, start competing, start learning, and take it from there.”

Maybe landing in L.A., in a market familiar with Pac-12 football, will be the best thing to happen to Herbert. If the apprenticeship goes smoothly, he’ll be able to watch and learn and grow.

And if not, the Chargers will find themselves part of a local tradition, the Great Quarterback Controversy. Then they truly will be an L.A. team.