Justin Herbert helps draft cause with MVP showing at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. -- Justin Herbert might have had more at stake than any other player at the Senior Bowl this week, with the Oregon quarterback trying to prove he is worthy of a top-10 draft pick.

He responded by being named as both the "Practice Player of the Week" and the MVP of Saturday's game.

Herbert's South team wound up losing the game 34-17. But he staked them a 7-0 lead while completing his first seven passes, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Florida running back Lamical Perine on the game's opening drive. Herbert also showed off his legs with a 19-yard run on that opening drive.

He completed 9 of 12 passes for 83 yards with one TD and no interceptions and ran the ball three times for 22 yards before calling it a day.

"We could've won. That's one thing that could've gone better. But I had a lot of fun this week," said Herbert, who said his main focus between now and the combine and his pro day is "getting better."

"I love competing, and that's one of the things I wanted to come here and do," Herbert said. "It was so much fun, it was such a great learning experience, and I've really enjoyed it."

Herbert said at the beginning of the week that he was well aware of how the Senior Bowl boosted the profile of recent top QB picks like Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield and Daniel Jones. But he insisted that more than anything, he was honored to be invited because he grew up watching this game.

"Not a whole lot of people get this invite. To come here, it's special," Herbert said.

It has to feel even more special after the way this week went. The 6-foot-6, 227-pounder showed off his big arm throughout the practice week. But he also showed consistency and drew praise for his leadership with a group of new teammates -- something Herbert said he knew NFL teams wanted to see after he had a reputation for being a quiet personality.

The biggest knock on Herbert is that he needs to do a better job of working through his progressions. But he did as much as he could in this type of format to help his stock.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay wrote that Herbert "truly established himself as the best quarterback on the field all three days," with perhaps the "defining portion" coming during the two-minute drills on Thursday.

Draft analysts have been mixed on Herbert's potential as anything from a top-five overall pick to a selection later in Round 1. This week should only help his case.

Herbert's running ability hasn't always been a huge part of his game. But he continued to flash it Saturday after he opened eyes with three rushing TDs in the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

"In this day and age in the NFL, you've got to be able to make some plays with your feet and be able to create a little bit," said Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who coached the South team this week.

It was also a solid week for Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who was selected as the North team's top practice quarterback of the week. Love, who is considered more of a high-risk, high-reward prospect after throwing for 20 TDs and 17 interceptions in 2019, wanted to prove he is a bona fide first-round draft pick in this showcase alongside a higher level of talent.

"I didn't really know what to expect coming into the week and had an open mind. But it was a good week," said Love, who said he believed he was able to answer teams' questions about his ability to learn and execute a pro-style offense because the one he ran at Utah State was "not really a NFL offense."

Love completed 4 of 6 passes for just 26 yards in Saturday's game. But he barely missed connecting on an effortless deep ball.

Meanwhile, Washington State's Anthony Gordon had the most prolific day of any quarterback despite being the third North QB into the lineup.

Gordon finished as the winning team's MVP on Saturday after completing 8 of 12 passes for 69 yards and two TDs.

"Like my career at Washington State, I spent a lot of time waiting. But when it was my time, I was ready," said Gordon, who sat behind future NFL QBs Luke Falk and Gardner Minshew in college.

Gordon also honored another former Cougars teammate this week; he switched to jersey No. 3 to honor Tyler Hilinski, who died by suicide in January 2018 and would have been a senior himself this past season.