Fourth-round rookies do not play often, let alone impress with their limited looks. But Nick Herbig is starting to prove he might not be a regular fourth-round pick. The Steelers nabbed Herbig out of Wisconsin at great value, but there were lingering questions. Would he kick an off-ball linebacker due to his weight? Could his explosiveness and pass-rush chops translate to the next level?
In three preseason games, Nick Herbig put up the following stats. He racked up 3.5 sacks, 6 pressures, a 30.6% pass-rush win rate, and an elite PFF grade. Few players understand how to work angles and attack various sets like Herbig does as a rookie. That is part of why his production shows up already.
Nick Herbig this preseason:
📈 92.5 PFF grade
📈 90.8 PRSH grade
📈 3.5 sacks
📈 6 pressures
📈 30% pass-rush win rate pic.twitter.com/ixyGuubweP
— PFF (@PFF) August 25, 2023
But let’s not downplay the athletic traits Herbig brings to the table. Elite-level bend and explosiveness create a great starting point for any pass rusher, and Herbig has those two traits in spades. His ability to run such a tight arc is perhaps his most shocking trait right out of the gate. From an athletic standpoint, Herbig’s pass rush chops are not only translating; they are dominating out there on the field. Pro Football Network’s Adam Caplan talked to a scout about Herbig, and they were not impressed by him, nor did they think he looked particularly explosive.
“I wasn’t knocked on the ass by him,” one AFC scouting source said to Caplan. “Some of our guys (scouts) probably had lower grades than other teams (on Herbig)… The source said that while Herbig’s sack numbers (20 total) and tackles for loss (30) over his final two years at Wisconsin were impressive, the tape did not show the type of explosion that is often associated with high sack numbers.”
The only issue is that the Wisconsin tape never showcased a lack of athletic traits. It all came down to his weight. But Herbig could not have landed a better in the preseason. His deep bag of moves at this stage in his career is tantalizing. His sack against the Falcons revealed another move he has in a shockingly expansive set of moves and counters.
Nick Herbig (@nickherbig_) beats the over-setting blocker inside. Great timing on the counter & attacks the hands as well.
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) August 25, 2023
Herbig whips out a gorgeous inside swim. Jalen Mayfield oversets to counter Herbig’s explosiveness and, in turn, gets made to look silly. The wild card of Herbig’s entire game is that his explosiveness and bend force guys to defend the speed rush to the outside hard, so there will be tackles that overset and get beat back inside by the various counters Herbig has to work against those oversetting tackles.
In other words, Herbig is no one-trick pony as a pass rusher. That speaks well to his sustainability as a pass rusher into the regular season. For the value the Steelers picked Herbig, he looks like an absolute steal right now. With Markus Golden as depth, Herbig’s quick maturation makes the team four deep at OLB, which they could hardly say ever with T.J. Watt on the team.