PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt should know a thing or two about making the transition from being a somewhat undersized edge rusher at Wisconsin to playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After all, he’s the best to ever do it. And while taking players from the same position at the same college over and over again isn’t a thing a lot of teams do in the NFL Draft, the Steelers were not shy about going back to the well after their success with Watt.
The new model, fourth-round draft pick Nick Herbig, seems like a chip off the old block. Herbig had a strip sack and a tackle for a loss in the Steelers’ second preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, continuing a red-hot start to his NFL career. He also had a sack and a half in his debut last Friday against the Atlanta Falcons.
Watt has been mentoring Herbig, both because the two formed a relationship when Herbig first arrived at Wisconsin, and because Watt is well aware of the importance of strong depth behind him in the Steelers outside linebackers room.
“As edge rushers in this defense, we can’t play 100% of the snaps,” Watt said. “To be able to have guys that we can trust to make plays when we’re not in there, sitting on the sidelines getting gassed back up to go back in, is huge for our defense. I like the way that our room is shaping up.”
Last season, of course, the Steelers lost Watt to a significant injury for a long stretch of the season. But even if he had been healthy, it’s easy to see how the depth options in 2022 paled in comparison to what the Steelers have going for them right now.
A year ago, Malik Reed, coming off 15 sacks in three seasons with the Denver Broncos, was the top backup. Jamir Jones, who does not have one in his NFL career, was the fourth option.
This season, Markus Golden, owner of 47 career sacks, is the number three and Herbig has three sacks in about 20 preseason reps already.
That could mean a healthier and fresher Watt for the stretch run of the season, and that’s the whole point of finding depth in the draft.
“I think he’s a phenomenal player,” Watt said.