Going into the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly wanted to add size and strength in the trenches. After agreeing with veteran interior offensive lineman Nate Herbig on a two-year, $8 million deal Tuesday, consider it mission accomplished for GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl.
It’s a move rooted in familiarity as Herbig was an undrafted free agent in Philadelphia who started 17 games from 2019-21 while Weidl was in the Eagles’ front office. Following that three-year stint, Herbig spent the 2022 season with the New York Jets and started 12 games for Gang Green at right guard.
With experience at left guard, center and primarily right guard, Herbig (6’4″, 335 pounds) provides good depth for the Steelers in the trenches, though he should be able to compete with Kevin Dotson for the starting job at left guard in training camp.
What exactly are the Steelers getting in Herbig? Glad you asked.
Let’s dive into the film room on the 24-year-old Stanford product and take a look.
Run blocking is the strength of Herbig’s game. With the nickname of “Nasty Nate” it certainly fits the big, hulking guard.
Herbig really moves well in space, climbs to the second level with ease and has a great hit rate in space. Once he gets his hands on you in the run game, it’s over. He is so strong at the point of attack and simply engulfs defenders, especially linebackers.
Against the Steelers in Week 4 last season, Herbig really gave Myles Jack fits in the run game.
Here he is climbing to the second level, getting a hat on Jack in space, putting himself between the linebacker and the ball carrier. Watch the finish. He takes Jack for a ride roughly five yards down the field.
It was a tone-setting play for the Jets late in the first half. Of course, the Jets mounted a comeback in the matchup. The run game was a big part of that in the second half.
Herbig is a real menace in the run game. He blocks through the whistle and often gives a little shot at the end of plays just to get under the defender’s skin.
Here against Jack again, he finishes the play. You’ll never have to teach or get on Herbig to finish reps. He loves to maul guys and give it to them up to — and through — the whistle. It will certainly upset guys and get them off their game. If he’s on your team, you love to see it. If you’re going against him, he’s a menace.
The thing I really like about Herbig is his ability to reach and run in a zone scheme. While he has issues trapping and getting on the move in space, he really has a good get-off to reach and run guys that are head-up, or on an inside shade.
Here against Steelers defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, Herbig does a really good job of getting his head across Ogunjobi quickly while keeping his feet moving, dislodging Ogunjobi down the line of scrimmage. This play is a success for the Jets if the left guard Laken Tomlinson gets upfield and kicks out DeMarvin Leal, instead of trying to hook him inside.
Prior to his time in New York, Herbig recorded grades of 70.2, 69.4, and 67.2 as a run blocker, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s the strength of his game. He’s much better working downhill, instead of in pass protection.
As a pass protector, Herbig certainly has some good reps on tape, especially last season for the Jets.
That said, there were some ugly reps, too.
Too often, Herbig has heavy feet and can get a bit too far out over his feet with his upper body, causing him to lose balance in ugly fashion.
Here against Ogunjobi, you can see Herbig catch Ogunjobi off the ball, allowing him into his chest. From there, he’s in recovery mode, trying to sink his hips.
Ogunjobi realizes he’s off balance and uses an outstanding push/pull to throw Herbig to the ground with relative ease, allowing him to create pressure on quarterback Zach Wilson.
He’ll get surprised by power, too, which is a bit concerning for a man his size.
Herbig tends to have a high pad level in pass protection and is slow to shoot his hands, often catching defenders rather than striking out at them at the point of attack.
When that happens, it allows defenders into his chest and he can go for a ride, much like he does here against the Chicago Bears last season.
The hand usage is a bit of a concern with Herbig in pass protection. He gets his hands too far outside against defenders, which gives up inside control.
When a guy gets inside him, he is able to win the rep. The defender can dictate the pass rush, much like Chicago’s Justin Jones does here. Having control inside is the key, and Jones is able to stay clean and discard Herbig’s inside hand to win the rep and get pressure on quarterback Mike White.
It’s not all bad with Herbig in pass protection.
He’s a smart player and handles stunts and twists very well.
He’s a powerful player overall. Steelers offensive line coach Pat Meyer will just need to tap into that power more consistently, like Herbig showed in the rep above.
Watch the punch to Ogunjobi while passing him off to the right tackle, and then watch the nasty finish against Malik Reed on the twist. That’s teach tape right there. That’s what Herbig brings from a finishing perspective. He relishes it.
This rep against Chicago’s Jones was the best pass protection rep I saw in roughly 250 snaps I watched of Herbig in four games from the 2022 season.
He does a tremendous job here staying patient against Jones at the snap, reading the spin move, keeping his hands in tight to gain control and run Jones down the line for the win.
While Herbig tends to have heavy feet, he displays some real athleticism in pass protection.
Herbig certainly isn’t a headline signing, but he’s very similar to the Mason Cole add in free agency from a year ago. Herbig had a really strong game against the Steelers last season, much like Cole did in 2021 while with the Minnesota Vikings.
He’s versatile on the interior and has a real nastiness to his game that will endear him to teammates and is very experienced overall.
The 24-year-old Herbig is certainly much better and more comfortable in the run game where he can feast on smaller defenders firing downhill with an attacking mentality. But he’s without a doubt capable on the interior from a pass-protection standpoint.
He’ll need to learn how to use independent hands and take the fight to defenders under Pat Meyer, which might unlock his potential in pass protection.
For now, he appears to be legitimate competition for Kevin Dotson at left guard, and it would not be a surprise to see win the job and be in the starting lineup in the season opener.
The Steelers did well to address the trenches with this move. They are getting an experienced, versatile guy who brings a real edge to the room, all for a relatively cheap price tag.