With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Nick Herbig will be able to stick at outside linebacker.
Explanation: While by no means a universally held opinion, many draft evaluators felt that the best move for Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig would be to move to an off-ball linebacker role rather than play on the edge on a full-time basis. The Steelers said yesterday after selecting him in the fourth round that they view him as an edge player.
There are many ways to win off the edge, and Herbig has enough of them in his arsenal to get the job done, or at least the job that will be asked of him. The Steelers are probably not counting on him developing into a full-time starter—not with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith already here—but they obviously think he can function rotationally.
Just 6’2”, 240 pounds, and with a relatively short wingspan due to 31.25” arms, Herbig will have some physical obstacles to overcome, but you can tailor your pass-rush repertoire to emphasize your strengths and minimize your limitations. You’re obviously going to prefer a ghost rush to a one-arm stab if you have short arms.
There are plenty of players who were not the ideal size to play their positions who were able to do it well. Prototypes are ideals, and nobody is ideal, even if some come closer than others. While his size might be in question, his talent is not.
Talent overcomes only so much at the NFL level. A lot of people thought Herbig would be drafted higher. One of the reasons he wasn’t is because NFL teams had concerns about his size and his ability to make that transition to a league in which nearly everybody is within a prototypical size range for their positions.
The thing is, it’s not just a question of what he is able to do, either. It’s also a question of what might be best for him. While he was not an off-ball linebacker in college, his skill set suggests he can potentially make that transition and excel there.
He can still be a potent asset as a pass rusher no matter where he lines up, and it wouldn’t preclude him from coming off the edge in certain situations. But just because the Steelers need more depth on the edge than at the second level doesn’t mean Herbig is going to work out there, or that that is what is ultimately best for him.