Though it was ILBs Coach Aaron Curry who attended Nick Herbig’s Wisconsin Pro Day, it was OLBs Coach Denzel Martin who discussed the pick after the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the fourth round of this year’s draft. During the press conference, Martin said Herbig will begin his career as an outside linebacker. But in a recent appearance with Sirius’ XM Movin’ The Chains, GM Omar Khan had a slightly different take, suggesting Herbig will play outside and inside linebacker.
“We think he can play inside and outside for us, so we love that flexibility,” Khan told co-hosts Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller.
Herbig was a productive EDGE rusher at Wisconsin, ending his Badgers’ career with 36 TFL and 21 sacks, including 11 of the latter his senior season. A high-energy player with active hands and the ability to turn the corner, the biggest knock on Herbig was a small one. Literally. Weighing in at 6’2, 240 pounds puts him under what a typical Steelers EDGE rusher looks like. But most concerning is his lack of length, 31-1/4-inch arms, which puts him in the zero-percentile among DEs/EDGE rushers. Small EDGE rushers haven’t worked well in Pittsburgh, Malik Reed was another example of that last year, leading many to believe Herbig would move to an off-ball role.
So far, we’ve gotten conflicting information on Herbig’s role. It seems like the team will try him in a variety of roles, playing EDGE and inside linebacker, and see where he thrives the best throughout the spring and summer. Ideally, he can play a mix of both, off-ball on early downs where he can stay cleaner and attack downhill while moving to an EDGE role in more obvious passing situations. That won’t happen all the time but the Steelers like occasionally lining their ILBs on the EDGE to present offensive lines different looks. It’s happened with less frequency in recent years, the Steelers have lacked a great blitzer from the inside but was more common with names like Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams.
There’s certainly a parallel between Timmons and Herbig. Timmons was a pass rusher at Florida State before transitioning and thriving in an off-ball role with the Steelers. Herbig is unlikely to ever become that caliber of player but can offer a similar skillset and use.
Beyond what he can do defensively, he’ll look to make an immediate impact on special teams, something Khan was quick to point out.
“I think he’s gonna be a contributor on special teams, too,” Khan said. “And he’s an amazing young man.”
Herbig’s energy, intensity, motor, and hand use (key to shedding blocks on the coverage team) are all key ingredients in becoming a core special teamer. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Herbig lead the Steelers in special teams tackles this year. He’ll be a key addition there after Pittsburgh lost several of their top names in the offseason, including RB Benny Snell, FB Derek Watt, and ILB Marcus Allen. Adding Herbig along with other free agency additions like ILB Tanner Muse will fill the gaps for Danny Smith’s unit.
We’ll be able to provide a clearer analysis on Herbig’s use in late July when the Steelers report to St. Vincent College for training camp.