The relentless Nick Herbig was destined to play for the Steelers
Some relationships appear almost predestined, as if written in the stars. Two separate entities unknowingly headed on a collision course, to become a perfect unit.
This phenomenon of fate happens everyday, and it has happened multiple times throughout Steelers history. A recent example would be Alex Highsmith.
Looking back, the signs were all there, for anyone paying attention. Even I saw them eventually, and I wasn’t even looking. That’s where hindsight comes into play. It’s really fascinating stuff when you think about it.
I only watched Alex Highsmith play one game in college at Charlotte. He was easily the best player on his completely overmatched Niners team, facing off against the powerful Clemson Tigers. I was only watching the game because I was fantasizing about improbable dream scenerios in which the Tiger’s superstar QB Trevor Lawrence could land in Pittsburgh to be Ben Roethlisberger’s eventual successor. I actually watched the game to witness an unrealistic dream, but left the experience totally impressed by a fated reality.
Alex Highsmith was the most impressive player on the field that night, for either team. He was all over the field, as the coaches moved him around the formations, making it harder for Clemson to key on him. The Tigers didn’t know what hit them, as they were obviously unprepared for Highsmith’s exceptional abilities. Clemson’s HC Dabo Sweeney called Highsmith the best defender the team faced all season. Highsmith was dominant against a team full of NFL caliber prospects.
However, it wasn’t Highsmith’s athleticism that made him unstoppable against the best team in college football at that moment. Highsmith is a really good athlete, but he was no where near the best athlete on the field that night. However, he was easily the most relentless.
Honestly, that single quality has driven his NFL success more than any other, and it was on full display for the whole world to see against the star studded Clemson Tigers. Highsmith was exhausted by the end of the game, after giving everything he had to give out on the field. I remember thinking that kid would be a perfect Steeler.
Fast forward to a few weeks prior to the 2020 NFL Draft. I had never participated in any form of a mock draft before, but a work colleague shared an app he wanted me to try out, so I obliged. It was actually kinda fun, since I definitely didn’t take it too seriously. A funny thing happened while I was amusing myself doing the occasional mock draft leading up to the real thing. Alex Highsmith’s name kept popping up as a possibility for the Steelers in the third round.
I honestly didn’t pay much attention at first, because I had forgotten his name by that point, but I eventually did some research after he was an option on literally every single mock. I was ecstatic after those memories came flooding back, even moreso when Kevin Colbert and the Steelers were able to make that dream a reality on draft night.
A similar situation occurred this offseason with Wisconsin LB Nick Herbig, a player who reminds me very much of Highsmith, with one characteristic in particular. Nick Herbig is utterly relentless.
The Steelers pass rush was pathetic last season without TJ Watt on the field. Teams could easily focus on neutralizing Highsmith and Cameron Heyward without Watt’s immense prescence. The rest of the Steelers pass rushers often looked like they were auditioning for Dancing with the Stars: Ballroom edition. Or for the title of World’s Greatest Hugger. I swear that the Steelers had more defensive holding penalties than QB pressures from edge depth chart in Watt’s abscence, or at least it felt that way.
The Steelers fully realized they had a serious problem, and Omar Khan was determined to find a remedy. He signed proven experience in former Arizona Cardinals Markus Golden, and drafted the talented young Herbig in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Once again, the mock draft process put Nasty Nate Herbig’s little brother on my radar, and the rest is history. Or was it fate? Either way, Nick Herbig is the perfect Steelers prospect.
Nick Herbig loves football. The necessary physicality of the sport. That is an underappreciated aspect that too many Steelers players have lacked in recent seasons, particularly at the inside linebacker positions.
That leads me to my next admission. I wanted the Steelers to draft Herbig in the fourth round; even predicted it to my colleagues during a group conversation prior to the start of the fourth round, but I considered him an excellent off ball linebacker prospect, more than an edge.
Watching his film leading up to the draft, I thought he possessed the size, athleticism, and intensity to be an outstanding inside linebacker for the Steelers. I thought his lack of length would negatively impact his ability to effectively and consistently rush the passer at the NFL level. Although that could still prove to be the case; the young man hasn’t even played a preseason game yet, he appears bound and determined to prove me and any other doubters wrong. I for one hope he does.
Nick Herbig could prove to be the ultimate versatile chess piece for the Steelers. Move him around the formations, in order to create obvious mismatches. Similar to how Highsmith was utilized against the Clemson Tigers back in the day.
Herbig has been the most impressive Steelers rookie, based on all the eye witness accounts and reports that I have heard. Herbig has proven to be a fast learner, both from his mistakes, and from a technique standpoint being taught to him by his coaches and peers. That leds me to believe that he is capable of contributing on defense this season, not just as a special teams dynamo.
In conclusion, I originally thought Nick Herbig was destined to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I was right. Then I thought he was going to eventually be an inside linebacker, but now I am not so sure. Instead of being either or, now I am imagining the ultimate hybrid. A relentless force of nature imposing his will across the gridiron. Don’t wake me if I am dreaming.