“You can never have enough pass rushers.”
The New York Giants fans know the truth of both sides of that statement. On one hand, making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks is a proud New York tradition. On the other hand, the Giants’ defense has struggled mightily to get to opposing passers in recent years — largely because they haven’t had the pass rushers to get it done.
Every team looks high and low for defenders with the ability to beat opposing blockers and put the quarterback on his back. And for the most part, teams have a very definite idea of what that player looks like. But what happens when defenders don’t match positional archetypes?
Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig is one of the most explosively athletic pass rushers in the 2023 draft. He has a great get-off, is a handful for offensive linemen, and has produced 30 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks over the last two seasons.
He’s also very undersized at 6-foot-2, 227 pounds — quite the opposite of older brother, New York Jets’ offensive lineman Nate Herbig. That might make him a tough sell for most teams, but could that make him an intriguing fit for Wink Martindale’s hyper-aggressive defense?
Prospect: Nick Herbig (19)
Games Watched: vs. Ohio State (2022), vs. Northwestern (2022), vs. Michigan State (2022), vs. Nebraska (2022)
Games Played: 31
Tackles for a loss: 36.0
Forced fumbles: 4
Passes defensed: 7
Games Played: 11
Tackles for a loss: 15.5
Forced fumbles: 2
Passes defensed: 2
Best: Explosiveness, athleticism, fluidity, pass rush, hand usage, leverage
Worst: Size, power
Projection: A defensive weapon and designated pass rusher
(Herbig is Wisconsin EDGE/OLB number 19)
Nick Herbig is an undersized but explosively athletic edge defender from the University of Wisconsin.
Herbig typically aligned as an edge defender for Wisconsin, typically playing out of a two-point stance, while also occasionally aligning as an off-ball linebacker.
Herbig is a very explosive pass rusher who does a great job of timing the snap. He is frequently able to beat opposing blockers off of the snap and win quickly with speed. He has very good lower-body flexibility and fluidity, and Herbig is able to run a tight arc. His ankle flexibility allows him to keep his cleats in the turf while bending around the edge, helping to keep his balance while carrying speed into the backfield.
He is a technician off the edge who has a wide variety of pass rush moves at his disposal. He showed club-rip, swim, swipe, spin, and fork-lift moves in the tape viewed, as well as the ability to uncoil his hips and turn speed into power. He also shows an understanding of how to rush with a plan and usually comes with a counter move prepared, or how to exploit blockers’ expectations.
He was asked to drop into coverage fairly often, both to disguise pressure packages and as a coverage player. Herbig appears comfortable playing in space and has quick feet and fluid hips for an EDGE. That allows him to stay compact in his backpedal and get good depth in his zone drops. He has a very quick downhill trigger when the play is in front of him, as well as enough athleticism to keep up with tight ends and running backs in space.
Herbig is a surprisingly stout run defender. He does a good job of meeting bigger blockers with leverage to maximize his play strength, as well as playing with good hand placement to keep himself clean. He is also a very disciplined defender who understands his role in run defense and doesn’t freelance. Herbig is also a good tackler who both wraps up securely and is able to separate the ball from the ball carrier.
The biggest concern with Herbig will be his size. He will come in below some (or many) teams’ thresholds for an EDGE and could get moved to off-ball linebacker at the NFL level. While he shows the ability to play with leverage in the run game and turn speed into power as a pass rusher, play strength is a definite concern for him. He can struggle against offensive linemen if he doesn’t play with perfect leverage and his attempts at power rushes stall if the lineman gets any opportunity to recover and re-anchor.
Herbig can also be a bit prone to over-running plays. He is normally disciplined as a defender, but can seemingly arrive at the play before he’s ready and doesn’t quite have the agility to make a good tackle attempt.
Overall Grade: 7.6
Nick Herbig most likely projects as a designated pass rusher at the NFL level. The big question regarding Herbig is whether the NFL will have a clue what to do with him.
More traditional football minds will likely look at him and see a “tweener”. A team running a “standard” 4-3 (Under or Over) defense might have little use for Herbig and he could fizzle out down a depth chart. However, he has the potential to be an every – or at least “most” – down player in the hands of a defensive coordinator that’s willing to look past his size.
Herbig is undeniably under-sized at 6-foot-2, 227 pounds. However, he’s learned how to use his size to his advantage. He is easily able to beat blockers off the snap as a pass rusher and use his natural leverage to mitigate his lack of mass, to the point of holding up on the edge against Dawand Jones despite giving up about 150 pounds.
Herbig has the potential to be a defensive weapon in the hands of an aggressive and creative defensive mind. He’s able to drop into coverage, and appears comfortable doing so, making him a useful player as a blitzer or disguising blitzes. Likewise, his agility makes him unpredictable as a looper on TEX (tackle/end exchange) stunts. Herbig’s explosiveness and technique allow him to disrupt the offense from all over the defensive front – as long as he’s put in position to do so.
The NFL has gotten better at using players who defy traditional archetypes. Players like Haason Reddick and Micah Parsons are beginning to open teams’ eyes to the potential of players they might have dismissed a decade ago. That could make Herbig a very valuable player for the right team, but his future will depend heavily on which team selects him.