Nick Herbig has Steelers fans excited (and it's not hard to see why)

  • Herbig was a star of Pittsburgh's preseason opener
  • What should we expect from him as a rookie?

Steelers, Nick Herbig
Steelers, Nick Herbig / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

There are never more eyes on a player than at the quarterback position. Pittsburgh Steelers fans were hoping to see an inspiring performance from Kenny Pickett in his first preseason game of 2023, and they were rewarded with exactly that. But there's a lesser-known player who, in some ways, overshadowed Pickett's performance against the Buccaneers. His name is Nick Herbig.

Many Steelers fans were already aware of Herbig during his time as a pass rusher at Wisconsin. It doesn't hurt that his brother was signed by Pittsburgh in the same offseason he was drafted. Herbig is a fourth-round pick who many believed deserved to go much higher. However, his undersized frame (6'2'', 240 pounds) and his good (but not great) athletic testing caused him to slide all the way until the 132nd overall pick this year.

After turning heads at Steelers training camp, Herbig wasted no time making his presence felt on the NFL stage. We got our first taste of the rookie when he exploded onto the screen during the second quarter of Pittsbugh's preseason game against the Buccaneers. After playing early in the third quarter, Mike Tomlin had decided he had seen more than enough.

Herbig was phenomenal in limited action. Despite playing just 13 defensive snaps, ESPN credited Herbig with 1.5 sacks, 3 tackles (1 solo), and 2 QB hits. Somehow, the box score numbers don't do him justice.

After an uber-productive college career for the Badgers, Herbig is continuing right where he left off. The rookie showcased his outstanding burst off the snap and an innate ability to change directions on a dime once he's in the backfield. This outstanding performance has Steelers fans excited for what he will bring.

What can Steelers fans expect from Nick Herbig in 2023?

It's important to put things into perspective here. Herbig was going against reserve offensive linemen on a team that was already missing many players for their preseason opener. He won't see a matchup that easy for his entire rookie season. Nonetheless, Herbig showed everything we would have hoped to see from him in his preseason debut.

While the defensive sample is very small, Herbig earned a fantastic 89.8 overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus. His production came in all sorts of ways. On one particular play, Herbig was even down on all fours in order to slide inside of the offensive tackle before bouncing up and making the tackle on the running back.

Prior to his preseason debut, I would have said to temper expectations for Nick Herbig in 2023. As a late fourth-round pick, it seemed unwise to expect him to carve out a big role. Now I'm not so sure that will be the case.

Coming into the league, there were plenty who believed that Herbig would be required to begin transitioning to an off-ball linebacker due to his lack of size and length. However, the 21-year-old edge defender did his best Micah Parsons impersonation in his very first time on the NFL stage.

We can't expect these dominant performances to carry on throughout the NFL season -- especially when he's going to be third in line, at best, after T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. However, even after one game, we can feel much more confident that Herbig will not only hold up on the edge but also be a quality rotational edge defender this season who offers some pass-rush chops.

At 21 years old and following an insanely productive college career, Herbig is out to prove why he should have been selected much higher in the 2023 NFL Draft. He might not be the biggest dog in the fight, but it certainly looks like he might have the biggest fight in the dog.