No matter when you turn on the film, Wisconsin OLB Nick Herbig shows up.
To the tune of 21 quarterback sacks and 36 tackles for losses over a three-year period (through 11-19-22).
Look no further than last year’s 2021 Las Vegas Bowl.
In that contest, he was dominant from the first through fourth quarter.
Final stat line: 7 tackles, 2 QB sacks, 2.5 TFLs
But his presence shows up well beyond the numbers.
In the Iowa contest a couple of weeks ago, he set the edge versus offensive tackle Jack Plumb on the first play of the game. The result? He dropped him to the ground with a simple two-hand jolt.
Is Herbig even 6-foot-2? That is the question many NFL teams will have to ponder when projecting him to the outside or inside exchange linebacker spot (most likely Will linebacker).
New Orleans Saints linebacker Zach Baun had a similar impact as a rush artist for the Badgers, but has since struggled in his transition to off the ball linebacker in the NFL.
Baun was much more of a one-year wonder in terms of dominant production.
Herbig has averaged over a tackle for loss per game (1.2) since arriving on campus three years ago.
And how he does it is different.
He sets the edge versus tight ends (see 3rd QTR, Las Vegas Bowl ’21-Chenal’s tackle for loss).
By no means are there not repetitions where he can look outmatched versus longer personnel (see vs. Diesch, 3rd and 9, 2nd QTR, Las Vegas Bowl ’21). At the same time, however, his combativeness allows him to run through bigger tackles off the edge with an element of ferocity (QB sack, 4th QTR, vs. Scott, Las Vegas Bowl ’21).
He bends his knees well to break down for space tackles and generally plays with solid footwork. He gets on top of offensive tackles due to no false steps coming off the line of scrimmage.
“It’s a great presence. Him rushing off the edge, it’s nothing like it,” Badgers cornerback Alexander Smith explained. “He’s one of the best in the country. It helps us a lot on the back end and in the secondary. We don’t have to cover for that long.” (https://madison.com/sports/college/video_485364cb-be3e-5051-a9a8-ffd3ba138a2b.html).
Herbig does flash some coverage capability dropping into the curl-hook areas of the field on some of the team’s zone blitz concepts (see NMSU ’22), but has largely been used to create havoc in the backfield.
Can he snap the pictures in a timely fashion to produce in an exchange linebacker capacity?
Will it matter if Herbig continues to defeat tackles? His suddenness complements enough pop to jolt back offensive linemen.
Even if he doesn’t make it at that position, however, there are other examples of players in his size/weight/speed ratio who have begun to have success rushing the passer.
While many point to Baun’s slow transition to the NFL, what about New Orleans Saints 2019 seventh-round draft pick Kaden Elliss? Elliss had to wait to get an opportunity as a late-round draft pick, but he has slowly turned into a viable pass rusher at 238 pounds.
In fact, Elliss has nearly as many starts this season (six) as Baun’s over a three-year period (seven).
In Herbig’s case, the actual final measurements (he was just over 200 pounds entering Wisconsin) could be the most important part of his evaluation process.
Regardless of the weight, everyone believes in the recipe. Just ask Wisconsin’s top pro prospect and fellow team captain, defensive tackle Keeanu Benton:
“Nick’s a dawg,” Benton said. “Even when he was gone (due to injury), he was bringing that energy on the sideline. Making sure everybody was upbeat. That’s my dawg. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him.” (https://badgerextra.com/a-healthy-nick-herbig-changes-wisconsins-defense/video_6b99a110-45ee-5821-ada2-ccb27aa6d202.html).