Over the last few months, we’ve been looking at the Jets rookies. We now move on to look at a couple of recent veteran additions, starting today with an in-depth look at former Eagles guard Nate Herbig.
The 23-year old Herbig is listed at 6’4” and 334 pounds and has started 17 games in his first three NFL seasons, including five last season. He spent his first three years with the Eagles after being picked up as an undrafted free agent.
Herbig was a three-star prospect out of high school and ended up attending Stanford where he made six starts in his first season and was named as a freshman all-American.
He built on this in 2017, as he started all 13 games and was named as an all-Pac 12 first team selection. However, in 2018, he was limited to eight starts so he only ended up as a second-teamer.
Herbig opted to enter the NFL draft after his junior year, but a poor combine workout damaged his stock and he ended up going unselected despite having previously been a projected mid-round pick.
The Eagles signed Herbig as an undrafted free agent and he made the roster as a backup but only saw action in two late season games.
However, in 2020, he capitalized on an injury to Brandon Brooks and started 12 games. Despite doing a good job, he moved back into a rotational role in 2021, starting five games. However, it was a surprise when the Eagles opted to waive him in May, with the Jets picking him up.
Now let’s take a look at what Herbig brings to the table, divided into categories.
Herbig lacks length but has a wide body and is bigger than the interior linemen the Jets have typically brought in for this system. He was reported to have lost 30 pounds (from 355 to 325) after the 2020 season, but is still noticeably bigger than all three starters inside.
As noted, his combine workout was really poor. Although he posted a solid 29 bench press reps, his 40-yard dash was the slowest of anyone at the combine (5.41) and his explosiveness and agility numbers were also disappointing.
At his pro day, Herbig opted to stick with those numbers, which given the fact that he went undrafted may have been a miscalculation on his part.
Herbig has good versatility. He has plenty of experience at both guard spots and has also played 49 snaps as a center in regular season action and the majority of the time during preseason. He started one game at right tackle in college and has also been used as a jumbo package tight end.
Herbig is a reliable pass protector with good awareness and an ability to work well in combination with his linemates. This has translated into good pass protection numbers with just three sacks surrendered in his NFL career and four at Stanford. In 2020, he didn’t give up a sack or a hit after week five and had one of the best pass blocking efficiency ratings in the league down the stretch.
When required to block one-on-one he seems to have a good understanding of his limitations and how to use his size to slow up rushers.
One thing he perhaps needs to be more consistent with is his pad level when encountering a bull rush.
However, he doesn’t tend to get beaten by the same move twice and can repel and control his man in such situations.
With his size, Herbig can be effective at creating lanes in the running game when he locks onto a block.
Despite his athletic limitations, he can be effective at blocking on the move. However, there are times where his lack of athleticism can be exploited.
He shows a good understanding of his assignments and can block effectively at the line and then peel off to make a second block.
Among the things he may need to work on getting more consistent at is his contact balance when blocking on the move. He can also be susceptible to quickness at the point of attack.
Herbig gives the Eagles an effective big body to run behind in short yardage situations. It’s difficult to get penetration against him and he can climb to the second level.
Despite this, the Eagles only had five rushing touchdowns inside the three-yard line in 2020 when Herbig played extensively. They had 16 in 2021 when he played a lot less.
You might not expect Herbig to be very effective at getting out in front of a screen pass, but he showed in college that he can hustle well in these situations.
Here’s a play where he showcases a good understanding of what is required of him on a screen pass assignment. He first helps to seal off a defender that could have blown up the play, then hustles to get out in front and make good contact on the nearest defender, before resetting his angle and picking up the block again to seal his man off.
Herbig is a player who showcases some good balance and power when he gets his technique right. His footwork is sound, with an ability to reset his angle and leverage. However, he needs to clean some things up. As noted, his pad level and contact balance can be an issue.
His hand placement can be inconsistent at times, causing him to lose a leverage advantage if his hands are too far inside, although he does showcase some ability to fight to free up his hands to reset his hand position.
As noted, he has some experience at the center position, but he has had issues with the shotgun snap at times.
Herbig’s on-field discipline has been solid. He had 10 penalties in three years at Stanford and has nine, including five holding penalties, in his NFL career so far. Two of these were costly, though, as they negated a touchdown and a big play.
He had four false starts in 2020 but cleaned that up last year and didn’t have any in 2021.
Herbig’s only special teams role at the NFL level has been as a blocker on the field goal unit. He hasn’t made any costly mistakes in this role.
At Stanford, he long-snapped a few times on field goals so it’s possible he could take over that role in the event of an emergency.
You can tell that Herbig is a smart player and this is probably one of the most impressive aspects of watching his film.
In pass protection, he constantly has his head on a swivel, looking for work and ready to help out his linemates. That’s not just when he’s the free man, either. You’ll regularly see him double-teaming an interior linemen but with one eye on his outside shoulder so he can pass that man off to the center and give help if the edge rusher crashes inside.
When doing this, he has a good understanding of how to use his big frame to slow up the rush. Herbig coming off a double team to put his shoulder in the way of an edge rusher’s inside move so that his quarterback has a clean sightline instead of having to rush a throw is not the sort of play that will show up in any advanced metrics, but it can make a big difference to an offense.
He was also part of a well-coached unit that was effective at picking up stunts with Herbig himself having a good understanding of his assignments and rarely showing confusion or panic.
Although he’s generally good in these situations, he was involved in a blown assignment in his first NFL start.
As noted, he shows good awareness in the running game too, often peeling off his primary assignment to make another block and showing a good understanding of angles.
At Stanford, Herbig was a two-time honorable mention as a Pac-12 all-academic selection.
Herbig is considered a hard-worker with good character and a great attitude. It’s telling that, after his breakthrough 2020 season, he told the media that the offensive line coach was constantly criticizing him and he was aware that he didn’t play well enough.
So, instead of resting on his laurels, he lost a bunch of weight and worked extra hard to try and improve in 2021, even though it didn’t lead to as much playing time.
Herbig has had a few injury issues over the years. He missed several games in his last season at Stanford due to undisclosed injuries.
In 2021, he missed some time with a knee injury and then was inactive with an ankle injury during the playoffs.
The 2020 season saw him start the first eight games but then he moved back to the bench for four weeks, although he was only inactive once, apparently as a healthy scratch. This happened after he suffered a finger injury so the team initially kept him on the roster for emergencies but started someone else. He then got healthy again but was made inactive because they wanted to stick with the same line-up. However, he soon got his job back and started the last four games.
Herbig’s lack of elite athleticism means he’s not necessarily an ideal fit for the Jets’ system, although the team perhaps feels like he is smart enough to succeed in spite of this. There are similarities between the current system and that of the Eagles.
At Stanford, they mostly use gap/power schemes in the running game, including their signature pin-and-pull play, but the Eagles use more zone than man schemes, so Herbig will be well-versed in both.
He has multiple connections to the current Jets’ organization. General Manager Joe Douglas was still working for the Eagles when he was originally signed as an undrafted free agent and current Jets defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel was on the Eagles’ coaching staff.
He’s also been a teammate of several current Jets: Elijah Riley, Ross Pierschbacher, Joe Flacco, Vinny Curry and Will Parks. In addition, he was a teammate of Solomon Thomas at Stanford.
This was an under-the-radar move by the Jets which added some valuable offensive line depth in the form of a player who has recent starting experience and has done well when called upon. He also may yet have some untapped potential since he’s only 23.
Herbig’s ability to play center is valuable, although it’s not his primary position, so Dan Feeney will presumably retain the role as Connor McGovern’s primary backup. However, Herbig deserves consideration to be the first guard off the bench and if he does get called upon to make a start, the Jets can expect him to acquit himself well.