When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed veteran outside linebacker Markus Golden last week, the move was made to shore up the depth chart behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, giving Pittsburgh an experienced, veteran presence at OLB3 once again.
On paper, it’s a great move by the Steelers. Golden steps in as that dependable third option at the most important position on the defense, guarding against injury to Watt or Highsmith. He also gives the Steelers a player they should feel more than comfortable with putting on the field for a high number of snaps each game to help keep Watt and Highsmith fresh late in games and throughout the season.
Golden certainly has the resume, recording three seasons of double-digit sacks in his career while also playing in 111 career games and 4,871 snaps defensively.
But, at least for the 2023 season, Golden will be much more than the third OLB in Pittsburgh. He’ll serve as a blueprint to success for rookie fourth-round draft pick Nick Herbig.
While Herbig already has a strong relationship with Watt and is picking his brain as much as he can due to the Wisconsin connection, he’d be wise to really get close with Golden, study him, watch how he prepares day in and day out, and attacks opposing tackles. That’s because, much like Herbig, Golden is undersized as far as arm length goes for the outside linebacker position.
Herbig was a talented edge rusher in college at Wisconsin, racking up 36 tackles for loss and 21.0 career sacks, including 11.0 sacks as a senior in 2022. His tape shows the ability to dip and bend around the corner, and he really get after the quarterback with a relentless motor. But it’s hard to overlook the arm-length issues, at least at outside linebacker.
At the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, Herbig checked in with 31 1/4″ arms, though he did put on 12 pounds following the 2022 season to get up to 240 pounds at the Combine.
Still, his measurements have him on the small side for the position. According to mockdraftable.com, Herbig is in the 54th percentile for weight, 68th percentile for height, 18th percentile for arm length and 21st percentile for hand size.
Golden, a second-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, had similar concerns with arm length.
The former Missouri star had impressive college stats in the SEC in a two-year period, racking up 32.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and 143 career tackles, eventually landing with the Arizona Cardinals. But the biggest hangup with Golden in the draft process was the length issues.
Golden checked in at the 2014 Combine with 31 1/8″ arms, measuring in at 6’2″, 260 pounds. Those numbers had him in the 12th percentile for arm length (at the time), 54th percentile for height and 96th percentile for weight. His other testing numbers were pretty poor overall, too. Golden clocked a 4.9 40-yard dash, a 1.65 10-yard split, 28.5-inch vertical, 7.39 3-cone and just 17 reps on the bench.
But, despite all of that, Golden has carved out a 10-year career, reaching double digits in sacks three times.
Honestly, he’s been severely underrated his entire career. Yet, he continues to be coveted due to his ability to play with leverage, have a relentless motor and really develop his pass rush arsenal.
That’s where Herbig could really stand to learn from Golden.
While the arm length concerns with Herbig are real, it’s not something that means he can’t be successful. Golden is living proof of that. Some of the strengths of Golden coming out of Missouri, according to Lance Zierlein’s scouting report of him then included the following: “Plays with toughness and is a fighter; Turns effort switch on and it stays on; Can set and hold the edge against the run; Stays alive in pursuit and has extended motor down the field.”
Sounds a lot like Herbig coming out, doesn’t it?
It makes all the sense in the world why Herbig would want to hitch his wagon to Watt and really learn from him, due to the family lineage rushing the passer, as well as the Wisconsin lore. But realistically, Herbig’s best bet is to learn from Golden day after day. He’s the blueprint to success for the Steelers rookie, especially early on.