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It may be stretching the word “dregs” to put Bjoern Werner under that heading (though it seems many of our dear readers view the term more negatively than I do anyway). He was a first round pick, after all, and he played 352 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
But after re-watching all of Werner’s 2013 snaps, I think he’s far more of a dreg than the other guys I’ve covered in this series. Granted, learning to pass rush in the NFL is hard, and a poor first season doesn’t necessarily mean one is bound for arena football. But Werner showed next to nothing to justify his draft status. He wasn’t terrible, but he played somewhere between just-a-guy and Gilbert Gardner. With Robert Mathis suspended for the first four games, the Colts desperately need someone to step up in the pass rush. That someone should presumably be Werner, but unless he makes a huge leap from his rookie season, I’m not sure he’s ready for it.
Here’s what Nate Dunlevy wrote in his “What to Expect” piece on Werner last summer:
Werner’s pass/fail line should be 4.0 sacks and 30 tackles. If he can produce at that level, he’ll be in the top-10 in terms of productive pass rushers taken in the back-half of the first round since 2000.
If he does hit that target, the odds are very good he’ll become a 10-sack player in his career. If he doesn’t, it’s not a career-death sentence, but it might be cause for concern.
Werner had 2.5 sacks and 14 tackles. Color me concerned.
Positions and Snap Counts
Here’s where Werner lined up last year. Two quick things: 1) My snap totals don’t match PFF’s because I didn’t count things like false starts, spikes and kneeldowns. 2) I counted him as an end if he had at least one hand on the ground and a linebacker if he was in a two-point stance.[table “1” not found /]
Werner was a 4-3 end at Florida State, and the Colts did all they could to ease his transition to linebacker. He lined up with his hand in the dirt more often than not, usually on the left side. Most of his defensive end snaps came on passing downs, while he primarily stood up at linebacker on running downs. He dropped in coverage a handful of times, usually after lining up inside.
(If you’re wondering about his one snap at nose tackle, it wasn’t as interesting as you might think. It came in the week 16 Chiefs game. He looped outside on a stunt and didn’t get close to the quarterback before the ball was thrown.)
Werner’s game-by-game snap counts tended to fall between the high teens and the low 30s. He had some nagging injuries that limited his snaps at times, and he missed four games after tearing his plantar fascia in week four. His lone start came in week 12 against the Cardinals, when he replaced the suspended Erik Walden and played 60 of 77 snaps.
What PFF Says
Werner’s PFF grade chart is hardly inspiring:
For the season, PFF gave him a -6.8 grade. That included a near-average -0.2 in run defense and an ugly -8.5 in pass rushing. He earned positive pass rush grades in only three of his 15 games. Considering he was billed as a pass rush specialist, that counts as a major disappointment.
Pure speed isn’t Werner’s strong suit. He ran a 4.83-second 40 at the combine, which was part of the reason he was available when the Colts picked 24th. Unsurprisingly, he can look a bit lumbering in coverage, and he’s not quick to close on receivers. That sometimes led to easy catches:
A large chunk of Werner’s coverage snaps came in the Arizona game. He showed both good and bad, but the bad was rather painful. For example, on this Rashard Mendenhall reception, Werner couldn’t keep him from turning the corner:
He would redeem himself later on that drive with a diving pass deflection on third down, forcing a field goal attempt:
That was Werner’s only defensed pass all year. Fortunately, the Colts don’t ask their outside linebackers to drop in coverage much. They have inside guys like Jerrell Freeman, D’Qwell Jackson and Josh McNary for that. In limited snaps to keep the defense from getting predictable, Werner is at least usable in coverage, though he doesn’t have the speed to play man-to-man.
Werner played mostly on passing downs early in the year, but as the season wore on he played more on first and second down. He wound up playing 40% of his snaps in run defense. His -0.2 PFF grade in that phase was much better than his pass rush grade, but he didn’t pop out on many plays, either positively or negatively. Most of the time he quietly battled a blocker while the play developed elsewhere. He had a run stop percentage of 5.3%, per PFF, which ranked 29th in the league among 42 3-4 outside linebackers who played at least 25% of their teams’ snaps (in 42nd place: Walden, at 2.8%).
In week one against Oakland, Werner had some ugly moments trying to contain Terrelle Pryor’s option runs. I don’t follow college football much, but I can only assume not many ACC teams run the option.
Like many others on the Colts’ roster, Werner had problems meeting blockers head-on. When teams ran straight at him, he showed little ability to shed blocks and make plays:
If that play looks familiar, it’s because I referenced it in my piece on McNary a few weeks ago as an example of McNary struggling to get off blocks. That play says a lot about why the Colts lost to the Pats.
Speaking of ugly moments from the Pats game, get a load of this:
That’s Danny freaking Amendola, a wide receiver, who’s holding Werner at bay. Not a good sign. You’d hope a guy with Werner’s build (6’3″, 260 lbs.) would be able to hold up against anybody, including offensive linemen, but tight ends and fullbacks were often able to stand him up:
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. Werner had several good moments against the run, including this push into the backfield against St. Louis:
And this disruption against San Francisco (albeit with a missed tackle thrown in):
Again, he’s not terrible against the run. He’s nondescript. And the mediocre or poor plays tend to outweigh the good ones.
This is where you would expect Werner to shine, after he racked up 23.5 sacks in three years in college. But his -8.5 PFF pass rush grade was well deserved. His 2.5 sacks included one on which he came through unblocked and one on which Alex Smith held the ball for an eternity. He had a 6.6 pass rush productivity score, according to PFF, which ranked 37th among 41 3-4 outside linebackers (Mathis was 10th at 11.2 and Walden was 28th at 8.3).
At the start of the year, Werner showed almost no pass rushing moves; he tried some combination of a bull rush and an outside speed move on nearly every snap. Tackles knew exactly what he was going to do and had little trouble containing him:
Most of his rushes in the four weeks before his injury were carbon copies of that one, so I won’t belabor the point. This play was his best case scenario in the first part of the season: his rush isn’t very effective, but he keeps fighting and is able to bring down a scrambling Colin Kaepernick after a short gain.
When Werner returned from injury in week nine, he was clearly still hobbled (he later admitted as much). He didn’t do much in the pass rush that week, and he was mostly in for runs in the week 10 Rams game. Against the Titans in week 11, he finally started showing some potential, even busting out a counter move:
His rushes got him much closer to the quarterback that week, but they also established a troubling trend: though he regularly got into the backfield, he lacked the combination of speed, explosion and finishing moves to consummate the sack. He usually either couldn’t bend his outside rush in sharply enough or got caught in the tackle’s chest and couldn’t fight his way back inside:
If there was one positive development to take away from Werner’s pass rushing adventures, it was that he clearly paid attention to what Robert Mathis did. As the season went along, he seemed to develop a better sense of when to make contact with the tackle, how to use his hands to keep his body free, and how to play the angles to get under the tackle’s block, all Mathis specialties. He shows all three on this rush against the Titans, one of his more promising moments:
He will need to get much more consistent in applying those skills, and it’s worrying that he still wasn’t showing them regularly after a full season and more than 300 snaps.
While I was watching Werner, I kept thinking back to my look at McNary. McNary played inside linebacker almost exclusively, so it’s apples and oranges to some extent, but he showed way more flashes on way fewer snaps than Werner. If I reviewed them both from scratch, I’d think McNary was an early draft pick and Werner was an undrafted free agent.
Still, for all the negativity I’ve spewed here, Werner does have talent and is by no means a lost cause. He’s big and strong and mobile enough in short stretches. But he has a long way to go to live up to expectations.