The class of linebackers in the 2021 NFL Draft is shaping up to be an interesting one.
This class looks as though it will be well-stocked with athletic and versatile linebackers, players who should be graded fairly highly with the skill sets to fit in a variety of NFL defenses. We are also starting to see more and more linebackers come out of college with the traits to be true three-down players against explosive modern offenses. There are so many of these players, in fact, that we could see some good players slip down draft boards as the League reckons the number of talented players with their perceived positional value.
New York Giants fans don’t need to be reminded of their perpetual need for an athletic linebacker, nor do they need reminding of how long it’s been since the team has drafted a linebacker highly. Could Werner present a value the Giants can’t pass up?
Prospect: Pete Werner
Games Watched: vs. Cincinnati (2019), vs. Clemson (2019), vs. Clemson (2020), vs. Alabama (2020)
Games Played: 39
Tackles For a loss: 16.0
Forced Fumbles: 4
Passes Defensed: 13
Games Played: 8
Tackles For a loss: 2.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 1
Best: Quickness, agility, range, coverage ability, play strength, tackling, competitive toughness
Worst: Instincts, processing misdirection
Projection: A starting strong side linebacker with scheme versatility.
(Werner is OSU LB no. 20)
Ohio State’s Pete Werner has good height, weight, length, agility, quickness, speed, and play strength to play the linebacker position at the NFL level.
Werner typically aligned as a strong side (or SAM) linebacker in Ohio State’s defense, following the tight end or fullback depending on the offensive personnel package. Werner is an excellent athlete showing very good quickness, lateral agility, and range for a player of his size. He is easily able to mirror and run with most tight ends or running backs in man coverage. Werner has the foot quickness and hip fluidity to line up as a slot defender if a TE or RB motions to that alignment. He is also quick and efficient in his drops as a zone defender. Werner quickly gets good depth in his zone drops and appears very comfortable playing in space. He has the quickness to drive on the ball when there is a pass in front of him. He generally does a good job of letting the quarterback’s eyes lead him to the receiver, using his length and closing burst to be disruptive at the catch point.
Werner shows very good competitive toughness as a run defender. He is physical taking on blockers, stacking and shedding even larger offensive linemen. Werner is a good technician when taking on blockers, playing with a wide base, good hip and pad level, and good extension to keep them from locking in their blocks. He also has very good vision as a run defender, quickly identifying running lanes and picking his way through traffic to fill gaps. Werner is a physical defender, delivering hard but sound tackles to limit yards after contact.
Werner will need to continue to improve his processing at the NFL level. He doesn’t appear to be a particularly instinctive player, instead needing to read and confirm what he is seeing before he reacts and commits. Werner has the athleticism to make up for the slight hesitation and still play fast, but he is also vulnerable to misdirection. He can find himself biting hard on play-action or fakes, taking him out of position.
Overall Grade: 8.2 - This prospect has a well-rounded skillset and the athletic traits to start at the NFL level.
Pete Werner projects best as a starting SAM linebacker at the NFL level.
His combination of size and athleticism, run defense and pass coverage could allow teams to fit him as either a strong or weak-side linebacker depending on their needs. However, the strong outside linebacker position gives him the best opportunity to make the most use of most of his skillset.
He should be a natural fit in defenses based in 4-3 concepts, but his athleticism and versatile skill set should allow him to find a good role in a 3-4, hybrid, or multiple defense. Werner is an excellent athlete for the linebacker position with plenty of quickness, agility, and range for coverage, while still having the size and play strength to be a capable run defender.
Werner is able to navigate traffic around the line of scrimmage remarkably well. His vision and quickness allow him to spot and slash through gaps in blocks much like the runners he is looking to tackle. He is generally a reliable tackler, squaring, wrapping, and driving through ball carriers to limit opportunities for yards after the catch.
He is also a very good coverage player, dropping easily into coverage zones or showing the athleticism to play man coverage on both tight ends and running backs. At times OSU even asked Werner to play safety, both in a late rotation from his outside linebacker position to a deep centerfield alignment in blitz packages, and starting plays as a deep safety in a Cover-2 shell.
Werner is something of an unknown as a pass rusher. The OSU defense was more likely to use Werner as a coverage player or spy for athletic quarterbacks than to send him as an extra rusher on obvious passing downs. His speed downhill, ability to navigate the line of scrimmage, and flashes of bend and burst on (very) limited blitz opportunities suggest upside in this regard, but it is still a projection.
But while Werner’s athletic traits and potential versatility are certainly exciting, defensive coordinators might want to limit his responsibilities early in his career. He will need to show that he can play fast more consistently and be more resistant to play-fakes before defenses can put more on his mental plate.