Is Bjoern Werner Really the Answer to Colts' Pass-Rushing Needs?

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Is Bjoern Werner Really the Answer to Colts' Pass-Rushing Needs?
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After letting former All-Pro and possible Hall of Fame DE/OLB Dwight Freeney go in free agency, the Colts desperately needed to upgrade their pass rush.

Even with Freeney, the Colts finished 23rd in the league in sacks in 2012 and 27th in Football Outsider's Adjusted Sack Rate. Sacks aren't your preferred method of measuring pass rush? The Colts also finished 24th in Pro Football Focus' total team pass rush grades (subscription required).

The Colts signed Erik Walden in free agency and made multiple moves along the defensive line, but with Robert Mathis as the team's only sure threat as a pass-rusher, a bigger step needed to be taken. 

Ryan Grigson and the Colts took the need seriously and drafted Bjoern Werner with the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft. 

Werner projects as a likely strong-side outside linebacker in 2013, sharing snaps with Erik Walden opposite Robert Mathis. The team believes he can play both OLB positions, so when Mathis sits, Werner seems the likely candidate to slide into the rush OLB spot. Once Mathis' contract is up, Werner could be the guy to fill in as the long-term rush OLB in the 3-4 defense. 

The question that will need to be answered, however, is whether or not that is Werner's best fit. The Colts seem to have him pegged as the team's answer for a dynamic pass-rusher. Is he the answer, though? 

To answer that, I went to the tape of Werner's productive senior season at Florida State.

While much has been made of Werner's transition from a 4-3 end into a linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, I don't think the scheme change will be as harmful as some, especially when it comes to pass rush. 

While the Seminoles definitely used Werner in a down stance for most snaps, they also used him in a stand-up position, both to rush the passer and to drop back into coverage.

Here you can see Werner coming off the edge in a two-point stance: 

Werner also was occasionally used to rush through the middle of the line in his two-point stance at times, showing flexibility that will be useful in Greg Manusky's complex defense.

Werner's strength as a pass-rusher, aside from his flexibility, is his quick burst off the line. He anticipates the snap incredibly well and puts offensive linemen back on their heels and in poor position right off the bat. 

With the quick snap anticipation, Werner's ability to dip his shoulder and get under the offensive tackle is his go-to move. Although he doesn't have the natural speed that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis had in their primes, his snap anticipation should allow moves like this to remind Colts fans of the famed Freeney and Mathis duo. 

Outside of the quick burst and ability to dip the shoulder, Werner's biggest strength is just that: his strength. Specifically, his upper-body strength and powerful use of his hands allow him to shed blockers well. 

Werner uses his hands to both knock tackles' hands off and set tackles up for quick changes of direction. You can see an example of it here, where Werner quickly fakes inside, then rips the tackle inside while sidestepping outside to bring down the quarterback for the sack. 

The other area where Werner excelled at Florida State was in stunts. Werner's natural ability to find creases in the offensive line and slip through with minimal resistance was uncanny and will likely be taken advantage of in Indianapolis. 

However, with all of those strengths, Werner has some limitations that could impede his becoming a primary pass-rushing option. 

Werner doesn't have a wide repertoire of moves as a pass-rusher, with no dependable swim, spin or rip that he can consistently use to beat linemen. Even his bull rush is incredibly inconsistent, as he tends to stand up too high for it to be effective.

Werner's little side steps won't work nearly as well in the NFL, where tackles are stronger, quicker and have better footwork than most of the competition he faced in college. 

While Werner has been lauded for being a hard worker off the field, his on-field motor can be maddeningly inconsistent. He'll be going full speed one second, then will switch off in the blink of an eye if he thinks his teammate has a good angle at the ball carrier.

This doesn't play into pass-rushing much, but it can decrease the amount of clean-up or coverage sacks that Werner could potentially get, as he occasionally gives up if the offensive tackle gets a solid initial punch or if he's deterred by a chipping tight end or running back. 

Overall, I think the best role for Werner would be as a secondary pass-rusher, someone like Paul Kruger who will be able to get to the quarterback seven to nine times per season while being flexible enough to be stout in run defense as well.

He might have a couple double-digit sack seasons thrown in, but if he's the Colts' primary pass-rusher, I'm afraid he may not be able to handle the extra chips and double teams that would be thrown his way. 

Could Werner be THE answer as a pass-rusher? If he develops a few more dependable moves and his snap anticipation is just as good in the NFL as it was in college, it very well could happen. 

But more likely, I see Werner as a part of the package when it comes to pass rush; he won't be the driving force, but he'll be a very good secondary piece. 

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