While most of the attention through the first five weeks of the college football season has been squarely on Geno Smith (QB, WVU), another player has had a similar rise in their draft stock as that of the Mountaineer signal caller. Bjoern Werner, the 6’4, 260lb DE from Florida State, has wreaked havoc on opposing QBs so far this year. Once considered a 2nd to 3rd round prospect entering the 2012 season, Werner’s early-season production has placed him in the mix to be one of the first DE’s off the board. With all the hoopla surrounding Werner’s month of September, I decided to take a look at his game versus Wake Forrest to get a baseline analysis of his skills.
Before getting into the tape, it’s important to note the intricacies of scouting the DE position. When watching film of a DE prospect, you have to not only get a feel for his athletic ability, but you also have to determine what type of system he would fit in best. A DE in a 4-3 requires an entirely different set of skills and measurables than a DE in a 3-4. Taken one step further, a DE lined up in a 4-3 in college may project as an elite 3-4 OLB (See Barkevious Mingo, LSU). Any qualified and competent scout knows that scouting a DE is just as much about fitting the player into the right system as it is about being a great athlete. This is evidenced at the annual NFL Scouting Combine; many collegiate DE’s are put through the rigors of LB drills to see if they can make the transition that their measurables project. Can a player that has lined up at DE for his entire collegiate career drop into coverage? Can he run with a WR or a TE? Does he have the quickness to react and close on the ball? These are all questions that sometimes can’t be answered simply by watching the film.
Bjoern Werner is the perfect example of a “tweener” DE. At 6’4 and barely 260lbs, he’d be considered light for the 4-3 DE spot. He will likely be worked out at LB at the Combine, and could be appealing to teams that utilize the 3-4 and are in need of an OLB. With that said, there are plenty of examples of DE’s in Werner’s height/weight range that have had great careers in the 4-3.
When I popped in Werner’s film, I wanted to see the following things: First, how quick is he? I’m not overly concerned with how fast a DE is. But if he has top-end quickness, he’s got a shot to be a good pass rusher. Remember: A DE doesn’t have to run 40 yards to get to the QB. The quick, sudden athlete is preferred when projecting a pass rusher. Second, what kind of body does he have? Does he have long arms, or is he on the stocky side? A pass rushing DE has to be able to fend off the 34 to 35 inch arms of the opposing LT. If a DE has a stocky build, he’s less likely to be effective. Third, does he play to the whistle? A DE has to have a non-stop motor. He has to be going full speed from snap to whistle. Time and time again, the DE that continues to hustle and never stops pursuing the QB or ball carrier is the player that either makes the sack, TFL, or creates a turnover. If a player is loafing or taking plays off, they must be immediately downgraded. Finally, are they a one trick pony? Do they rely on the same pass rush move every time? Elite college DE’s can get by with one unblockable pass rushing move. Whether it’s a bull rush, rip, or flat out speed to the edge, a DE with one, and only one, pass rushing move will struggle on the next level. Pro linemen learn tendencies, and neutralize them, after a few days of film study. It’s the prospect that shows diversity in the way that they get to the QB that has a chance to be a top-level player in the NFL.
So how did Werner fair against Wake Forrest? I decided to breakdown each category listed above:
The one thing that immediately jumped out at me was how quick Werner is. He showed the ability to consistently beat the OT to the corner with his explosive first step. He was consistently the first defensive lineman to move at the snap of the ball and displayed the sudden explosiveness that is needed to be a successful pass rusher in the NFL. Against Wake, Werner’s short-area speed was virtually unblockable. On two separate occasions, he got to the QB simply by getting the corner, dipping his shoulder, and slapping the OT’s hands away. There aren’t many OT’s in the Country that would posses the initial kick-step fast enough to neutralize the speed Werner displayed to the edge against Wake.
Werner possesses the necessary length to hold his own against NFL offensive linemen. While we may not know exactly how long his arms are until the NFL Scouting Combine, it’s clear on the tape that he has the body type to compete. Against Wake Forrest, he displayed good use of his hands and length on several plays; he was able to get to the chest plate of the opposing lineman and extend his arms to control the play. He didn’t appear to be overmatched or limited by any element of his physical makeup. As stated above, Werner is a “tweener”. He isn’t the prototype 4-3 DE, but I don’t think 4-3 teams are going to shy away from him. He looks like he can add a few more pounds, and being that he’s a “long” athlete, he’ll be able to hold up against the 34-35 inch arms of opposing NFL tackles.
Bjoern showcased such explosive ability, that it may have covered up some loafing on a few plays. Don’t get me wrong: Bjoern Werner did not take any plays off. But there were instances where I would have liked to see him go a tad bit harder. I thought he could run down the backside of the play with more aggression at times. And it’s not that he would’ve made the tackle or created a turnover. But the fact that he didn’t do it means that we’ll never know. Again, nobody is going to confuse Werner for Quentin Coples (DE, NYJ). He plays hard on every play. But I am a big believer in not just playing hard at the snap, but playing hard through the whistle. Werner could’ve done more against Wake in this area.
Pass Rush Arsenal:
To be fair, Werner didn’t have to do much in this game other than “go” at the snap. He was such a mismatch. But this is where you have to be careful. Werner needs to display more than just an explosive first step in order to project well to the next level. And I thought he showed enough against Wake to say, with confidence, that Werner is not a one trick pony. Obviously, more film study is required to determine just how deep his pass rushing repertoire goes. But there were flashes of diversity in the Wake contest. Werner showed a willingness to bull rush as well as a good rip. On one occasion, he displayed a great combination of speed complimented by a strong rip that drew a holding call. For the most part, that’s just as good as a sack.
All in all, Werner displayed a skill set against Wake that certainly projects as a bona-fide pass rushing DE in the NFL. In addition, Werner displayed the necessary power to hold up and set the edge against the run and showcased good strength in shedding the block and making an impact in the run game. Bjoern Werner was every bit as good as advertised against Wake Forrest. With a consistent body of work like that which he demonstrated vs. Wake, Werner will be a mid to high 1st-round selection in April’s Draft.