It's no secret that outside linebacker is a huge need for the Saints heading into this year's NFL draft. With the move to Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense, the Saints will need to generate a pass rush now more than ever. As of now, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette are the only players on roster that have the potential to generate such a pass rush. Luckily for New Orleans, this year's defensive crop is loaded with 3-4 pass rushers.
Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo, Ziggy Ansah, and even Jarvis Jones are some of the more highly coveted 3-4 pass rushers that will be available this year. The problem is that all four of those players are slated to be selected before the Saints pick at #15. If that does happen come April, the Saints could be have one of the more highly scrutinized players this year fall to them in Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner.
Werner was a consensus top 10 pick at the end of the college football season but now, after extensive film evaluation and his NFL scouting combine performance, his stock has dropped so much that former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) thinks he could fall to the Houston Texas at #27. That's just absurd.
After having watched him play a couple times this season, Werner is the type of guy that can take over a game. He's stout against the run, has the strength and explosiveness to get past blocks, and can be a terror in the backfield. The general consensus that most scouts have on Werner is that his motor runs hot and cold and that they see him mainly as a strong-side 4-3 DE which is mostly due to his lack of playing in space at Florida State.
Werner has been the topic of several of my discussions on twitter with most of those centered around his ability to play in a 3-4. Most disagree with me in thinking that he can make the transition so in order to back up my claim I dug deep into NFL scouting combine numbers. What I found was pretty surprising.
In comparing Werner's combine numbers to his fellow pass rushers in this year's draft class, one thing stood out – Werner is not nearly as athletic as the top tier pass rushers. However, his frame is bigger, he's more stout, and he's by far one of the best versus the run this year. His main issue is lacking the freakish athleticism of Mingo, Jordan, and Ziggy Ansah.
Comparing him to 3-4 OLB prospects that were drafted in the first two rounds from 2011 and 2010 didn't yield any comparable results either. It wasn't until the 2009 draft class that his most apt comparison was found in Utah defensive end Paul Kruger.
The numbers speak for themselves:
(2009) Paul Kruger 6'5”, 265
4.83 (40) 24 reps 32.5 vertical 108 broad 7.52 3 cone 4.47 20 yd shuttle
Bjoern Werner 6'3”, 266
4.83 (40) 25 reps 31” vertical 111.0 broad 7.30 3 cone 4.40 20 yd shuttle
A quick breakdown of the numbers show that Kruger is 2” taller than Werner and had a 1.5” better vertical but that Werner is equal or better in the remaining categories. The most telling are the broad jump, 3 cone drill, and 20 yard shuttle which tests a player's explosiveness and power, short area quickness, and change of direction ability.
These numbers are comparable as are the scouting reports on the two players. These two scouting breakdowns on Kruger found here and here read very similarly to reports on Werner found here and also here.
These are important to note because they are three of the most important drills for aspiring NFL linebackers. If Paul Kruger's success, which is evident by his new 5 year, $40.5 million contract, can be attributed to anything it's that he has ability to rush the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker. The same skills Kruger showed off at the scouting combine are similar skills possessed by Werner expect evidently better.
These numbers show that Werner has the potential to make the transition to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. His excellent snap anticipation, ability to bend around the edge, compete vs the run, and explosiveness make him an intriguing candidate for the Saints if he is available when they are on the clock. Whether he can convert to being a 3-4 linebacker remains to be seen but if Paul Kruger's success is any indication then it shows that there is a chance.