I usually wait until around December before I start scouting prospects. Werner was one of the first I watched, and he quickly shot to the top of my draft board. At the time, he was considered a mid first round prospect. By the Senior Bowl, he had vaulted into “top five lock” status.
I’m not sure what happened after that. Reports from NFL scouts began surfacing, saying that they viewed Werner as being just okay. Good, but not special. Mike Mayock stated that he didn’t think Werner would be a top ten pick. Insiders reported that scouting opinions on Werner were polarized. And all of this occurred before February’s NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Dion Jordan and Ezekial Ansah had two of the more over-rated combine performances in recent memory, posting much slower times in drills than guys like Von Miller or Bruce Irvin in recent years. But even a 4.6 forty looks pretty electric in this pass rusher class, where big names like Werner and Moore were big disappointments. Werner ran a 4.81 time, which is actually slower than defensive tackle Datone Jones (4.80). Jones’ had a superior 10 yard split as well.
This can’t help Werner’s draft stock, especially as Dion Jordan and Ezekiel Ansah are rocketing up boards. Barkevious Mingo seems to be holding steady as a mid first rounder. Russ Lande’s most recent mock even has Corey Lemonier going 15th overall. I can’t help but think that the sudden rise of undeveloped athlete pass rushers and the decline of the slower more physical pass rushers is a sign that the league has noticed what Seattle is doing.
It might help Werner that Jarvis Jones is tanking as well on account of his medical status, and Damontre Moore has been exposed as a 2nd or 3rd round prospect. That might be enough to keep Werner in the top 20 picks or so. But what if it’s not?
In terms of teams that need pass rushers at defensive end, there only so many of them, and most of them pick very early. Sharrif Floyd, Ziggy Ansah, and Dion Jordan all look like top five candidates. The Jets need a pass rusher at #9, but they run a 3-4 defense and Werner would be an oddball for most 3-4 defenses. The Titans run a 4-3 defense and might pursue a defensive end, but they have needs all over the place. The Saints need pass rush help, but are converting to a 3-4 defense. Then you have the Steelers, who also run a 3-4 but have a history of drafting bigger, slower 3-4 outside linebackers like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Jason Worilds. Werner going to the Steelers could make some sense, but as a player who would have to transition to playing standing up instead of on all fours, not to mention that he runs like a fast defensive tackle, even they might pass.
After that you have the Colts, maybe. Again, a 3-4 defense. Seattle would then be next at #25. If teams don’t have a first round grade on Werner as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he could end up a surprise faller on draft day, all the way to Seattle’s pick.
Now comes part two of this discussion: would Seattle draft Werner? That poses an interesting question. I’m not sure if they would.
Seattle drafted Bruce Irvin who ran an official 4.50 forty. Pete Carroll raved about Irvin’s speed and even called him the “ideal LEO,” a statement he probably wouldn’t have repeated immediately after the Falcon’s game. Regardless, Pete’s choice of words seemed to indicate that he puts a premium on speed with his pass rush prospects. Seattle also drafted Dexter Davis who clocked a 4.62 forty and Jameson Konz. Konz ran a 4.41 forty time and was eventually moved to LEO before being released.
On the other hand, Chris Clemons is probably slower today than he was as a 23 year old 236 pound linebacker coming out of Georgia, and even that Chris Clemons only managed a 4.68. Raheem Brock had a career year in our system with 10 sacks (including playoffs) during the 2010 season. Depending on which website you ask, he either ran either a 4.74 or a 4.91. And it’s probably safe to assume he wasn’t quite that fast during his age 32 season. Werner’s speed is probably in the neighborhood of both these guys, and both had great success in our system.
Werner looks every bit of his 4.81 time when in coverage or pursuit, but his burst off the snap is at an elite level despite that. Werner often plays in a four point stance and he uses that stance to coil his body for maximum explosion on the snap. Werner is a bit of a one trick pony in that he is at his best as a basic edge rusher, and is not as special when trying to spin inside or stunt. Werner combines an explosive get off with an aggressive downhill angle while keeping his shoulders square- meaning that his inside shoulder is aiming at the tackles chest. Werner’s signature is then using his inside arm to reach around the tackles outside shoulder and use his excellent arm strength to defeat the incoming punch. Because Werner’s chest is not available as a target (see picture above), tackles often fail on their initial punch, allowing Werner to explode through the missed block, slipping around the edge.
Werner can bull rush fairly well and can easily shove tackles off balance. Though he’s obviously very different from JJ Watt, I think it’s the reliance on upper body strength that is the basis of what was for a while a popular comparison.
I think a better comparison is Chris Long of the St. Louis Rams. Long also plays in a four point stance and has very strong arms. Long ran a 4.75 forty time at his combine, but plays plenty fast on the football field. Werner is 6’3″ and 266 pounds. Long is 6’3″ and 270 pounds. I think Long is a superior prospect because he is a better athlete and has a more complete pass rush repertoire, but if you said Werner was a poor man’s Chris Long you wouldn’t be off by much.
Bottom line, Werner is a strength based pass rusher that uses excellent edge rush technique and benefits tremendously from an explosive get off. Within the first second or two, his forty time might as well be irrelevant since he is so explosive in his first few steps. Werner can spin inside, bull through blockers, and rip through arm blocks, but all those techniques are merely adequate. Werner’s star power comes from his edge rush, which is why he edge rushes on almost every pass rush attempt. Werner has decently long arms (33.25″) but plays like he has 35″ arms on tape, I guess just because of how he protects his body from the initial punch and from his pure arm strength.
Werner is inconsistent against the run. He can get destroyed by a road grader if he isn’t careful, although he usually plays the run smart, even if he doesn’t dominate. Basically, he’s about what you’d expect from a LEO in run defense, and I’d grade him ahead of alternatives such as Barkevious Mingo or Corey Lemonier as a run defender.
Like Chris Long, I don’t think Werner’s speed hurts him much as a pass rusher. But speed still matters. Beating Colin Kaepernick twice is job number one next season. Seattle will also drop their defensive ends into coverage from time to time. You don’t want a 4.81 athlete put in those situations.
While I used the argument of Clemons and Brock, I should also point out that both were cheap acquisitions. Clemons was a throw in as part of the Tapp trade. Brock was signed off the street in 2010 to a minimum contract. Seattle’s draft history, though limited, has shown that speed matters. When Seattle is bargain hunting at the NFL’s garage sale and they see a good buy that won’t saddle them for a decade, they tend to be less picky.
So what will they do if Werner unexpectedly falls into our lap at #25? It’s a similar situation with John Simon, actually. Though both are excellent pass rushing prospects, I’m just not convinced they pass the “athlete test” that Seattle seemingly always applies to their draft picks. John Schneider has recently said himself that his staff grades for athleticism first before moving on to grade for any other criteria. This regime has a clear history of drafting athletic, versatile, explosive players. And outside of his get off being explosive, I’m not sure any of those three adjectives apply to Werner.
My guess is that Werner will never be a Seahawk, and I think that’s kind of a shame. Maybe he won’t reach our pick and we’ll never know either way. Or maybe he does reach our pick, and we’ll have fifteen interesting minutes to wonder to ourselves what might happen.