Top 10 linebackers in the 2021 NFL Draft:

Buffalo vs Penn State - NFL
Buffalo vs Penn State - NFL

#8 NFL Draft Pick: Pete Werner (Ohio State)

6’ 3”, 240 pounds; SR

Pete Warner
Pete Warner

Pete Werner, a former four-star recruit, had to earn his stripes through special teams. He led his team in tackles as a freshman, but it only took him a year to earn a starting spot in a loaded group of linebackers for the Buckeyes.

In the last three seasons, he has amassed a combined 167 tackles, 15.5 of those for loss, four sacks, 13 pass break-ups and four fumbles forced, finally receiving recognition last season when he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection after being an honorable mention the year prior.

Werner originally started more on the strong side, but last season, he primarily lined up at WILL linebacker for the Buckeyes and flipped over to MIKE in nickel sets.

This guy plays with some fire and has had, by far, the cleanest transition from college to pros among the Ohio State inside backers. When ID-ing run schemes, Werner keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, works down with good bounce and can get those stalemates with pulling guards in the hole – which for today’s requirements for the position are very uncommon.

And when someone is working up to him on an angle or tries to meet him in space, he does a nice job of attacking the near shoulder while keeping the outside arm free and not allowing the ball-carrier to bubble. He keeps a good extension on linemen, thanks to his long arms, and doesn’t lose sight of the ball.

Werner rarely overruns plays from the backside, and he shoots those hips through at first contact as a tackler to stop the ball-carrier’s momentum. Moreover, he displays excellent pursuit all around the field.

He had this incredible play last season against Penn State, where it looked like the Nittany Lions had two linemen out in front on a screen pass, but Werner shot right past them and blasted the running back for no gain.

When I watched Werner move in coverage, I was much more impressed than I thought I would be because of how much I’ve been seeing opposing teams attack that second level for Ohio State at times.

Werner got good depth in his drops and was even asked to carry guys down the middle in Tampa-2 a few times. He is physical with tight-ends looking to release up the seams and then he comes upfield quickly to shut down any additional yardage on crossers and check-downs.

The former Buckeye key piece also has some experience covering backs and tight-ends in man and looks comfortable matching underneath routes. As a blitzer, he beautifully times up the snap, and his speed is on display when he quickly gets from his original spot to the quarterback. Moreover, he can smack backs in protection in the face at the back-end of it.

In the CFP semi-final against Clemson last season, Trevor Lawrence faded away and braced himself on several occasions because Werner came charging in like a torpedo, which led to plenty of missed throws.

However, I’m not sure if Werner has the fluidity to be matched up with NFL running backs one-on-one, who run a complete route-tree and can test his ability to flip the hips and change directions.

He doesn’t have that athletic skillset his teammate Baron Browning has as a space player. While his quick trigger against the run is obviously a good thing, for the most part, some teams that have specialized in it took advantage of it quite a bit in their RPO game.

I am a little surprised to see this, but according to PFF, Werner missed 14.6 of his tackling attempts over the last three seasons, which are pretty consistent numbers.

I believe Werner can be a three-down backer at the next level, who can probably play in any front, weak and strong side. Teams may want to pair him with a more fluid coverage guy next to him so that he could play more forward as a pressure player.

Werner is one of the more pleasant surprises in my evaluations because of how much Ohio State rotated their linebackers. It was tough to pick up too many things when I just watched the broadcast of their games back in the fall.

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