The New Orleans Saints selecting Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner with the 60th pick in the 2nd round of the 2021 NFL draft definitely surprised some people.
The three-year starter for the Buckeyes was never a dominant force in college who put up gaudy numbers or made ridiculous plays on the regular. He was a role player on a talented team who just knew where to be at all times.
However, at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, with over 33-inch arms, he’s what you would call a prototype-sized backer. In addition, he put up great numbers at his pro day — logging a 4.62 40-yard dash, a 39.5-inch vertical and a 6.9 three-cone, via the Saints website. So, he obviously ticked the athletic prototype box for the Saints front office and scouting department, which is huge.
Saints GM Mickey Loomis said in a press conference after the draft that the vision for Werner is at Weakside backer, and maybe some Mike snaps mixed in there. With Demario Davis moving to MLB last year, and NOLA’s two Will LB’s from last year not on the team right now (Kwon Alexander and Alex Anzalone), this would make Werner a good fit positionally.
Werner was a weird watch on tape at first because he honestly doesn’t have a particular calling card — he’s just kind of solid at everything and looks like he belongs out there.
His run stop numbers are nothing to brag about (24 on 175 run D snaps last year), but he rarely misses gap assignments and knows how to set an edge. You can feel his strength on film when he engages blocks.
He’s not often blowing through the gaps and smacking guys in the backfield as soon as they’re handed the ball, but he’s got really good gap integrity in run defense — which I’m sure Dennis Allen loves because that’s what has made New Orleans a top run defense for the past four years.
I say this basically to convey the fact that he won’t be a liability in run defense, if I had to guess. He might not be making plays that you notice immediately on the telecast as a big play, but he won’t be the reason your run defense is bad.
And it’s important to mention that he has the speed to cover ground sideline-to-sideline.
Werner’s coverage statistics were pretty impressive at OSU. In his career, he only allowed 9.2 yards per catch on a mere 60.2% catch rate, 1 TD, and he broke up seven passes — via PFF.
He has great burst and explosion when closing on screens/dump-offs.
He has the agility/speed to hang with some tight ends and running backs. Although I wouldn’t want to put him on an island too often, as he has had a few hiccups in 1-on-1 coverage. On the play below, he gets toasted deep by a running back and is lucky it’s dropped.
He’s more of a zone-dropper in coverage who can occasionally match up with a TE or RB, if it’s the right matchup.
He has shown a tendency to bite a tad too hard on RPOs and play-action at times, allowing crossers behind him. But the good news is that he probably won’t be seeing as much RPOs as he did in college.
And while he did get caught lurking in the backfield on PA some, he showed great recognition and awareness on one particular play, making up for his mistake.
On the play below, he recognizes the action, and has the wherewithal to drop back efficiently, getting right into that passing lane the QB was looking to throw into. This was a good example of him adjusting to something he’d been caught on earlier in the game, and executing his zone drop well.
One of the things that really caught my eye was how well he executes in coverage and as a pass rusher on double A-gap pressure looks — which the Saints LOVE to deploy. These looks are just when two linebackers get on the line of scrimmage and fill the A gaps, where they will either rush or bluff and drop back into coverage against the pass.
When rushing the passer off of this look, he’s got enough power to plow through running backs and get to the QB. But what really impressed me was his hip fluidity and proficiency in bailing from this look to cover in-breaking routes from slot receivers.
Look at this play below, where they show the double A-gap pressure, and he gets right into the #3 slot WR’s hip pocket, giving the pass rush time to get home.
Examples of scheme fit like this, along with his physical acumen, make him an intriguing fit at the weakside LB spot on a defense that plays primarily Nickel (two backers).
At the end of the day, Pete Werner is a guy I wouldn’t panic about starting Day 1 on defense. He’s smart, athletic and strong, and he plays within himself. Now, does he have the ceiling to warrant picking him in the second round of the draft? Maybe not. However, with a defense like the Saints have, with difference-makers all over the field, he is capable of stepping in and not being a disaster. That, in and of itself, provides value.
However unexciting that analysis may sound, it’s the type of player Werner seems to embody. And if he’s able to step in and immediately contribute at a starter-level, that boring, lunch pale linebacker mentality may prove valuable for Dennis Allen and the defense in the long run.
What do you think of Pete Werner? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.