The Ohio State Buckeyes have a trio of linebackers on the cusp of entering the NFL. There’s Baron Browning, the uber-athletic outside linebacker. There’s Tuf Borland, the experienced, workmanlike leader at the center. And there’s Pete Werner, the other outside linebacker. Although Pete Werner doesn’t always get the same buzz, the Ohio State linebacker has a surprisingly exciting 2021 NFL Draft profile. What does he bring to the equation, and can he be an NFL starter?
Pete Werner 2021 NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 242 pounds
School: Ohio State
Current Year: Senior
Pete Werner came to Ohio State the same way many prospects do. He was a four-star recruit in the 2017 class and was rated as the 27th-best linebacker and the second-best player in the state of Indiana.
Werner had an in-state offer from Notre Dame, and he also drew interest from Power Five teams like Iowa, Tennessee, Penn State, and Wisconsin. However, an offer from Ohio State drew reciprocated attention from Werner. He ultimately signed with the Buckeyes and joined their squad for the 2017 regular season.
Pete Werner’s career as an Ohio State linebacker
Some prospects have to wait to get on the field after joining talent-insulated programs like Ohio State. That wasn’t the case for Werner. Although his first action mainly came on special teams, Werner saw game action as a true freshman. He logged nine total tackles and also managed to add a half-tackle for loss in clean-up duty on defense.
In 2018, with the departure of Jerome Baker, Werner took on a starting role. As a true sophomore, he started every single game of the season, putting up 58 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, nine pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. Werner’s production earned him security in his starting role, and he returned in 2019, as the Buckeyes attempted to renew their CFB Playoff success.
Werner’s final two seasons at Ohio State
2019 was another productive year for Werner at the college football level. The Ohio State linebacker earned a career-high in total tackles with 64. He also added on 5.5 tackles for loss, three pass deflections, and two fumble recoveries. Werner’s production won him a spot on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award in 2020, but initial uncertainty surrounding the Big Ten season derailed his chances at first.
Luckily for Werner and Ohio State, the Big Ten soon resumed action, and Werner ended his college career on a high note. The true senior put up 46 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a sack in seven games ahead of the National Championship. And on Monday night, he faces off against Alabama’s explosive offense, intent on leaving for the draft with a championship ring in his pocket.
Werner’s National Championship performance
Ohio State’s linebackers were caught in a game of tug-of-war for much of their 52-24 loss against Alabama. Pete Werner wasn’t immune. The Crimson Tide’s devastating deception and versatility proved to be too much for Werner. The Ohio State linebacker had trouble knowing what to expect on a play-by-play basis.
Werner was late to react on several occasions, helping to open running angles for ball carriers. Additionally, he was somewhat tentative in run defense, and wasn’t proactive enough in filling his gaps, or strong enough at the contact point. Werner did make a couple plays in pursuit with his range. However, his play diagnosis was lacking on Monday, which contributed to poor positioning and low impact on crucial downs.
Analyzing Pete Werner’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
Usually, you hear a few things about a prospect before you watch their tape. Thus, you have a general idea of what to expect. It’s important not to lean on these expectations alone, but the point stands that you don’t always come into evaluation completely cold. That said, I didn’t hear much about Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner before watching his tape. And I came away very impressed.
Werner’s size stands out right away. He’s very well-built for a linebacker, standing at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds. However, what impressed me even more was his athletic ability. Baron Browning is advertised as Ohio State’s most athletic linebacker — and I still think he is — but Werner also has solid athletic traits that go under the radar.
Werner comes in hot as a blitzer when he has an open lane, and he has good explosiveness attacking the gaps. The Ohio State linebacker also has impressive speed in open field, as well as solid hip fluidity. When patrolling the middle of the field, he has the hip looseness to quickly flip and run with tight ends, and he has the quick acceleration to match their speed right out of his break. On top of all this, Werner also brings promising recovery athleticism. When he’s in the vicinity of a play, he has the change-of-direction ability and quick gear-up capacity to divert course and make an impact.
How does Werner build off of his athleticism?
For his size, Werner is a good athlete, but he also brings a number of quality football traits to the field as well. Werner is a sturdy tackler. He uses his frame to take players one-on-one effectively, but he also has the wherewithal to wrap up in situations where he doesn’t have the best leverage. Werner’s range gives him the ability to be active in the tackling process on a lot of plays, and he generally plays with good angle awareness, although he can overshoot at times.
Having roots as a SAM linebacker, however, Werner was also used a lot in run defense with the Buckeyes. There too, he showcases some impressive qualities. Werner’s range is again valuable against outside runs, where he has the straight-line speed to close off windows. Werner also has the ability to shed blocks and tackle in succession. He uses his lateral mobility and awareness to adjust his blocking angle according to where the ball carrier is, if he can’t disengage. This way, he has a chance at clogging up lanes.
What are the issues with Pete Werner?
Pete Werner is a solid linebacker in run defense, who also shows very promising flashes as a pass defender. From my perspective, the main issues with Werner are operational. There are times where he can better diagnose plays. He can also be baited by various deceptive tools used by the offense.
One play in Ohio State’s recent playoff victory over Clemson was particularly effective in detailing where Werner can improve. Early in the game, Trevor Lawrence took a play action snap, then turned his eyes upfield. Werner read Lawrence’s eyes and immediately turned his hips and tracked into the intermediate third. In the process, however, Werner failed to identify the running back, who was now wide open seeping into the flat. As soon as he baited Werner downfield, Lawrence whisked his attention to the running back and dished an easy completion.
Werner still had the range to close off the runner’s path and complete the tackle. However, his lapse in judgment and late response time gave Clemson an easy first down. Luckily for Werner, the need for mental refinement is not uncommon among young players. Werner is also a very urgent player who reacts quickly in other situations, so it’s likely a simple matter of trusting one’s keys and knowing where to look. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that Werner needs more polish there.
Pete Werner’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
The issues with Werner are not numerous. Among other things, he can also do a better job converting speed to power when taking on blockers in pass protection. Additionally, his relative lack of playmaking ability and turnover generation is notable. Nevertheless, Werner is a complete linebacker prospect whose athleticism is seriously slept on. He’s not an elite athlete like Browning, but he’s not too far behind. With solid functional athleticism, size, pace of play, and good play strength, Werner is an exciting high-floor, high-ceiling prospect.
Werner’s profile puts him comfortably in the Day 2-early Day 3 range. He contributes well to the solid depth of the 2021 linebacker class. Having said that, Werner can improve his stock even further by testing well at the NFL Combine. It’s already been established that Werner has few red flags. He’s also been a productive starter at a top program for the better part of three years. If he proves to have good-to-great athleticism from a quantifiable perspective, he could rise into the upper half of Day 2.
Which teams present the best matches for Werner?
Werner most often played as an outside linebacker in Ohio State’s 4-3 defense. However, with his range, gap-filling ability, and serviceable instincts, he also profiles fairly well as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Werner also lined up at MIKE several times, suggesting that he has positional versatility even within a 4-3. Because of this, Werner projects well to many teams. Teams like the Packers, Rams, Browns, and Eagles could best use Werner’s talents, but even beyond that, his value should be enticing all around the league.
Some top linebackers are projections who have awe-inspiring upside but will need time to develop. Werner still needs to hash out a few elements of his game, but he has a much better chance of starting early and providing competent play. And beyond that, Werner has enough athletic upside to suggest room for further growth. That’s a proposition that should be very persuasive for NFL teams in the middle rounds.