The Bjoern Identity

Bjoern Werner: Defensive End, Florida State, 6-4/255 lbs

Come April 25, Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner will almost certainly be entering the record books. The German-born prospect is all but set to become the highest drafted European-native in NFL history and the first to be taken in Round 1 since 2000, when the Oakland Raiders selected Polish kicker and fellow Seminoles product Sebastian Janikowski 17th overall.

Growing up in a self-proclaimed ‘soccer family’, Werner did not even play organised football until the age of 15, when he was spotted by coaches for his local youth team, Berlin Adler, where he quickly established himself as one of the best young players in all of Europe.

His reputation growing as a member of Germany’s under-19 national team, Werner soon began to explore the option of career in football and, through a programme run by USA Football International, arrived at Salisbury School (Conn.) as an exchange student in 2007.

Despite some initial difficulties adjusting to the American way of life, Werner immediately took to the high school game and was soon a highly sought after recruit, attracting offers from the likes of Oregon, Missouri and Boston College. It was the warm weather of Florida however which eventually swayed Werner and FSU have accordingly reaped the rewards of the burly German’s decision to take his talents to Tallahassee.

After playing a part-time role as a true freshman, Werner took over starting duties at left defensive end in 2011 and duly burst onto the national scene, recording 37 tackles, 11 TFL, seven sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception in the 13 games that year, earning an All-ACC honourable mention selection in the process.

Having put himself firmly on the radar of NFL scouts with his sophomore displays, the junior defensive end was even more productive this past season, racking up 13 sacks and 18 TFL on the way to being named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year – certainly no mean feat for a recruit who had played only two years of high school football prior to arriving on campus.

Currently projected as a top-five pick and considered the number one prospect in the draft by some experts, there’s clearly much hype surrounding Werner, but is it entirely merited? Is the young German really the sure-fire elite prospect many seem to be touting him as? Upon closer inspection, there are clearly some concerns.

For starters, Werner’s gaudy statistics numbers really do not tell the whole story. Seven and a half of his 13 sacks this year came in two games (four against lowly Murray State in the season opener), while ‘The Germanator’ also went through a seven-game stretch where he didn’t record a single sack in six of those match ups.

However, perhaps we can attribute this partly down to the fact that a hand injury suffered in late September, which forced him to wear a cast for a number of weeks, did seem to play a role in hampering the six-foot-four, 255-pound defensive end’s effectiveness. This stretch of games during October was certainly when Werner’s endured his leanest spell production-wise and, as a player whose hand technique and placement is so vital to his overall game, there are clearly some grounds to this notion.

Still, watching Werner, I do have serious questions about his motor. It’s always the same in the NFL, with every white defensive lineman who comes out of college synonymous with a scouting report along the lines of: “high effort guy, who plays with a great motor etc.” In many cases, such a description is perfectly adequate, but this simply isn’t a label befitting of Werner. On numerous occasions did he appear to too easily give up on plays, while, despite displaying a real fire for the game, he could also be held in check by the more imposing offensive tackles he faced for long periods of games. Needless to say, for a player who’s far from the most gifted of athletes available at the top of this year’s draft, that’s an obvious concern. That’s not to say that Werner does not possess the enticing athletic ability you hope to see in such a highly touted prospect – he quite clearly does – but, when compared to some of the other top pass rushers who are currently dominating in the NFL, he arguably falls somewhat short in that area.

Those earlier criticism aside, there is indeed much to like about Werner’s play and one can undoubtedly see why so many are enamoured by him as a prospect. His first step and speed around the edge is arguably elite and, though we’ve noted how his motor tends to run hot and cold, he can be truly relentless at times. Even as his reputation grew and opposing linemen increasingly resorted to holding tactics, Werner was still able to effectively pressure the quarterback and, should he improve his motor for all four quarters, he could prove a real handful for NFL linemen.

For a player still considered relatively raw compared to his counterparts, Werner’s football IQ and instincts are remarkably impressive and he’s shown considerable improvement every season of his college career. He defends the run extremely well and, furthermore, has displayed J. J. Watt-like qualities when it comes to batting down passes at the line of scrimmage, with a formidable 18 passes defended in the past two years – numbers which would be solid for a defensive back, let alone a defensive end.

Since dropping 20 pounds, from the 275 he played at as a sophomore to 255 entering his junior campaign, Werner hasn’t quite reproduced the power he displayed throughout 2011, introducing more of a finesse-style to his game in 2012. With fantastic upper body strength however, he can bull rush his way to the quarterback when required and should be a perfect fit in a 4-3 system, ideally on the strong-side to make the most of his talents.
Werner arguably lacks the athleticism required to convert to outside linebacker in the NFL but, for a team like the Jaguars, who are picking second overall and, after registering a league-worst 20 sacks, are in dire need of some pass rush help, he could well be just the answer to their problems.

In the grand scheme of things, Werner may not possess the tantalising upside of other pass rushing prospects such as Barkevious Mingo, Jarvis Jones, Damontre Moore and Ezekial Ansah but he is an exceptional prospect in his own right and more than worthy of a top-ten pick.

FSU have a history of producing productive college pass rushers, who promptly underwhelm at the next level (Andre Wadsworth and Jamal Reynolds being the two glaring examples) but, given Werner’s more rounded repertoire compared to those past names, I’d be somewhat surprised if he ended up falling under the same category. Ultimately, Werner may not develop into the game-changing defensive player you’d ideally want to select within the top-five picks but, nevertheless, the team who ends up taking him on draft day will likely not be left disappointed. The German is a solid, coachable player, who any coordinator would be delighted to have on his side and, though we know full well how exceedingly dangerous it can be to bandy the term about, does appear to be one of the ‘safer’ prospects available at the top of the draft.

Best Case: Chris Long

Worst Case: Derrick Harvey

Projected Round: Top-ten

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