The Broncos’ off ball linebackers were a reliably solid unit in 2020. Alexander Johnson saw his role expand to take on more blitzing as Fangio adjusted to life without Von Miller. Josey Jewell stepped into the void when Todd Davis was released in September and overperformed expectations.
Together with the safeties, the duo served as the most consistent part of the Broncos’ defense as they combined to play more than 1900 snaps.
Both Jewell and Johnson return for 2021 with contracts that expire after the season. Questions about their futures as well as John Elway’s attempt to acquire Patrick Queen in the 2020 draft does mean there’s a real possibility George Paton is looking for a dynamic three down linebacker.
Could it be the Buckeyes’ Pete Werner?
At a glance
A high school safety turned linebacker who chose Ohio State over Notre Dame, Pete Werner’s a versatile linebacker prospect with the size, range, and versatility to outperform his draft slot. He isn’t the flashiest linebacker in this class, but Werner’s got the tools to become a reliable contributor in the modern NFL and hang around the league for a long time.
Why he fits the Broncos
- Started 35 of 47 games, mostly at Will but has seen time at all the spots in OSU’s 4-3. Has also spent some time at safety.
- Logged 445 special teams snaps.
- Very good athlete with good lateral mobility, agility, and explosiveness.
- Good mental processing and isn’t easily fooled by misdirection or play fakes.
- Very good competitive toughness and there are clear instances across tape with him communicating to teammates pre and post-snap, handing off assignments and making adjustments.
- Former coaches speak glowingly of their time with him.
- Good at leveraging his gap and displays a willingness to take on blocks. Will use his hands to keep himself clean.
- Solid against outside runs as his active hands help him sift through trash in pursuit. He’s an active player who displays sideline to sideline range with a consistent hustle to the ball.
- Good in zone coverage with very good range, he plays the game with wide eyes to float between a QB and slants or crossers into his area of the field. He has the wheels to split a two high seam if asked.
- Good in man coverage as he displays he can match up with backs, tight ends, and some slots with his ability to mirror.
- Will drive through a receiver to contest catches.
- Has the timing and quickness to contribute in pressure packages.
Pete Werner is a LB prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.49 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 110 out of 2118 LB from 1987 to 2021.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 30, 2021
Splits projected, times unofficial.https://t.co/pgG45p56qF #RAS pic.twitter.com/OQab323wNK
Reasons for concern
- Had surgeries on three labrum surgeries in high school: one shoulder and both hips.
- High cut frame with long limbs which impacts his ability to change directions in short areas.
- Adequate play strength impacts his ability to shed blockers and bring force as a tackler.
- He looks like a safety taking on blocks at the point of attack, will give ground to power.
- Misses tackles to jukes in the phone booth due to his issues breaking down in tight spaces.
- Takes overaggressive angles in pursuit after four years at a football power.
- He’s prone to overrunning the ball carrier in pursuit and needs to remain under control.
- Could stand to trigger quicker to the ball in the air.
- He’s prone to tackle after the catch is secured instead of working to dislodge the ball.
- Notable amount of his production as a blitzer came because he was unaccounted for or against an overmatched back.
What I’ve seen / heard / read
“Pete Werner is an athletic defender who patrols his zones effortlessly in pass coverage, but has a hard time disengaging from blocks in the run game. He will fit best as a Will linebacker in a 43 defensive scheme that plays primarily zone coverage,”
“Werner best projects as a sub package Will linebacker at the next level based on his coverage abilities and pursuit in space. He also could flex down into a Sam role, where has has enough lower-body strength to set an edge against tight ends. His experience across multiple LB positions helps his versatility moving forward. He will be a solid third-down substitute in passing situations, and his vast special teams experience should continue on all units in the league.”
“A three-year starter at Ohio State, Werner played strongside and weakside linebacker in defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs’ scheme. From rolling back into coverage to gap blitzing, he was asked to do a little bit of everything as the Buckeyes tinkered with their defense, allowing him to show off his versatility from various alignments. Werner is an athletic, heady player with great eyes, which allows him to play at full speed as a blitzer or chaser. I wish he were more of a playmaker in coverage, but he is smooth in his drops with a natural sense for play development. Overall, Werner needs to clean up some inconsistent tendencies, but he has outstanding lateral range and his sights are always on the football. He projects as a versatile linebacker with four-down potential.”
Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner’s path to the NFL has been highlighted by a gradual shift into a more high-impact role on a Buckeyes defense that has been as loaded with linebackers during his tenure as any team in college football. Werner, whose initial starting role featured him at SAM and often aligned overtop of opposing tight ends in coverage or flexed onto the hash, has gradually been weaned into more of an every-down (and every-role) type player and has not disappointed. Werner’s size, hand power, and athleticism should afford him a prominent three-down role in an NFL defense—especially when accounting for how often the Buckeyes have charged him with playing on the fringes of the box and in coverage. Werner has baseline athleticism to live up to that expectation in the pro game as well, but he’s also got the size and power to shoot gaps and thud blocks and ball carriers alike. Werner looks the part of a starting NFL linebacker and should be expected to at least carve out a significant role for himself on a pro defense in 2021 before growing and evolving into an even bigger role.
Werner has a versatile linebacker background but is best-suited as a 4-3 Sam with walk-out coverage abilities against certain slot tight ends. He doesn’t have playmaking athleticism that stands out as a pro prospect. While his listed size certainly looks NFL-ready, his long, thin lower half is not conducive to leveraging run lanes and overcoming the big bodies that will be coming his way as a pro. He’s a physical striker with adequate trigger twitch. Werner has the talent and demeanor to compete for a roster spot as a backup strong-side linebacker and full-time special teamer.
Had an awesome opportunity to talk with @OhioStateFB LB Coach Al Washington (@CoachWash56) about four of his draft eligible LB's in the 2021 class.— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) February 27, 2021
I asked him how he and his staff used the versatility of Pete Werner and Baron Browning in the Ohio State defense the last 2 years. pic.twitter.com/tgGf2REtqh
One of the things that’s really jumped out to me as I continue to work through the 2021 linebacker class is how there are so many coverage backers and Werner is among the better ones. He moves through space like the former safety he is and doesn’t hesitate to run down plays or bring the heat rushing the passer. While he doesn’t have the kind of play strength to remind fans of old school thumpers, he’d be a really nice addition to the Broncos with the range he’d bring to the second level of the defense.