The NFL Combine is greatly overrated.
This we all should know by now, but perhaps we should also be thankful for it. After all, it was because of a poor combine performance that Bjoern Werner - previously thought to be one of the top picks in the draft - slid all the way to the Indianapolis Colts at the 24th overall pick in Thursday night's NFL Draft.
Werner was born and raised in Berlin, Germany, before coming to the United States and finishing high school in Connecticut, where he played football for two years at his high school. He was good enough to earn scholarship offers from many different schools, and he choose Florida State over schools such as Oregon. In three seasons at Florida State (41 games), Werner racked up 99 tackles, 23.5 sacks, 35 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 17 passes defended, and 1 interception. Last season, Werner was a huge part of one of the nation's best defenses in every category, and Werner himself played well enough to be a consensus All-American and was named the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year. In 14 games, he recorded 42 tackles, 13 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, and 8 passes defended. He declared for the NFL Draft and was regarded as one of the best prospects in the draft - likely even a top five pick.
And then came the NFL Combine. Werner ran a slow 4.81 40 yard dash and had a less than stellar time in Indianapolis for the Combine. That severely hurt his draft stock and he began to slide down draft boards. For one team that really liked the Florida State prospect, however, they thought they stood no chance at getting him. Colts general manager confirmed as much last night, saying of Werner that "he's one of those guys you look at and say, 'He's not going to be there.'" At the same time, the Colts were still hoping that Werner would fall to them. And when the Vikings selected Sharrif Floyd with the 23rd pick (a player that the Colts very well might have taken if the Vikings had taken someone else), the Colts didn't hesitate.
Before the Draft, Grigson had stated that the Colts were certainly open to trading down and that in order for them to draft a player at 24, it would have to be a special player that the Colts were absolutely sure and excited about. They got that exact player in Bjoern Werner.
"When we knew (it would be Werner) after Minnesota, it was the high fives and the things you want to be feeling. We were really happy he was there. Werner was a guy we've been really having an itch for for a while," Grigson stated last night. The Colts' general manager also raved about his newest player's actual playing speed, which is much more important than a 40 yard dash time, which Grigson acknowledged too.
"You look first and foremost at playing speed. A lot of players have come off draft boards in the history of the league who didn't run great. He ran ok. He didn't blow anybody's barn doors off. But you watch him, he's the first off the ball every down. And his closing speed is excellent. We got a guy who we think plays fast and has the production to show for it."
The Colts got the guy they wanted, and in doing so they filled what was by far their biggest need: pass rusher. We discussed the topic a month ago and I wrote at the time that:
I have been a big fan of what Ryan Grigson and company have done this offseason. Big fan. But if they fail to address the most glaring need in a pass rusher, they will pay the consequences next year. Because right now, there is no other way to say it besides that the pass rush sucks and is a major, major concern. There is still time to address it; the Colts just need to make sure they do.
And they certainly did by drafting Werner - a defensive end that will make the transition to outside linebacker in Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense. Werner can play both rush and SAM linebacker, giving the Colts versatility. That said, Robert Mathis will get the majority of the time at rush linebacker, with Jerry Hughes backing him up. Werner will compete with Erik Walden for the SAM linebacker spot and will certainly get good playing time, whether he ends up starting at some point this season or not. Bleacher Report's lead NFL national writer Michael Schottey gave the pick an A, writing:
Love this pick for the Colts and I've mocked it to them in the past. It's almost a perfect fit for their system because Werner is a great athlete and can stand up against the run out on the edge playing OLB in their 3-4 scheme. Chuck Pagano will turn Werner into a perennial Pro Bowl player.
The bottom line is this: the Colts and Ryan Grigson got a player who was thought to have top five potential in large part because of his dismal showing at the NFL Combine. There is no reason whatsoever to be upset about this pick, and Bjoern Werner provides much needed help on the defensive side of the ball with the pass rush.
"I can't promise you I'll be the next Dwight Freeney," Werner said Thursday night. "I promise you I'll work hard every day and just try to be the best I can be." There's nothing more that you can ask of a player, and Werner himself acknowledges that he is very coachable and has a lot of room to learn from Chuck Pagano.
Werner won't be the next Dwight Freeney, but he will be tasked with replacing him. And even though that's a nearly impossible task, Werner is up to the challenge.
And when, next season, Werner gets a great burst off the snap, blows by an offensive lineman, and takes down an opposing quarterback, he'll seem a lot faster than his Combine numbers indicated.
And Colts general manager Ryan Grigson will just smile, knowing that once again he nailed his pick.