13 for '13 Number 8: Outside Linebacker Bjoern Werner

Michael Hickey

Leading up to the Colts' regular season opener against the Oakland Raiders on September 8, we will count down the 13 players most important to the team's success in 2013. Today we look at number 8 on the list, outside linebacker Bjoern Werner.

I have hesitated to give away a name of a guy who is ranked on this list that I haven't written about yet. But in this case, I think we all know that Robert Mathis will appear on the list at some point, and so I feel totally fine saying this statement: Bjoern Werner may actually be more important to the Colts' success overall as a team this year than Robert Mathis. Seriously. I'll explain why that could be the case in this article.

To start off with, however, obviously I have Mathis ranked higher on this list than Bjoern Werner, and (hint) significantly more so. The reason for that is simply that I feel that both of them are incredibly crucial to the success of the defense as a whole, but when looking at the player they could least afford to lose on top of that, along with other factors such as leadership, etc., Robert Mathis clearly came out ranked ahead of Werner.

But that doesn't mean that Werner's role is any less important and it still warrants him the number 8 spot on our list. And, for a rookie, that's really high. Really high.

I hate putting a rookie on this list, I really do. Yeah, Andrew Luck absolutely would have been on it last year and would have likely been number one, but that's different - he's the quarterback. For a rookie 4-3 defensive end switching to a 3-4 outside linebacker and adjusting to the NFL level at the same time, it's really, really high and unfair to put him on this list. But when compiling it, I couldn't just rule out a rookie because of his lack of NFL experience when he occupies a role that is incredibly crucial to the unit's success in 2013.

And that's exactly what Bjoern Werner is and is being asked to do - fill a crucial hole on the defensive side of the ball that has become increasingly evident as the preseason has gone on.

Of course, if you hadn't figured it out by now, I'm taking about the pass rush. Andrew Mishler wrote an article about the concerns with the area a few weeks ago, and he's absolutely right. The pass rush is a major, MAJOR concern. A major one. Robert Mathis is a great pass rusher, no doubt, but he can't do it all by himself. If he's left to do that, he will face constant double teams and other ways that offenses will take him out of the game. Sure, he'll still get some pressure, but it won't be nearly enough. The defense needs someone else to provide pressure, and so far, that person has been hard to find. In the first preseason game, the Colts generated next to no pass rush whatsoever. In the second game, they racked up six sacks, but they got them from Erik Walden, Caesar Rayford (2), Marshay Green, and Drake Nevis (2). And, while I certainly would love for one of those guys to be able to emerge as a consistent pass rusher against starters in regular season games, I just don't see it.

Bjoern Werner, however? He's a first round draft pick that the team is expecting to contribute. Throw out all the numbers about how first round pass rushers usually don't produce a lot in their first year - the Colts need Werner too. Can he? I honestly don't know. I'll say that I really do think that he will develop and become a good NFL player in his career.

Michael Schottey of Bleacher Report wrote after the draft: "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."

Mike Mayock after the draft commented that: "I think he's really a good fit for Chuck Pagano. Very similar player by the name of (Paul) Kruger that he drafted in the second round when he was with the Baltimore Ravens. He will thrive in a Chuck Pagano system."

Those feelings are echoed by many, including myself, and I'm not debating that at all. What I am saying is that there are certainly question marks as to just how effective he will be in year one. He's transitioning from a 4-3 defensive end at Florida State to a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Colts. At times in camp, he came off the snap too low and was blocked easily, taken to the ground. But at other times, he showed nice burst and got nice rush. In his preseason debut, the second game against the Giants (he missed the first one due to injury), he looked impressive for the most part. He was at his best when playing from his more natural defensive end spot, and that's to be expected.

The good news is that he will be playing there a lot this year. When the Colts are in a nickel package (which, like every other NFL team, they are in a lot), Werner and Mathis will be on the defensive line at end. That's likely where a lot of Werner's time (at least early on) and production will come.

But will it be enough to take the Colts' pass rush to the level that it needs to be at? Will it be enough to take enough pressure off of Robert Mathis so that both of them can excel more? And most importantly, will it be enough to provide the team with enough consistent pass rush so that their secondary won't be left to cover for too long? Those are the big questions that remain, and the answer to those questions, and to a larger degree, how good will the defense be in 2013, can ultimately be traced back to this one very crucial position: pass rusher.

For a rookie coming into the league, you never want to place these kind of expectations on him. But there's no way around the fact that the Colts are counting on him to provide pass rush. Whether he can or not is one of the crucial questions that could go a long way in determining the success of this team in 2013. And because of that, Bjoern Werner appears on our list of the 13 most important players to the Colts' success in 2013 at number 8.

Check out our list counting down the 13 most important players to the Colts' success in 2013:

13. Cory Redding, defensive end

12. Coby Fleener, tight end

11. T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver

10. Pat McAfee, punter

9. Antoine Bethea, safety

8. Bjoern Werner, outside linebacker

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