2021 NFL draft prospects: Ohio State LB Pete Werner

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Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Ohio State LB Pete Werner

6-foot-3, 242 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.74 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Three-down linebacker with the competitive and athletic traits to be a fixture on a defense, but perhaps falling short of Pro Bowl-level performance

Games watched: Indiana (2020), Clemson (2020), Alabama (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, Werner originally committed to Notre Dame before flipping to the Buckeyes. As a true freshman, Werner appeared on special teams and as a defensive reserve before earning a starting spot at the start of the 2018 season. Over his final three seasons, Werner collected 176 tackles (15.5 for losses), four sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Upside: High-floor prospect who will enter the NFL with terrific experience against top competition and in high-pressure situations. Played multiple LB spots for OSU under multiple defensive coordinators and was a consistent standout for the past three seasons. Textbook frame for the position.

Possesses the athletic traits to run with tight ends and backs in coverage. Good length to handle bigger targets and even breaks up passes. Natural feel for zone coverage — gets quick depth in his drops and keeps receivers in peripheral vision while keeping his eyes affixed to the QB.

Good hitter who loves to finish. Brings a physical edge to the position. Uses length and hand technique well to disengage from blocks and stop a runner in his tracks close to the line — fits the throwback stack-and-shed mold.

Surprisingly good blitzer — times up the snap well and can even get home on delayed pressure. Took down Trevor Lawrence in the national semifinals. Takes good paths to the QB, closes quickly and hits his target squarely. Generated high rate of pressure in limited chances rushing the passer.

Accountable, football-first prospect who earned the praise of teammates and coaches alike with his effort and commitment. High football IQ. Versatile and willing to take on whatever role is asked of him. Factor on special teams units all four seasons and stood out there his first two years.

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - JANUARY 11: Pete Werner #20 of the Ohio State Buckeyes tackles Mac Jones #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner has been a steady, versatile starter for three seasons. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

Downside: Struggles in coverage have come against quicker and faster targets. Werner is not a defender you stick man to man on, say, Alvin Kamara. Speed appears average for the position. Can flip his hips and turn but will be beat on double moves. Zero career interceptions and seven passes defended (zero in 2020).

Could do a better job slipping blocks (as opposed to taking them head on). Isn’t a tackle machine, even amid a talented LB group, wasn’t around the ball quite as much as you’d ideally like to see. Not as instinctive as his reputation might suggest.

Must clean up his tackling. Fails to wrap up and misses ideal strike zone on ball carriers in space. Lacks ideal lateral range as a run defender and can let players outflank him to the flats. Not as effective breaking down in space.

Played alongside elite talent and was well-shielded in this system. Declined a Senior Bowl invitation, to the dismay of some talent evaluators.

Best-suited destination: Werner would be a great fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 front or an outside linebacker in a 4-3 system, but either way he projects to be a high-floor, three-down defender who brings value on passing downs.

Did you know: Greg Werner, Fred’s father, was a tight end who spent one season with the New York Jets in 1989. His high point was a 61-yard performance at New England where Wener caught a 36-yard pass on the penultimate play to set up the game-winning field goal in a 27-26 victory. Greg Werner is now an orthodontist in the Indianapolis area.

Player comp: Similar to 2016 fourth-rounder Nick Kwiatkoski

Expected draft range: Top-100 pick