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Colts Fortify Pass Rush in NFL Draft, Select Björn Werner with 24th Pick

Björn Werner at Press Conference at Colts Complex“Primary target: Quarterback. Secondary target: Anyone in the way.”

It is a message that appears on Björn Werner’s Twitter page. And it is a message that resonates with the Colts’ front office, as evidenced by the fact that they used the 24th pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday to acquire him.

He is a 6-3, 266-pound German native who was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, with 13 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, 42 tackles overall and 8 broken passes. The only knock against him among NFL scouts was a mediocre 40-yard dash time (4.8 seconds).

But as Colts GM Ryan Grigson said in a recent press conference, “Turn on the film and he jumps off the screen at you. He’s one of those guys you look at and say, ‘He’s not going to be there.’ I take the combine with a grain of salt. But you shouldn’t let a great player get by you because of a not-so-great 40 time.’’

After losing the productivity of former Colt Dwight Freeney, the Colts were sorely lacking in the pass rush department. While they picked up free agent linebacker Eric Walden in March, it’s unclear what role he will play versus the Werner signing. What is clear is that they felt having an alternative to Walden made sense.

An Uncommon Journey

It’s hard to believe Werner left Berlin on a high school exchange program just 5 years ago. His journey from young German boy to NFL draftee is an uncommon one to be sure. It was a journey that entailed leaving behind his family and friends, and starting life anew in America.

“When he started something, he would always do it until the end because he was so ambitious,” said Martina Werner, Björn’s mother. He was a very good soccer player at age 12, but then he injured his foot and had to stop playing soccer. He started with flag football as a sixth grader and eventually played his first snap of tackle football at age 15.

Chris Adamson, Werner’s high school football coach, knew he had something special. “When I popped on Björn’s tape, he’d jump off the screen. He’s a 15-year old playing against 17 (and) 18 year olds, and looking like a superhero. The idea of having him for 3 or 4 years was incredibly exciting. He was the best player on the field. It didn’t matter who we were playing. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do,” he said.

Says Werner, “Five years ago I left (Germany) as a kid and that was my dream. I want to prove to myself that I can do something, that I can be one of those names that will be remembered forever.”

Moving Forward

Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he sees him as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, which means his primary responsibility would be that of making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. If he outshines Eric Walden in training camp, it is possible he could start opposite Robert Mathis from day-1. In such a scenario, Walden would be used to give Werner the occasional breather. This would effectively make Walden a very expensive backup. But the Colts could not have known that Werner would still be available with the 24th pick when they signed Walden. So it’s hard to fault them for either move. For such a promising player, it would be a shame to see him limited to backup duty or special teams.

On thing’s for sure: Without a pass-rushing equal, Robert Mathis’ production is at risk of falling, since teams would be able to simply double-team him. That was what made the Mathis-Freeney tandem so hard to defend against. Should Werner prove to be a worthy successor to Freeney, the Colts will once again have one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushes.

For now, the Colts fans can breathe a little easier, knowing the Colts have invested in such a promising young talent with the potential to be a real difference maker. “Primary target: Quarterback. Secondary target: Anyone in the way.” Message received.