Dwight Freeney has a shadow that will loom large in Indianapolis. In 11 seasons as an Indianapolis Colt, the Syracuse alum racked up 107.5 sacks and was oftentimes the lone star on defenses that were habitually outshined by Peyton Manning's offense.
Last year Freeney found a new role as the senior statesman- alongside Reggie Wayne- when Manning left for Denver and Andrew Luck arrived.
But as is the case with most NFL teams, age and atrophying ability creeped up and after tallying just 5 sacks in 2012 (the second lowest total in his career) Freeney was not resigned in Indianapolis this past offseason.
On Thursday night with the 24th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft the Indianapolis Colts tabbed Freeney's replacement, Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner.
Werner, a 6-4 255-pound junior, became the highest draft German in NFL history when he heard his name called at Radio City Music Hall. He walked across the stage, put his arms around the Commissioner (in a much more genteel fashion than he typically does with quarterbacks) and made history in his native Germany and his hometown of Berlin.
Werner is an anomaly, a European-bred football wunderkind. After finding a passion for the game during a childhood that often saw him attending NFL Europe games, he started playing flag football in Germany before heading to a prep school in Connecticut to pursue a college scholarship. After a head-turning senior season the offers started rolling in from across the country and Werner and his new wife chose to become Seminoles because of the school's location- Florida.
Three years and 23.5 sacks later Werner was back in the northeast on Thursday night, but this time in New York hoisting a Colts jersey on stage next to Roger Goodell.
In Werner the Colts hope they have found their next great pass-rusher.
And despite seeing his draft stock take a hit in the months following his 13-sack junior season, Werner hasn't given the Colts much reason to doubt that he will be.
“Bjoern is one of the great players in Florida State history and one of the most instinctive players that’s ever been around,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He’s going to be a great professional player. He’s another great ambassador for this university. He stands for all the right things, and I couldn’t be happier for him and his family.”
Despite still not having extensive experience as a football player (Werner has essentially only ever played five years of competitive football), he has a very high football IQ. Coupled with an intense work ethic, Werner has grown on the field every year he's played. At Florida State he got playing time as a key reserve as a true freshman, got on to the field full time as a sophomore. As a junior he lead the ACC in sacks.
A lot of times, as you get further and further away from actually seeing the players competing live, teams get distracted by the miutia of the draft and tend to overrate a lot of little things that might not have a huge bearing on how a player will actually perform in the NFL.
One needs only pop in the tape of Werner against Florida- a top-notch SEC opponent- to see what kind of player he is against NFL quality competition. He's smart. He's a self-motivated guy who was willing to leave his family and country to pursue an NFL career. He has a good NFL mind and is a high-character individual.
I was frankly surprised to see Werner slip as far as he did. But if his collegiate performance and intangibles are any indication, Indy should like what how he fills Dwight Freeney's shoes.
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