Pete Werner Has Been A Solid Constant But Must Become A Big Playmaker For New Orleans Saints Defense

After complementing Demario Davis for three years, rock-solid Pete Werner now faces a challenge for both playing time and a bigger contract
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis has been one of the NFL's best defenders at any position since arriving to the team as a free agent in 2018. For six consecutive years, Davis has had at least 105 tackles and no less than 10 stops for loss. One of the league's best against the run, he's also been equally effective against the pass in both coverage or as a pass rusher.


The challenge for the Saints has been finding a running mate to Davis at linebacker. Alex Anzalone, drafted in 2017, had his moments but missed a lot of time with injuries. Kaden Elliss, drafted in 2019, was best as a pass rusher and downhill defender but struggled in coverage.


Kwon Alexander, traded for in 2020, was an ideal athletic complement to Davis but also struggled with injuries. Alexander, like Anzalone and Elliss, would leave in free agency after 17 games played with New Orleans.


Willie Gay Jr. was signed as a free agent this offseason. Gay, 26, is a terrific athlete with excellent instincts and has looked Davis-like at times during his first four NFL seasons with Kansas City.

While Gay looks like a perfect running mate for Davis, he's only signed to a one-year contract. He'll also have to battle for snaps against the most consistent second linebacker the Saints have had during Davis' tenure with the team.

Pete Werner, LB

Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) rushes with the football as New Orleans Saints linebacker Pete Werner (20) defends
Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) rushes with the football as New Orleans Saints linebacker Pete Werner (20) defends / Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans selected Werner in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Ohio State with the 60th overall choice. He was the fifth off-ball linebacker chosen that year and the sixth Buckeyes player to be drafted in the 16-year tenure of then-head coach Sean Payton.


In his last three years at Ohio State, Werner had 16 stops for loss among an impressive 176 total tackles. He also broke up 11 passes, recorded four sacks, and forced or recovered six fumbles on his way 1st Team All-Big 10 honors as a senior.


As a rookie in 2021, Werner was mostly a special teams contributor in his first two games before getting his first career start for an injured Alexander in Week 3. He'd immediately showcase his ability to be around every play, including leading all defenders in tackles (13) and solo stops (8) during a Week 5 win at Washington.


Even when Alexander returned from the injured list, Werner had proven too valuable to be buried on the depth chart. In 15 games of a part-time role (40% of the defensive snaps), Werner had 62 total tackles, 36 solo stops, and four tackles for loss.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Pete Werner (20) breaks up a pass against Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (29)
New Orleans Saints linebacker Pete Werner (20) breaks up a pass against Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (29) / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Werner easily earned a starting spot alongside Davis entering the 2022 campaign. Over the first half of that season, he was arguably the team's most consistent defensive player.

Though the first nine games, Werner was leading the NFL in both solo tackles and total stops. He'd record at least seven tackles in seven of those nine games and double-digit stops in four outings, including an eye-popping 12 solo tackles in the season opener.


A hamstring injury halted Werner in Week 9, knocking him out for four games, and limited him upon his return. Still, he finished with 80 combined tackles, 56 solo, and three for loss in only 11 games played while forcing two fumbles and breaking up three passes.


Werner continued his consistently strong play for New Orleans last season, starting 16 of 17 contests and playing in 88% of the defensive snaps. His 93 combined tackles and 60 solo stops were second only to Davis on the team. He'd also notch his first career interception, recovered two fumbles, recorded a sack, and had four tackles for loss.


Werner has good size at 6'3" and 242-Lbs, but combines that with underrated athleticism. He shows an excellent awareness with the outstanding ability to diagnose opposing offenses and instincts to always be around the ball. Davis is the defensive captain, but Werner is perfectly capable to be the unit's play-caller if he's out of the game.


A terrific tackler, Werner delivers powerful hits and has the physicality to take on blockers in the tackle box. His straight-line speed is good enough to meet runners at the corner or make plays in pursuit. He has the awareness, agility, and reactive skills to be solid in short zone coverage.

Tennessee Titans running back Tyjae Spears (32) is tackled by New Orleans Saints linebacker Pete Werner (20)
Tennessee Titans running back Tyjae Spears (32) is tackled by New Orleans Saints linebacker Pete Werner (20) / Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA

Werner has shown little as a pass rusher. In three years with the Saints, he has just a half sack and only five pressures. He's also not strong in man coverage, often getting targeted with great success by opposing quarterbacks when in that role.


While Werner has been a consistent performer for the Saints, he's rarely made game-changing plays for his defense. In the two-linebacker sets that the Saints often run, it's easy to imagine Gay getting those reps with Davis. This would especially be true in obvious passing situations or against pass-heavy offenses.


This is not to suggest that Werner won't have an important role for the Saints in 2024. In fact, Gay's addition may mean we see New Orleans use more three-LB sets because of the versatility of Davis and Gay and in-the-box ability of Werner.


Pete Werner is in the last year of his rookie contract this season. As noted above, Gay is only on a one-year deal. Davis, while still playing at a high level, is also the team's oldest player at 35 and is entering his 13th NFL season.


Werner, who just turned 25, is entering a big year. He'll presumably be competing against Gay for snaps, but also for a bigger contract this offseason. With more big plays in 2024, Pete Werner could also position himself as the successor to Davis as the team's top linebacker.


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Bob Rose

BOB ROSE

Covers the New Orleans Saints as a senior writer for the Saints News Network.  Co-Host of the Bayou Blitz Podcast.