Colts’ Ryan Grigson: when early draft pick doesn’t pan out, ‘you’ve got to move on’

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 21, 2016) – As rare as it may be, there comes a point a team must admit failure regarding a first-round draft pick who was expected to offer long-term relief.

For general manager Ryan Grigson, reality slapped him in the face March 8. After three unproductive seasons, pass-rushing linebacker Bjoern Werner, the 24th overall selection in the 2013 draft but too often a healthy inactive, was waived.

The repercussions will be felt in next week’s NFL draft. Among the Colts’ top priorities, perhaps with the 18th overall pick in the first round, is adding an edge pass rusher.

Werner was viewed as that guy – the eventual successor to Robert Mathis – after being named the ACC’s 2012 Defensive Player of the Year. He piled up 23.5 sacks at Florida State.

Now, Werner represents one of the few first-round picks in Colts history that truly flamed out because of lack of production. Over the past 20 years, the only two that have failed to play out their rookie contracts are Werner and Jerry Hughes, the 31st overall pick in 2010.

And it must be noted whiffing on Hughes, who was traded to Buffalo in 2013 after managing just five sacks in 44 games, led to the Colts investing that year’s first-rounder in Werner.

Difficult as it undoubtedly is to admit a mistake, that’s precisely what a team’s personnel department must do. The New England Patriots recently waived defensive lineman Dominique Easley, their 2014 first-round pick. And the Cleveland Browns eventually gave up on carousing Johnny Manziel, another ’14 first-rounder.

“I’d say that you can’t beat yourself up too much,’’ Grigson said. “You’ve got to move on. You can’t get gun-shy. You look back and say, ‘Wow, how’d this guy not work out? He produced this much.’

“The production usually transfers when it’s at a certain level from college to pro, but again, that’s why the numbers show what they do year-in and year-out at the draft of how many starters actually start in the first round, second round, seventh round, which is like nil.

“You learn with every draft. I sure as heck have.’’

As Grigson and his staff prepared for the 2013 draft, they came to the conclusion Werner was the real deal. In his final year at Florida State – he entered the NFL draft with one year of eligibility remaining – he displayed game-changing ability with 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.

That never carried over to the pros. Werner failed to expand is pass-rush repertoire, and actually was moved from pass rusher to strong-side linebacker in 2015.

“Bjoern, I think he had 13.5 sacks in the ACC. I was always taught that when you have production like that, it should transfer,’’ Grigson said. “He had his moments. He battled injuries since his rookie year.

“We never thought he was a burner, but we always thought he could be a solid starting (strong-side linebacker) in this league. For where we were picking in that draft, we would have been happy with that. We wish him well. He played hard. We think he’s a good football player and that hasn’t changed.’’

He simply wasn’t good enough.

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