For last week’s Bengals draftee profile, I took an in-depth look at the team’s potential steal of the draft – Andrew Billings. If it weren’t for him, this week’s profile would be of the steal of the draft; fifth-round pick Christian Westerman from Arizona State (after two years at Auburn).
Let me start by saying, I’ve always had a soft spot for the big boys up front. I played offensive line in high school and college (before being shifted to linebacker and fullback) and then coached the position for nearly a decade in high school. The offensive line is where it all happens. Andy Dalton, Gio Bernard, Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert have absolutely no chance to showcase their skills unless the road graters upfront can do their job.
The Bengals’ offensive line is one of the top groups in the league – just today, ESPN’s Field Yates rated the unit the fourth best in the NFL. Yates says that the group has “quietly emerged as one of the best in football and shouldn’t fade any time soon.” So why did they pick another offensive lineman? Let’s start by taking a look at Westerman’s physical stats. He checks in at 6’3”, 300 pounds. He has 33 1/2” arms and 11 7/8” hands. Big, solid, long reach, strong hands. Christian Westerman definitely has the size to be a good interior lineman in the NFL.
That said, this size was his biggest drawback. Westerman is pretty much locked into playing guard or center (a position he did not play in college) in the pros. Scouts added that he can “get caught up in the trash when blocking on the move,” meaning he doesn’t move well in traffic. We’ve all seen the mess in the middle on interior running plays – solid offensive lineman can manage this mess, will Westerman be able to?
Honestly, I think he can – why would I call him my second steal of the draft if I didn’t think he could perform? In fact, let me focus on his future position. What is the weak link in the Bengals’ offensive line? You don’t have to look far; he touches the ball every play. Russell Bodine is a serviceable center, and I’m sure he’s a nice guy. That said, he absolutely struggled against the bigger defensive linemen in the AFC North. Bodine could not block the Ravens’ nose tackle Brandon Williams, not solely because Williams was too strong, but because Bodine simply couldn’t get to him on occasion. When Cameron Heyward moved inside for the Steelers, he owned Bodine because of his fast step. This slow first step is a weakness you can see when looking at Bodine’s college tape.
I see Westerman moving to center. He has the right size and he has the right mentality. He is athletic and he is strong. According to some reports, he benched 225 a rather impressive 41 times at this year’s NFL Combine. He definitely has the strength to play center in the NFL, what about his athleticism?Westerman has fast feet, although he may get caught up in the mix – he can get to the nose tackles lined up in the gap. His college tape shows that he doesn’t get beat on his first step. Westerman is a combination of a great first step, solid build, outstanding strength, and nastiness – an equation that adds up to a more-than-serviceable NFL center. His college tape also shows that he can absolutely bury a defensive lineman when he gets his mitts on him. My biggest question is whether or not he will be able to handle the offensive line calls necessary in the pros. Will he be able to recognize the defensive fronts and make the needed adjustments?
If Paul Alexander sticks to his guns on Bodine (he has often defended the current center), Westerman becomes an instant capable backup for all three of the interior offensive line positions. Let’s face it, offensive lineman get hurt … often. Having a starting-caliber backup is a luxury that many teams don’t have. If he doesn’t unseat Bodine at center, Westerman should instantly fall in line behind both Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler at guard (along with potentially filling the center position if needed). Look at the offensive line we could see in orange and black this year, (from RT to LT) Winston/Fisher, Zeitler, Bodine/Westerman, Boling, and All-Pro Whitworth. This is a lineup that should keep the offensive weapons clean and highly effective.
The Westerman pick was the Bengals recognizing a need – even if it is for an extremely capable backup – and addressing that need. I honestly believe that Westerman will be starting on this offensive line somewhere in the interior this year, he is too athletic and has this inherent nastiness to him that will catapult him into the starting lineup. With Alexander’s tutelage I expect Westerman to be a very good NFL offensive lineman for years to come, making this fifth-round pick a steal.