The Bengals typically don’t play rookies much, if at all in their first NFL season.
That was the case with Christian Westerman, though it was by no fault of his own that the talented guard couldn’t see the field at all in the 2016 regular season. With Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler locking down both guard spots, there simply wasn’t a real chance or need for Westerman to see the field.
Even when Boling went down with a shoulder injury, the Bengals moved Andrew Whitworth to guard so they could test out what Cedric Ogbuehi could do at left tackle. All of this led to Westerman being inactive for 15 games as a rookie (and he didn’t play one snap in his one active game). But don’t let that cloud what could very well be a bright future for the former Arizona State guard.
Westerman, who was selected with the 161st pick in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, was a stud lineman for the Sun Devils during his collegiate career. He started 25 games from 2014-15 for ASU and was a second-team All Pac-12 player as a senior in 2015.
Though he fell to Day 3 before hearing his name called, Westerman has the potential to become a quality NFL starter. Going into the draft, nearly all of Westerman's projections had him going as high as Round 2, but the Bengals were able to snag him three rounds later.
CBS Sports had Westerman ranked as their 61st-best prospect, while Sports Illustrated had him ranked 55th. NFL.com had Westerman ranked as the 59th-best prospect, the same ranking Yahoo Sports gave him.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compared Westerman to Alex Mack in his draft evaluation. As you may recall, Mack became a Pro Bowl center for the Browns before signing a big deal with the Falcons this offseason that led to him helping them make it to the Super Bowl.
The Bengals mostly worked Westerman at guard in training camp and the preseason, so it looks like that’s where his NFL position will be. That may be a smart play with Kevin Zeitler about to hit free agency. If he leaves, Westerman would compete for the starting right guard spot in 2017.
Westerman was uneven in the limited time we saw him in the preseason, showing some promising moments, but some struggles as well. But it’s rare that a rookie linemen plays much with Paul Alexander’s blocking scheme taking time to fully embrace.
Even guys like Whitworth didn’t begin showing their full potential until a few years of being in Alexander's scheme, so Westerman could be on a similar learning curve. We didn’t get to see Westerman in action this season, but that could change in a big way in 2017.