Let me precede this piece by saying the following: I know nothing about being an offensive lineman.
Before you click away, allow me to make the case for why you should read this evaluation (also, there's clips on the bottom).
I have a deep respect for what players do in the trenches. While I may be on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of physical stature, watching large human beings fight to clear each other out of the way has grown to be one of my favorite aspects of football.
Ahead of the 2015 NFL Draft, I watched a replay of LSU vs Wisconsin so I could watch the Tigers' La'el Collins and Badgers' Rob Havenstein, two of the highest-regarded offensive line prospects in the class.
I wanted them to play for my favorite team immediately.
Every possession it felt like Collins was dismantling multiple defenders, and it seemed like Havenstein handled his opposition with ease, too.
Right then and there I realized I have a type of lineman I like watching more than any kind -- nasty.
The kind that whips his opponent, throws him around like a rag doll, then steamrolls another downfield. Gritty, tough football with a brings-his-lunchpail-to-work-type mean streak.
While it's fun to watch maulers, understanding what makes them and the subtle-but-still-dominant trenchworkers successful is still admittedly new to me.
For this breakdown, I reached out to the two offensive line gurus -- Citrus College (Calif.) offensive coordinator Gary Watkins (@BallCoachGW) and expert Blackhandside (@blackhandside). Their insight will help us break down what makes former Arizona State Sun Devils guard Christian Westerman a legitimate NFL prospect.
"A guard has to be a powerful man." - Watkins
Westerman was lauded as one of the strongest players in college football this past year.
At 6-foot-3, 296 pounds (weight at the Senior Bowl; weight ranged between 300-305 pounds during the season), he presents the figure of a guard, and his Combine measurements (should) solidify that.
While he's not a bad athlete, his work during strength drills will be what draws him attention at Lucas Oil Stadium this week.
Although the Combine is a fun national spectacle, what's done on the field is, at the end of the day, considered to be what's most indicative of what kind of player a prospect is.
So, before diving in the film, I asked my experts what makes a good offensive lineman and what traits are of the most important.
"[An offensive lineman] has to exhibit some kind of fundamentals. Does he change the line of scrimmage?" - Watkins
Westerman graded out as one of the top interior linemen in the country last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The site even listed him as one of their top-10 risers from Senior Bowl week.
"The one-on-one drills in the trenches largely favor the defensive players, but Westerman acquitted himself well all week. He came into the week with the top pass-blocking grade among the guards in attendance (+8.4), after surrendering only a sack, five hits, and nine hurries on 608 attempts this season, and he backed that up this week, as he was one of the top one-on-one performers. While this class has a number of power-blocking guards such as Joshua Garnett and Sebastian Tretola, Westerman will rank higher for teams looking to shore up interior pass protection in a zone-blocking scheme."
Blackhandside explained Westerman's footwork can be improved and that he likes to lean, but if he can fix or even mask these flaws he should manage to forge a long-term career.
The consensual read on Westerman is that the potential and intangibles are undeniably there, but there's areas in which he can improve.
What type of player is he?
There are generally two types of offensive linemen: technicians and maulers.
"A technician has excellent feet and uses leverage, hand placement and footwork to win. (Perfect example is watching Nick Mangold of the Jets play Danny Shelton of the Browns.)
Maulers use strength to overpower opponents. (Ex: Raiders guard Gabe Jackson)
The good thing about Westerman is he mixes both pretty nicely."
- Blackhandside (@blackhandside)
"Mixes both" is what I came away with from watching his tape from this season. There are moments when Westerman looked to enforce his will on opponents (particularly in the run game), but there are also matchups in which he'd be outmatched athletically, but utilize fundamentals to win on a play.
"A guard has to be a road grater. Can he run block? Can he win one-on-one base blocks?" - Watkins
This is the best part about Westerman's game.
He sincerely enjoys run blocking, regularly sealing defenders off to open running lanes and getting into the second level to administer his presence.
"When watching a guy, you ask yourself: can he pull, and can he find backers in space? Playing in space is a big deal now." - Watkins
ASU ran a zone-blocking scheme, and I came away with the impression that Westerman is solid as far as advancing through the waves of the defense, but not extraordinarily great.
Westerman isn't the best athlete at guard, but still is agile enough to get out in front of runners from time to time. Its a trait which, if he is able to develop fully at the next level, will be an asset.
"[He] needs work in second-level blocks. Excellent athlete and tenacious as hell. He's mean." - Blackhandside
Westerman's tape provided some fun moments as far as decleating defenders.
While Westerman isn't putting defenders on their back every time he reaches the second level, these type of plays aren't all too uncommon. He's fun to watch when he's clearing the path for ball carriers to run through.
It goes without saying that NFL players won't be as easy to toss around, but when someone possesses the type of brute strength Westerman does -- if they're able to learn how to distribute it -- it can make for plays like these at the next level.
"A guard needs to be strong enough to maintain a pass block is he able to maintain the depth of the pocket." - Watkins
" [Westerman] needs to work on his "pass set" (preparation for impact by a defender). If he has a good anchor, he can excel. At this point he doesn't." - Blackhandside
This is where Westerman needs to improve at the next level.
While Texas A&M's Myles Garrett may be an exception here (he could walk onto an NFL team and start right now, if allowed), Westerman could stand to improve in his pass protection.
This is where maintaining a balanced base and utilizing arm length comes into play.
Projection: 4th round
Opinions range on Westerman as far as projections are concerned.
Ahead of the Combine, NFL.com lists the Arizona State product as the No. 11 offensive lineman (No. 4 guard), with a grade of 5.75.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report ranked Westerman as the No. 114 overall player of this class, and his No. 7 guard back in January.
Meanwhile, CBS Sports ranks him as their No. 5 guard (81st overall) with a 2nd-3rd round projection.
Blackhandside grades him as a 4th-5th round prospect "with OUTSTANDING potential," and added that he really likes Westerman.
The fourth round seems like the middle ground amongst folk, so it seems like a safe projection.
Regardless, there's plenty to like with the former 5-star high school recruit and offensive line prodigy. Landing in a favorable spot will provide him an opportunity to play in the NFL for a very long time, given his pedigree, apparent ability and untapped potential.
Thanks to Gary Watkins and Blackhandside for their insight for this breakdown.