Whereas some opt-outs from this season have seen their 2021 NFL Draft stock fall, Rashawn Slater has seen his grow. Is the Northwestern offensive tackle really a contender to be the first offensive lineman drafted in April?
Rashawn Slater NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Offensive Tackle
- School: Northwestern
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 305 pounds
Rashawn Slater’s rapid ascension to being one of the hottest prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft is in stark contrast to the initial footsteps on his football journey. During his career at Clements High School, the Rangers won just three games on the football field. Despite being located in the heart of high school territory in Sugar Land, Texas, Clements has a reputation as an academic establishment rather than a football factory.
Nonetheless, Slater persevered on the field that has produced multiple NFL players, including now Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Although his efforts didn’t show in the results, Slater dominated his individual battles every time he suited up. Playing guard and defensive end, he was twice First Team All-District as an offensive lineman. He was also twice Second Team All-District on the defensive side.
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As a player on a less-than-successful team, Slater wasn’t widely courted on the recruiting trail. A three-star recruit per 247 Sports, he was regarded as the 32nd best guard and 91st overall high school prospect in the state of Texas.
Given the academic nature of his high school, it’s fitting that his first offer came from the notoriously intellectual establishment of Northwestern. With family ties to Wyoming — his father, former NBA player Reggie Slater is an alum — the Cowboys present an opportunity. However, despite an additional late offer from Rice, he elects to play football for the Northwestern Wildcats.
Rashawn Slater’s college football career at Northwestern
Despite his recruitment as a guard, Rashawn Slater played across the offensive line at Clements. As it will do for his NFL Draft stock, versatility made Rashawn Slater a valuable commodity. Northwestern wanted him to play offensive tackle, and he made an immediate impact in doing so.
Slater started 12 games at right tackle in 2017. The Northwestern offense averaged almost 30 points a game, the fourth-most in the Big Ten conference. Meanwhile, quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for the fourth-most passing yards per game in the conference with Slater protecting his right-hand side. The Big Ten Network voted him to their Freshman All-Big Ten offense.
In 2018, Slater once again started at right tackle, playing all 14 games as Northwestern won the Big Ten West. Showing a marked improvement in pass protection, he blocked Thorson’s right side for the third-most passing yards in the conference. His performances as a sophomore earned him Third Team All-Big Ten honors.
Transition to left tackle in 2019 helps elevate his NFL Draft stock
His transition to left tackle for his junior season helps to raise Rashawn Slater into NFL Draft consideration. He is credited with allowing zero sacks, one quarterback hit, and just five quarterback hurries, from 787 snaps in 2019. A consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten, he was twice named as the Northwestern Offensive Player of the Week.
One of those awards came from the Wildcats’ game against Ohio State. In what has almost become the measure of his draft stock, his performance against Chase Young was impressive and widely applauded.
Following the Big Ten’s initial decision to suspend the fall season, Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater opted out of the season and declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Rashawn Slater’s NFL Draft Profile
During his three-year college career, Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater has played himself into first-round consideration in the 2021 NFL Draft. As mentioned earlier, his versatility and work ethic make him a valuable commodity. He has experience playing both left and right tackle, plus high school experience across the offensive line.
Versatility alone doesn’t make you a first-round draft pick. Thankfully for him, he’s also developed an impressive skill set. I used developed purposefully as his tape showcases clear development from his freshman season to his final season in 2019. This would suggest he is extremely coachable, another valuable attribute.
He exhibits excellent functional athleticism for the position
Rashawn Slater can explode out of his stance and is quick to get into pass sets. Additionally, he showcases his athleticism in getting out to the second level in the run game. For as good as he is at pass protection, this athleticism is one of the reasons he rates even higher as a run blocker.
From hand placement to footwork, Slater is technically sound. He looks to get his hands inside on the opposition lineman’s chest rather than on the outside shoulder. He also exhibits good balance with zero examples in the games that I watched of him being knocked to the ground. This is also a product of his strength, which is no doubt helped by four years of high school experience of shot put and discus.
Just as impressive is his football intelligence and awareness. He is capable of diagnosing the play and coming off his completed assignment to pick up unblocked pass rushers. A further testament to his work ethic, he is always looking for work regardless of whether he has won his individual battle.
What are some potential concerns with Rashawn Slater?
Of course, no NFL Draft prospect is the finished article, and Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater does come with concerns. Although we won’t know his official measurements until the Wildcats Pro Day, it appears that his arm length is a little on the short side. This may impact the perception of his ability to play offensive tackle in the NFL.
Additionally, having sat out the 2020 college football season, he has a year with no tape to analyze and didn’t have the benefit of putting himself in front of NFL teams at a college football All-Star game such as the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Rashawn Slater’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
For some, Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater is the best offensive tackle in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Others believe that he will be better inside at guard in the NFL. In his latest big board for Pro Football Network, Tony Pauline ranks Rashawn Slater as the fifth-best guard in the class, and the 53rd best overall prospect. Pauline gives him a second-round grade.
Personally, I struggle to see him escaping the first round come the end of April. There are so many teams that need to address the offensive tackle position and the guard position. In fact, some teams even need both. The San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, and Kansas City Chiefs, are three teams that fit into the latter category.
I wouldn’t rule out the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, and Pittsburgh Steelers, either.
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