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NFL draft: OT Rashawn Slater's performance vs. Chase Young shows first-round potential

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Although NFL scouts already had been eying Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater, it was his performance against Ohio State in 2019 — and particularly vs. Chase Young — that really put the Wildcats standout on the 2021 NFL draft map.

As Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reported Thursday, Slater is now leaving school early and preparing for the 2021 draft, joining a growing list of prospects who won’t suit up in 2020. The Big Ten chose not to have a fall season but is exploring playing in the spring.

Northwestern was thrashed in that game vs. OSU, 52-3. But Slater’s performance against Young, this year’s No. 2 overall pick and a favorite for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, won’t soon be forgotten. You could argue that Slater handled his reps against Young as well as anyone Young faced last season.

Young’s sack that night came vs. Northwestern’s other tackle. The only tangible successes he had was when he wasn’t going head-to-head against Slater.

It’s the kind of tape every NFL scouting department will watch again closely to evaluate his stock, and we believe Slater has a chance to be Northwestern’s first first-rounder since DL Luis Castillo in 2005. The two major national scouting services, BLESTO and National, gave Slater summer grades in the first-to-second-round range.

Either way, Slater will be the Wildcats’ first drafted offensive lineman since Zach Strief (Round 7, 2006).

Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater, right, held up extremely well in his 2019 head-to-head battle with Ohio State's Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater, right, held up extremely well in his 2019 head-to-head battle with Ohio State's Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Many decision makers already saw Slater’s performance against Ohio State up close. That game last season was attended by a who’s who of scouting heavyweights, among them five GMs (Kevin Colbert, Brandon Beane, Ryan Pace, Chris Ballard, Rick Spielman) plus two top scouting lieutenants (Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Saints personnel director Jeff Ireland).

We spoke to one of those GMs following the game, and there was plenty of talk about Ohio State’s trove of talent. But Slater was easily Northwestern’s brightest spot.

Of course, one game does not make a draft evaluation. Thankfully, Slater has plenty of other good tape to fall back on. He started 30 straight games for the Wildcats at both left and right tackle prior to missing one game last season against Nebraska with an undisclosed injury.

He returned to play the next game against Young and Ohio State and will finish his standout career with 38 starts and 2,700 offensive snaps played.

Slater didn’t allow a sack last season, per Pro Football Focus, and turned in some really clean efforts against top pass-rushing opponents at Michigan State, Iowa and Minnesota. He also turned in a nice hustle play in a season-ending upset of Illinois, making a tackle 25 yards across the field after an interception on the runback.

A source told Yahoo Sports that NFL scouts have a Zoom meeting scheduled with Northwestern on Thursday afternoon, and Slater’s name is sure to come up plenty on that call. He and LB Paddy Fisher, whose stock could be hurt by the Big Ten’s lost season, are the Wildcats’ best pair of prospects in a single draft class in several years.

The one lingering concern with Rashawn Slater

The biggest knock on Slater right now is his size. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds (and evaluators believe he’s a shade smaller on both), Slater will be on the low end for a starting NFL tackle. His arm length is also likely shorter than the 34-inch median at the position.

A similar size comp would be Isaiah Wynn, whom the Patriots made the 22nd pick in the draft two years ago. It’s reasonable to compare the two prospects in terms of style and size, and Slater is actually a tad larger.

Like Wynn, Slater’s game is well-rounded as both a quality run blocker and pass protector. He also has the positional versatility of having played both tackle spots, and he could easily make the transition inside if needed, we feel.

Although he was flagged for eight penalties last season — including three holds on run plays and three false starts — Slater is an athletic mover with good recovery ability and quality grip strength. The son of former NBA small forward Reggie Slater, he shares his dad’s springy athleticism but in a larger frame.

Slater can be shocked and knocked back by powerful and longer-framed defenders. Once he learns to harness leverage better in his favor, which will be a challenge at his size, he can develop as a starting-caliber tackle in the NFL.

The 2021 offensive tackle group is shaping up as potentially uneven, appearing to lack in quality depth. At the very top, Oregon’s Penei Sewell has all the earmarks of a top-five pick. He’s the clear bellwether of the group.

After that, there’s a bit of a drop-off. Slater, Texas’ Samuel Cosmi and Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood appear to make up the next tier right now. All three could end up in the first-round picture, partially because of that lack of depth, although some teams might view Slater and Leatherwood as guard candidates.

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