Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater opting out of senior season to declare for NFL draft

One of the top offensive line prospects in the country is opting out of his senior season and declaring for the NFL draft.

Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview that he will not play his senior season. Slater said the decision manifested itself after an ongoing dialogue with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.

“I didn’t think a winter or spring season allows for optimal recovery or training to have a great rookie year,” Slater told Yahoo Sports. “I talked about it with everyone. Everyone at Northwestern has been extremely supportive. They’ve had open and honest conversations with me. I can tell they wanted the best for me.”

Slater is a 6-foot-4, 308-pound offensive tackle who is considered a consensus top-40 player by NFL teams. Considering the dearth of quality college tackles in recent years and the trend of teams reaching for them recently — Austin Jackson, Isaiah Wilson, Andre Dillard and Tytus Howard — it would be surprising if Slater didn’t end up going in the first round.

Slater brings a skill set and versatility that’s intriguing to NFL teams. He started at tackle in 37 of his 38 career games, with 11 starts at left tackle coming in 2019. Slater has the ability to also play guard and says he’s capable of playing every position on the line. While he’s shorter than NFL prototypes at tackle, he compensates for that with quick feet and strong technique. Multiple scouts used the New England Patriots’ 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn as a comparison.

“He plays with really good balance and technique,” an NFL scout told Yahoo Sports. “He has good patience and rarely gets out of position.

Rashawn Slater looks on during a timeout of a Northwestern game.
Rashawn Slater is a 6-foot-4, 308-pound offensive tackle who is considered a consensus top-40 player by NFL teams. (Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

The film that NFL scouts will focus on will be Slater’s performance against Ohio State defensive end Chase Young on Oct. 18 of last year. Slater showcased his deft footwork, and it led to one of Young’s quietest performances in his Heisman-caliber season.

Young lined up on Slater’s side on 25 of Young’s 45 reps, and directly matched up 15 of those. According to Pro Football Focus, Slater allowed just two quarterback hurries and no quarterback hits the entire game against Ohio State. Young finished with just two tackles, and his lone sack came when he was lined up over Northwestern’s other tackle.

There were five general managers and 50 scouts at that game, which led to a flurry of NFL calls to Northwestern in the subsequent weeks about Slater.

Slater said that Young had success beating tackles with angles, so he focused on getting out of his stance and into a set and getting his hand placement on Young’s “outside pec” to neutralize his ability to work the edge.

“I knew going into that game it was an opportunity to show I could go against and win against the best,” Slater said. “Nothing changed from that week. I was on top of my film and prep, like always. If you watch the film, you’ll see I can play tackle.”

Slater’s pedigree is intriguing to NFL scouts. His father, Reggie, is a former basketball star at Wyoming who played in the NBA from 1994 to 2003, which included stints with the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves. Slater played with everyone from Kevin Garnett to Tracy McGrady, scoring 1,450 points in 259 career games. (Rashawn’s older brother, R.J., played on the offensive line at Air Force.)

Rashawn Slater said he learned work ethic from his dad, who’d bring the boys outside and run them through intricate basketball drills.

“He taught me everything about making daily deposits,” Rashawn Slater said. “The importance of having a vision.”

Reggie Slater hoped those basketball drills would “plant a seed for the game I love,” but soon realized he was fighting an uphill battle.

“It was always funny,” he said. “I’d have them out there doing left-handed layups, right-handed layups and dribbling. And they’d both go right inside and watch football. Immediately.”

At Northwestern, Rashawn Slater developed a reputation as a zero-maintenance player who thrived in the weight room. He famously squatted 545 pounds three times in front the team, who celebrated vociferously as he completed the reps.

“Rashawn is power, strength and athleticism all wrapped into one,” said Jay Hooten, Northwestern’s director of football performance.

Slater, a fourth-year senior, lauded his time at Northwestern and said he plans to graduate in December with a degree in communications with a minor in business institutions. He lauded his first line coach, Adam Cushing, and appreciated all the time that current line coach Kurt Anderson spent with him.

“I can’t thank him enough, from technique to teaching me the game of life through football,” Slater said. “I’m fortunate to have worked with him.”

Reggie Slater said his son’s experience at Northwestern was so positive that if he had another son he’d be eager to send him to play for Fitzgerald.

“It’s tough and challenging and exactly what you’d want your son to go through to prepare them for life,” he said. “As a parent, I’m ridiculously happy Rashawn went to Northwestern.”

As Slater eyes the next step, he said he’ll use the extra draft prep time to become a better student of the game.

“I’ve received some high praise,” he said. “To me, I look back at my film and there’s a lot of stuff I wish I can do better. I’m obsessed with getting better and continuing to master my craft.”

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