Rashawn Slater
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Rashawn Slater Is The Best Offensive Tackle In The 2021 Class

Since the beginning of this draft cycle, Penei Sewell has been ranked as the 2021 class’ top offensive tackle prospect. For most analysts, it seems that the first team that is in the market for an offensive tackle will pick Sewell. The way things are stacking up, it looks like that team will be either the Cincinnatti Bengals or the Detroit Lions. The top-3 picks will likely be quarterbacks and Atlanta’s pick will probably not be an offensive tackle. This means that Cincinnatti will have their pick of big men, but if they decide that they can’t pass up on a talent like Ja’Marr Chase Miami is unlikely to take a tackle and the decision will fall to the Detroit Lions.

While most analysts would say that, given the choice, the easy pick would be Sewell, I’m not sure teams should be so quick to dismiss Slater. Make no mistake, Penei Sewell is an incredible talent. 6-6 330-pounders that can move like Sewell do not come along very often. That being said, Slater still seems like the safe pick to me. Slater and Sewell have very similar stats, allowing only a handful of sacks between them. The comparison, then, needs to be made in a different way, since both are ridiculously consistent.

Consider two games from 2019: Oregon vs. Auburn and Northwestern vs. Ohio State

I feel like this is a pretty strong way to compare Sewell and Slater. In these games, both prospects were often matched up with elite NFL prospects: Derrick Brown (and Nick Coe) and Chase Young. When you have two guys that can’t be differentiated by consistency, the best way is to look at the tape; to see what they look like when they’re forced to line up against top NFL talent.

Let’s start with Sewell. In Oregon’s game against Auburn, Sewell didn’t have a bad game by any means. He had some great reps. He did, however, experience some problems against Auburn’s talented 2019 defensive line. On one play, Nick Coe hits him with a routine hump move and absolutely tosses Sewell. In the run game, Derrick Brown made Sewell look like a regular guy on more than a few plays, standing him up and shedding him pretty easily. Auburn’s defensive line was spectacular that year, but if you’re the guy that’s being christened as the next great NFL offensive tackle, you need to be dominating when you get the opportunity to play against other first-round picks, especially considering the fact that Pac-12 isn’t exactly replete with first-round pass rushers. Big time players step up in big time moments and it honestly seems like that moment at Auburn was a little big for Sewell. To be fair, that was almost two years ago. Sewell was a teenager last time he suited up for a game, and he very well may have got a chance to show up against big-time pass rushers. I guess that’s the problem with opting out. He may have stepped up, but we won’t know how much he’s improved until we see him in an NFL training camp.

Rashawn Slater’s game against Chase Young was a different story. Let’s tell it like it is: Slater absolutely dogged Chase Young. Northwestern’s coaching staff needed Slater to step up in a big way against who some would have said was the best player in the country. Young had no answer for Slater. Honestly, it was Young that looked a little bit overmatched. I wish I had more to say to dive deeper into the film but there isn’t much else to say. Slater was put into a big-time moment and played a big-time game. In fact, Slater balled out against a ton of top-tier pass rushers. On top of Chase Young, Slater also played very well against Kwitty Paye and Jayson Oweh, both of which will likely be first-round selections in the 2021 NFL Draft. The advantage here is plain to see. Not only was Slater about as consistent as Sewell in terms of sacks, he did against top-tier talent every single week.

The other thing that I love about Rashawn Slater is that he clearly took this season, from which he opted out, very seriously. I’ve always said that I don’t think it’ll be a huge knock on a lot of these first-round type guys if they decided to opt out. There is a difference in what scouts will look at, though. The question will shift from “how did they play this season” to “how did they use the time off to improve”. It could be a huge bump for a guy’s stock if it is clear that he balled out in the weight room in 2020, kinda like Slater did. Go ahead. Look at a picture of Slater from 2019 and one from his pro day. He transformed his body in a noticeable way, as evidenced by the fact that he ran a 4.88 at 305 pounds and threw up 225 33 times on the bench. Sewell had a great pro day too, but Slater clearly spent the time since he last played grinding in the weight room.

Overall, I think teams will be happy with either pick. The reason that I think Slater is better isn’t that I think Sewell is overrated, it’s that I think Slater is underrated. He was pretty close to perfect in a conference that arguably boasts the best pass rushers in the country and he looks like he’s been living in the weight room during the 2020 season. The talent, work ethic and consistency are second to none, not even Sewell.