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An underdog no more, OT Rashawn Slater is poised to turn heads in the 2021 NFL Draft

The Northwestern product opted out of the 2020 season, but feels more prepared than ever for the pro’s

Ohio State v Northwestern Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Five.

That is how many collegiate offers former Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater received coming out of high school. The number pales in comparison to the honors he has since earned.

Slater started at right tackle beginning in his rookie season at Northwestern as one of 13 true freshman to see action. He was graded the No. 1 freshman offensive lineman in the country by Pro Football Focus, helping to pave the way for running back Justin Jackson’s 1,000-yard season. Slater’s 37-game career as a Wildcat was punctuated by a consensus All-Big Ten Honorable Mention season in 2019 in which he allowed just one quarterback hit and zero sacks.

Slater solidified himself as one of the best offensive lineman in NU history, a program known for its dedication and underdog mentality. He enters the 2021 NFL Draft ranked as the No. 7 overall prospect by NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and is considered one of the top lineman in the draft overall. With the Giants, who have the No. 11 overall pick, he could play right tackle or either guard spot.

The Giants, of course, selected another offensive tackle in Andrew Thomas with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft last year. But Thomas was underwhelming in his freshman campaign, recording a blown block rate of 5.8%, which was the highest among tackles with 300 or more snaps in pass protection, according to Sports Info Solutions charting.

The Giants, and Daniel Jones specifically, could therefore use some more protection up-front. Jones did manage to cut down his turnover rate last season, but he still tied for the league lead with 11 fumbles perhaps in large part because of a 9.1% sack rate.

Slater could therefore provide some much-needed help on the offensive line. His athleticism allows him to play multiple o-line positions and will give the Giants some insurance if Thomas does not have a strong sophomore season.

“I think I am the best tackle in the draft,” Slater said after his Pro Day. “I have a really high level of confidence about that.”

Slater has maintained that confidence throughout the complications of the last year when he chose to opt out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When Northwestern’s head coach Pat Fitzgerald offered Slater tickets to the team’s Big 10 championship game against Ohio State, Slater opted not to go so as to avoid being a distraction.

“I made my decision to keep training whenever the season restarted, and it was my decision to see that through,” Slater explained. “Once I made that decision, I had to give it all to it. The team knew they had my full support. I was the first guy watching the game and rooting them on. And they knew that but at the same time, I took a different path.”

Slater’s distance from Northwestern’s football team this past season does not limit the impact he has had on the program. NU has only had one player selected in the top 22 since the NFL merger about 50 years ago.

“They do everything right here,” Slater said. “And the way they develop us as athletes, I think I’m not gonna be the last by any means. It’s a huge honor to be able to represent them. Hopefully this is the start of a new norm.”

Meanwhile instead of practicing and playing alongside Lake Michigan at Ryan Field, Slater has spent the time training in Dallas, Texas under the guidance of offensive line coach Duke Manyweather. Slater said that the year has been productive as he’s worked on improving his mobility, body composition and overall strength. He maintains that training with Manyweather has put him in a position to learn something new every day, whether that be how to move more efficiently or leverage better.

Manyweather has praised Slater’s competitive and focused mentality throughout.

“I just feel like my punching mentality is all just a product of being prepared,” Slater said. “When you feel most confident is when I feel most prepared. When I know I put in the work, I’ve done my due diligence, I’ve studied the film, the technique and all that. What I’ve been doing this entire time is learning more about the game, learning more about technique and just work in improving my body.”

The hard work Slater put in this past season has paid off so far as he delivered an impressive performance at Northwestern’s Pro Day. He finished the day with strong numbers in the 40-yard dash, bench press, three cone drill and 10-yard split. Slater credited his success to good genes and hard work. But he also expressed gratitude to his father, Reggie Slater, who played in the NBA for 11 seasons.

“Throughout my life, he’s always been that athletic influence,” Slater said. “He played center at 6-6. He was definitely a grinder and taught me everything I know about his work ethic and being able to battle through adversity and stuff like that.”

Slater believes that it is his physical (he’s 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds) and mental toughness that makes him stand out entering the 2021 NFL Draft.

“I just think I’m the most consistent tackle in the draft,” Slater said. “I’m able to win in different ways. I’m consistent, I get my job done. And the way I changed my sense of my technique and stuff like that, not everyone else does.”

One of the standout moments of Slater’s 2019 season came when he was able to dominate Ohio State’s Chase Young - the Washington Football Team edge rusher who won Defensive Rookie of the Year last season.

“I mean my mindset was just, you know, what everyone says, ‘This is the best guy,’ so I’m going to go out there and show them that I am,” Slater said of his experience playing Young in college. “I did all my same normal film study and preparation. And I just had a plan of attack.”

Slater has already been projected to go to multiple teams in the first round in addition to the Giants, including the San Francisco 49ers, who have the No. 12 overall pick and the Los Angeles Chargers, who have the No. 13 overall pick. Slater said that he is open to playing both guard and center at the next level.

“I’m a team player,” Slater said. “If a team wants to play me at guard, so be it. I’m all for it. As long as that’s what’s best for the team I’m happy to play whatever position they need me at.”

Regardless of where Slater winds up, his college career has proven that he should not be underestimated. The 653rd-ranked prospect in the 2017 recruiting class is en route to being a first-round pick.

“I can do it all,” Slater said.