The NFL is constantly on the lookout for prospects with the potential to be good starters who can contribute at the high level. And while that is true of every position, there is a constant need across the NFL for starting caliber offensive linemen. While there are 64 starting offensive tackles, 64 starting guards, and 32 starting centers in the NFL, those aren’t the numbers of players who are truly starting caliber players at those positions
Despite opting out of the 2020 college football season, Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater has been one of the fastest risers over the course of the draft process. Slater’s rise has been fueled by evaluators getting the chance to sit with his tape and dig into his athleticism and versatility.
Slater has been touted as a “five tool” offensive lineman, a Jack Of All Trades who could play any position on the offensive line at the NFL level.
But is that true? And could he benefit by mastering one position?
Prospect: Rashawn Slater
Games Played: 38 (11 in 2019)
Best: Athleticism, zone blocking, double teams, football IQ, positional versatility
Worst: Play strength, frame
Projection: A starting center or guard in a zone blocking scheme which values athleticism.
(Note: Slater is LT number 70)
Rashawn Slater is an athletic and versatile offensive line prospect from Northwestern University. Slater has played several positions along the Wildcats’ offensive line, most recently aligning as their left tackle for the 2019 season.
He shows good balance and flexibility at the start of the play, with the foot speed to move easily in a kick-slide. Slater has enough lower-body flexibility to sit into his stance and maintain good hip and pad level. He has the athleticism to mirror most defenders in pass protection, and is able to stalemate most power rushers with good hand placement and leverage.
Slater is best as a run blocker in zone blocking schemes in general and outside zone in particular. He makes good use of his athleticism to stress defensive fronts horizontally when he is on the play side, as well as to cut off pursuit when he is on the back side of the play. Slater’s long speed is also useful on screen plays, as he is able to get — and stay — ahead of the play and make blocks in space.
Slater’s athleticism allows him to take advantage of positioning and angles in his blocking. He is at his best when gaining half-man leverage on defenders, working in double teams on a combo block, and working to the second level.
Slater’s biggest issue is a lack of play strength. He is able to hold up defenders when he is able to maintain good pad level and establish inside leverage with his hands or half-man leverage with his position. However, even smaller defenders are able to walk him backwards if he loses any kind of leverage. Likewise, he doesn’t generate much movement in power run schemes, which could limit his scheme diversity. Slater can also be prone to letting his pad level rise over the course of longer plays, as well as over-setting to the outside and giving up his inside shoulder when faced with athletic pass rushers.
He will also need to clean up his hand usage at the NFL level. Slater can be prone to letting his hands come in low or wide, giving up his own chest plate and making it difficult to establish his blocks. He can also have issues with blocking accuracy in space.
Overall Grade: 8.8 - This prospect has the athletic and mental traits to be a starter in the NFL, but could need to transition to a new position.
Northwesterns’ Rashawn Slater projects as a starting interior offensive lineman in an offense which uses zone blocking principles and values athleticism more than power. He might be best served by learning the center position at the NFL level.
While Slater’s athleticism would suggest a potential future at offensive tackle, his relative lack of length and definite lack of play strength make for a very narrow margin for error. He can hold up against NFL EDGE defenders, but needs to maintain perfect leverage and technique to do so — along with getting some help from the scheme.
Instead, a move to the interior would help to cover for his arm length and slight tendency to over-set to the outside and give up his inside shoulder to edge rushers. It would also allow Slater more opportunities to work off of double-teams with his linemates. The center position could be the best fit for him, as it has a relatively high athletic premium and centers are frequently tasked with providing double teams and working to the second level.
Slater might best be thought of as a “Mike Shanahan” style offensive lineman who uses his athleticism and football IQ to win with angles and position as opposed to overpowering defenders. Zone blocking schemes play to Slater’s strengths and he is able to execute them well on both the play side and back side.
While Slater should be a good starting lineman in the right position and scheme, his frame and play style could limit his appeal based on a team’s offensive system.