NFL games are won and lost in the trenches—just ask the Kansas City Chiefs. While most fans are a bit underwhelmed when their team spends a high draft pick to fortify the offensive line, it’s imperative to remember that the steak is more important than the sizzle. In other words, the practical—and ultimately best choice—isn’t always the flashy one that will garner headlines.
Throughout the 2021 NFL Draft process, there has been one crown jewel when it comes to offensive linemen: Oregon’s Penei Sewell. At one point, Sewell was labeled a “generational talent” at offensive tackle. But a 2020 opt-out and the always-scrutinous pre-draft evaluation process has taken some of the luster off Sewell—but not that much. Sewell is still the overwhelming favorite to be the first offensive lineman off the board on April 29.
Can anyone challenge him for that top spot?
While the 2021 class is filled with plenty of quality Day-1 offensive line options like Christian Darrisaw, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Teven Jenkins, Jalen Mayfield, and Sam Cosmi, the only lineman that really appears to even have a remote chance of knocking Sewell off his perch is Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater.
Remember the aforementioned “always-scrutinous pre-draft evaluation”? Well, during that process it was Slater’s name that was bandied about as the potential top offensive lineman in the draft. The narrative was that the league would be higher on Slater than media evaluators. That talk has died down, but what are the chances that Slater actually gets drafted ahead of Sewell? Let’s take a look at a player vs. player draft slot prop bet, courtesy of BetOnline.
Who will be selected first?
- Penei Sewell (-400)
- Rashawn Slater (+250)
As previously mentioned, Sewell is a strong favorite to be the first of these two players selected on the opening night of the draft. Sewell could go as high as No. 3 overall but is expected to be a top-five pick, with the Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, and Cincinnati Bengals all being prime candidates to draft the former Duck.
Comparing the two players side by side, Sewell is TDN’s consensus No. 2 overall player. He plays with a ton of power, competitiveness, and is expected to immediately play tackle at the next level. Slater is TDN’s consensus No. 12 overall player. He is fundamentally sound, has tremendous footwork, and has the versatility to play any position on the offensive line—he also had an awesome Pro Day.
It will be fascinating to see what position Slater is expected to play for the team that drafts him and if that could change depending on what happens on Day 2 of the draft. However, as Kyle Crabbs said in his premium scouting report linked above, Slater’s ceiling is the lowest at tackle. Teams that view him as a guard or center won’t value him near the top five, where Sewell is expected to go. Unless the Bengals view Slater as their OT1, it appears the most likely landing spots for the former Wildcat are in the Nos. 10-13 range of the first round.
Given Sewell’s overall upside as a tackle prospect, the increased likelihood a team would trade up for him if he slips, and the lack of interior offensive line prioritization for teams that possess the first several picks of the draft, the most likely player to be off the board first between Sewell and Slater is Sewell. However, Slater is reportedly highly regarded enough to place a small wager on if his odds increase significantly from +250—I'd be willing to place a half-unit bet on him if he gets to +400 or higher.
Best Bet: Penei Sewell (-400) unless you can find Slater at 4/1 or longer odds
Let's take a look at both players' over/under draft positions as well, starting with Sewell:
- Over 5.5 (-160)
- Under 5.5 (+120)
Sewell is in play for both the Falcons at No. 4 and Bengals at No. 5, but he might not be the top player on either board. Atlanta could have its eye on a quarterback (Trey Lance, perhaps) or a trade for a team moving up for a quarterback. Cincinnati could definitely use Sewell, but will they pass on getting Joe Burrow his favorite receiver Ja'Marr Chase or all-around stud tight end Kyle Pitts?
I'm of the belief four quarterbacks open the draft, leaving every other position available for the Bengals at No. 5. If that's the case, there's still only a 50/50 chance Cincinnati takes Sewell over a pass-catcher, so the odds are not favorable enough to bet the under here.
Best Bet: Over 5.5 (-160)
As for Slater, here's his over/under:
- Over 10.5 (+110)
- Under 10.5 (-150)
Slater should have a few suitors in the bottom half of the top 10. The Detroit Lions could be interested at No. 7, but pick Nos. 8 (Carolina) and 10 (Dallas) feel like the most likely landing spots. Both franchises are in need of an offensive line upgrade and Slater can have an immediate impact for both teams.
Best Bet: Under 10.5 (-150)