It would be difficult to miss Rashawn Slater on the football field. The 6-foot-4, 315-pound offensive tackle out of Northwestern may fall short of a prototypical NFL tackle, but Slater rarely let a play slip, especially in his last active collegiate season. When preparing for the 2020 season, Slater’s final year in the Big Ten Conference took an unexpected turn. The COVID-19 pandemic that continues to affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives changed the course of Slater’s blooming career.
When the Big Ten made its initial decision to postpone the 2020 season, Slater and a large number of draft-eligible players were now facing a decision of their own: They would either opt-out of the season and continue their preparations for the 2021 NFL Draft or remain in limbo, waiting for the latest coronavirus update to determine whether they would play—and if they decided to play, would it be wise to have a shortened season potentially budding directly against the draft process?
Now, in hindsight, we can see how the 2020 college season played out. But no one could have predicted it. Once the Big Ten reversed its decision, allowing players who initially opted-out the chance to return, Slater didn’t. He had already made a commitment to focus on the pre-draft process, and he never played his senior season. Instead, Slater trained with Duke Manyweather, affectionately known as the offensive line guru, at the Michael Johnson Performance in Slater’s home state of Texas. He turned his focus to ways he can improve and learned to use his leverage better and be more powerful off the line of scrimmage.
Many were and still are quick to frame Slater’s decision to opt-out as something negative, something NFL teams will look down upon, or perhaps something that could hurt his draft stock. This, however, would be ill-advised. Slater used his time away from the pressures of a shortened, coronavirus-stricken season to focus fully on the prep work and training he would have been doing anyway. It’s working to his advantage.
The Draft Network ranks Slater just outside the top 10, at No. 12, and the third offensive tackle off the board behind Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw. Slater’s standing within the draft community quite literally only goes up from there as either the top OT in the 2021 class, in agreement with others, or a higher draft pick, rounding out the top three in some cases. Whether he actively participated in the 2020 season or not, Slater was still going to put on a show; and he did during Northwestern’s virtual Pro Day on Tuesday.
“Either way, I was going to be the same person,” he told media tiled together on Zoom after an impressive set of workouts. “I was going to be consistent in my preparation. It happened to go this way but things would have gone well both ways.”
So, with no 2020 tape and no recent, crucial game-day experience, where does Slater’s power come from? His approach to remaining pro-ready without taking live snaps.
“It’s two things: good genes and hard work,” he said. “I inherited a lot of athleticism from my dad and just put in the work to get it done to be able to put up numbers like that.”
What has also helped Slater’s rise up draft boards and his status as, arguably, this year’s top offensive tackle is his 2019 season and specifically his matchup against now-Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young. The NFL’s 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year was a wrecking ball in his final season at Ohio State; Young’s 2019 numbers, through just 12 games, garnered a second-overall selection in the 2020 draft. No one could stop him until Young came face-to-face with Slater.
While Slater will list off multiple games during the 2019 season that displayed his power—including performances against Michigan State, Purdue, and Iowa—everyone else will point to that specific Ohio State performance. Northwestern lost, badly. The 52-3 defeat was its worst loss that season, but it was also the turning point of Slater’s career and now his future in the NFL. When matched up with the best college football had to offer, Slater allowed zero sacks, zero quarterback hits, and only two quarterback hurries. He ended the 2019 season allowing no sacks, only one quarterback hit, and four quarterback hurries in 355 pass-blocking snaps. Slater’s mindset at that time is seemingly unchanged from his mindset now.
During that 2019 season, he thought: “Everyone says [Young] is the best guy so I’m going to go out there and show them that I am.” Slater prepared for that matchup like any other, doing the film study and preparation like usual; and when he executed, everyone noticed—similar to how everyone, despite his absence from collegiate football circles, noticed him again during his Pro Day. Due to the absence of the traditional NFL Scouting Combine, this was Slater’s last chance to put on a show. If there are lingering questions, any concerns on whether Slater will be an effective NFL offensive tackle, teams can watch Slater’s reruns.
“The tape speaks for itself,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said earlier Tuesday. “He continued to work, continued to try to bring the offense along in 2019. He did his job. When you look at the tape, Rashawn Slater jumps off of it.”
It would be difficult to find a person who doesn’t rave about Slater; even with Fitzgerald’s high praise to teammates boasting about his dedication and leadership to Manyweather’s esteemed compliments, comparing Slater’s mentality to that of NBA’s Kobe Bryant, Slater’s production has spoken for itself. After three relentless seasons, he has a simple formula for his success. It’s not to say the work isn’t hard, it’s that he works hard. Slater’s improvements from his strength to football IQ to his athletic abilities continued to develop with his deep commitment to the work. He’s pro-ready by Fitzgerald’s, Manyweather’s, and his own standards. Slater has devised and nurtured his own Mamba Mentality.
“When I feel most confident, I feel most prepared,” Slater said. “I know I’ve put in the work. I’ve done my due diligence, I’ve studied the film, the technique, and all of that; really, it’s what I’ve been doing this entire time, just learning the game, learning more about technique, and working to improve my body. It all comes down to preparation.”
Slater’s preparation will result in a high draft selection, but it’s unclear what position he’ll play in the NFL. There’s concern about his size, specifically his arm length, and teams might have an inclination to move Slater to guard or center. Slater wouldn’t be opposed, but he’s confident in what he can bring to the next level.
“I think I’m the best tackle in the draft and I have a really high level of confidence about that, but at the same time I’m a team player so if a team wants to play me at guard, so be it,” he said. “I’m all for it; as long as that’s what best for the team, I’m happy to play whatever position they need me at.”