You know the Minnesota Vikings need to fix their offensive line. I know the Vikings need to fix their offensive line. And with little cap space or track record of success, it’s unlikely those improvements will come via free agency.
That leaves the 2021 NFL Draft.
The draft is kind of like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, where every decision along the way sends you down a different path. Will the Vikings keep the 14th overall pick or trade down? If they do keep the pick, can they convince Mike Zimmer to go offense-first for the third year in a row? And after all that, who’ll be on the board for the Vikings to choose?
Let’s skip ahead in this adventure, assuming Trader Rick didn’t deal out of the 14 and Zimmer’s internet access has been cut (that’s not me holding the scissors, whatever you might think). Let’s also assume the Vikings are making the smart move to invest the draft capital in a desperately needed offensive lineman to protect their multi-million dollar investment at quarterback. And finally, let’s assume that some combination of his opting out of the 2020 season and his being slightly undersized for an NFL tackle have Rashawn Slater falling into the Vikings’ lap at 14. The next choice in the adventure is easy.
The Mock Draft Database has Slater as the consensus 13th player off the board, in recent mocks being selected as high as fourth and as low as 21st. That group includes three mocks where Slater went to the Vikings at 14. If he’s still on the board at 14, Rick Spielman needs to race to the podium — virtually or in real life — with his Rashawn Slater draft card.
Originally recruited as a guard, Slater played right tackle for Northwestern in 2017, where he was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded true freshman at the position. He swapped sides in 2019 and stood out at left tackle, including what PFF called “the best tape anyone in college football had against Chase Young that season.”
Slater opted out of the 2020 season, but it’s unlikely teams have forgotten about him. What that extra time has allowed, however, is for plenty of hand-wringing that Slater’s height (between 6’3″ and 6’4″, depending on who’s measuring) and short arms (a shade under 33 inches, per ESPN) disqualify him from playing tackle at the NFL level.
The Vikings drafted a pure left tackle last year and moved him to right guard, so don’t expect them to lock Slater into a position on draft day; they clearly appreciate position versatility, and they’ll find a way to use him.
Multiple scouting reports praise Slater’s athleticism and feet (a huge plus in the outside zone), position versatility (that should get the Vikings salivating), and his ability to identify and adjust to stunts and blitzes—something sorely lacking from the Vikings’ offensive line last season.
While many scouting reports ding Slater slightly as a run-blocker, they note that he’s best in space — which is exactly how the Vikings would use him. PFF also says his anchor needs work, and given the events of the past couple of seasons I swore I wouldn’t even think about adding an interior lineman with anchor issues. But Slater’s upside has me backing off that vow. Plus, his coachability has never been questioned, so he can improve some fundamentals. Bottom line, I think the “anchor as a weakness” thing is only in comparison to everything else he does so well. I’m back on board.
Despite the undersized rap, draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Slater ranked two spots ahead of Penei Sewell on his big board. Jeremiah says Slater “can excel at left tackle,” and that if he’s kicked inside he “should quickly develop into a Pro Bowl guard.”
Pro Bowl guard, you ask? What’s that? Every team in the NFC North has had at least one Pro Bowl guard since 2016 — except the Vikings. The last guard to represent the Vikings in the Pro Bowl? Steve Hutchinson in 2009.
PFF’s NFL comp for Slater is Marshal Yanda. That’s right: eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, member of the All-2010s Team Marshal Yanda.
Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about opposing defensive tackles turnstiling Vikings guards en route to harassing Kirk Cousins? How much better would the offense be if Cousins actually had time to throw to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen as opposed to ducking and covering while purple-clad interior linemen look at each other like they’ve never seen a tackle loop before?
Yes, please. If Slater is on the board when the Vikings’ pick rolls around, it will be a disservice to every member of the offense as well as every member of Skol Nation to pass on such a dramatic upgrade to the offensive line. Hey, he already looks good in purple. Let’s just change the “N” to a horn and let ‘er rip.