Will Bears target Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater in the draft?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater participates in the school's Pro Day football workout for NFL scouts Tuesday in Evanston.

    Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater participates in the school's Pro Day football workout for NFL scouts Tuesday in Evanston. Associated Press

 
By Sean Hammond
shammond@shawmedia.com
Updated 3/10/2021 10:36 AM

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald offered tackle Rashawn Slater a spot at the Big Ten Championship game in December. Slater, one of the top offensive linemen in the NFL Draft, had previously opted out of the 2020 season.

Fitzgerald believes Slater's answer tells NFL front offices everything they need to know about him.

 

"He texted me before the game and said, 'Coach, this game's about the team, not about me. I don't want to be a distraction. Thanks for the invite,' " Fitzgerald said.

"I mean, what a stud? That's Rashawn in a nutshell."

Slater, a Texas native, skipped his pandemic-shortened senior season and spent the fall working out with offensive line coach Duke Manyweather in Texas. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound Slater is a potential high first-round draft pick. He showed a throng of NFL scouts what he could do Tuesday at Northwestern's Pro Day.

Multiple reports indicated the Bears, who hold the No. 20 pick, had general manager Ryan Pace, head coach Matt Nagy and offensive line coach Juan Castillo in attendance.

"Being able to talk to them today and being coached up a bit by coach Juan Castillo ... today was my first contact with them, but they were awesome," Slater said.

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Slater was not shy about his ambitions. He said he believes he's the best tackle in the draft. He turned heads in 2019 when he held his own against former Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young, last year's No. 2 overall pick and the 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Slater's body of work is more than one game. He started 37 games in three years at Northwestern. He started 12 at right tackle as a true freshman in 2017. The one knock against him during the pre-draft process has been his arms (33 inches) are short for the position.

"It's definitely tiring when you put so much work in, put all that film out of me playing tackle, and then you've got questions just based off a measurable," Slater said. "But honestly, as far as the teams I've talked to, they've been pretty honest about saying it's not a huge concern for them."

Slater took a calculated risk sitting out the 2020 season, and it appears to be paying off. He wants to be a tackle, but said he's be willing to move anywhere on the offensive line if that's what a team needs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Bears released right tackle Bobby Massie in order to create more space in their 2021 salary cap. An offensive lineman, a quarterback or a wide receiver are their three biggest draft needs. They haven't selected an offensive lineman in the first round since they took Kyle Long 20th in 2013. Long, who spent 2020 as a TV analyst for CBS, said Tuesday he was coming out of retirement in 2021.

The Bears could use another tackle in 2021. They still have 29-year-old left tackle Charles Leno under contract for one more season. One possible scenario might be to draft a tackle and stick the rookie at right tackle for a year, before transitioning him to left tackle in 2022.

Slater fits that mold.

"He looks like he's been training since August," Fitzgerald said. "He looks great. If the NFL said he can go to OTAs right now, I think whatever O-line coach got him would see a guy who's physically ready to go and that's a credit to Rashawn."

The draft is deep in tackles and the Bears should be able to find a quality tackle at No. 20. The big question is will Slater be gone by then.

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