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2021 Patriots draft profile: Rashawn Slater could be the final cog in a long-term offensive line group

Related: Patriots draft profile: Asante Samuel Jr. provides versatility to rebuild New England’s secondary in the future

Northwestern v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

For as much grief as the Patriots get for their lack of skill position players, the team will hit a major crossroads this offseason in terms of the decisions they have to make along the offensive line. All-Pro guard Joe Thuney’s services will be in high demand as he possibly enters free agency for the first time, team captain and fan favorite David Andrews will also enter free agency for the first time after playing on a team friendly deal for two of the last three seasons. Rookie superstar Michael Onwenu, is waiting for the ball to drop on Thuney’s contract to know what position he will be playing next season, and starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn, is coming off his third injured reserve stint in as many seasons.

All in all, the Patriots quite literally have more questions than answers along the offensive line. At least Shaq Mason doesn’t have to worry about what and where he’s playing next year.

So with all of those questions, it makes sense to try and telegraph a couple of answers. This man could be the answer to all of the Patriots offensive line questions.

Name: Rashawn Slater

Position: Offensive Line

School: Northwestern (Senior)

Opening day age: 23

2020 Opt-Out*

Size: 6’4”, 315 lbs

Expected round: 1st

Strengths: Slater is built to be as versatile as they come along the offensive line. He has the experience playing tackle but measures as more of an athletic guard type. Watching him play, it’s fair to say that he can do whatever is needed from him at the next level. He’s that good.

His athleticism stacks up against anyone at the position. He’s quick into his sets and gets to his landmarks with relative ease, his feet are active in pass protection, and he’s got great timing. His hands are precise and quick, meaning he can consistently get his hands inside the chest of the defender and control them through the snap. His tape against Chase Young and Ohio State was phenomenal.

Technically, Slater may be the best tackle prospect in this draft. He’s so deliberate with his movement and seems to always make the right one. His leverage is unmatched and the ways in which he controls the opponent are truly something to see. Tape is king (obviously) and Rashawn Slater has the best tape in the country.

Weaknesses: First and foremost, Rashawn Slater will have gone 18 months without playing football by the time rookie mini camp opens up. That is a long time.

The next thing would be his measurables, at best they are average. His length will make it so some teams view him as an interior player, and though that is where his ceiling probably is, he will almost certainly be pushing to play tackle at the next level.

What would be his role?: Initially you would think he occupies the right tackle spot. Though Marcus Cannon was still a quality player the last time we saw him, it would be tough to comeback after a year off at the age of 32. Even if he does do it, his $9M+ cap hit makes it unlikely he returns in 2021. Opening up a great spot for someone on a rookie contract.

Does he have positional versatility?: Perhaps more than any other lineman in the NFL draft. I think Slater could conceivably play all five spots on the line, and play them all well. He’s built like an interior guy with major experience at tackle. He’s also lauded for his football IQ so it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for him at center calling out protections. Slater can do it all.

Who’s his competition?: With Joe Thuney and Jermaine Eluemunor slated to become free agents and Cannon likely being a cap casualty, Slaters lone competition could be Korey Cunningham who couldn’t secure the job over a sixth round rookie last season. Not much to climb over for Slater.

Why the Patriots?: Rashawn Slater can single handedly bail the Patriots out of any potential offensive line predicament they find themselves in next season. He has the potential to play all five spots.

The likeliest scenario if he ends up in New England is a Wynn-Onwenu-Andrews-Mason-Slater offensive line with the possibility of swapping Wynn and Slater in an effort to keep Wynn healthy, swapping Onwenu and Slater to keep some continuity from last season, or even letting Andrews walk and putting Slater in the middle as your really expensive emergency guy.

It doesn’t seem likely that the Patriots pass up on that kind of versatility if they like the prospect.

Why not the Patriots?: I’ve said it once and i’ll say it again, the Patriots have so many holes to fill that it doesn’t quite make sense to be preemptive in their selections, meaning they can’t take their usual approach of strengthening strengths because of all of the holes. In other words, quarterback/wide receiver/trade down should be the decision at #15.

Verdict: If the Patriots trade back, Slater could be an absolute homerun pick, if they stay at #15, it’s a major reach.