Everybody is focused on quarterback looking ahead to the 2021 draft. It’s not hard to understand why. Mitch Trubisky will be a free agent. Nick Foles doesn’t look like the answer they hoped for. This team needs yet another reboot at the position. However, it is impossible to ignore the Chicago Bears offensive line. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s this group has been neglected for far too long.
Just three picks in the 3rd round or earlier since 2014. The last 1st round pick was back in 2013. It isn’t hard to see why the unit slowly fell apart. Chicago tried to do a patchwork job with free agents and late-round picks. That almost never works for long. They can’t afford to keep putting a significant draft investment in that group off any longer.
It looks like 2021 is the perfect time to do it.
Early buzz is this upcoming draft class is positively stacked with blocking talent. Draft Network has nine total offensive linemen ranked in the top 32 alone. That is pretty good. Six of those nine are offensive tackles. Given the current situations with Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie? That could be fortuitous if the Bears are looking for an exit plan.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic is one of the top draft experts in the game. He’s kept a close eye on this class for months now. In speaking to Bears columnist Kevin Fishbain, he pinpointed some options that could really help them. Probably the best happens to be barely a half-hour drive south from Halas Hall.
“Since the summer, I have graded Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater as the second tackle in this class, a player that is obviously comfortable playing in Midwest weather. He is a coordinated athlete and doesn’t stray from his technical approach, engaging quickly and controlling rushers. He has shorter arms (just under 33 inches) and that will push him to guard or center on several draft boards around the league. But his tape says he can play tackle – just watch his 2019 tape vs. Ohio State’s Chase Young.”
Chicago Bears offensive line would love Rashawn Slater
The thing about NFL teams and the draft is they tend to overanalyze players from time to time. Especially when it comes to measurables. For offensive tackles, a big one they harp on is arm length. Typically teams prefer guys to have arms around 34 inches long. If it drops to 33 or 32? That is when they start getting nervous and view certain players as candidates to move inside to guard or even center.
Yet consistent proof exists out there that guys with shorter arms can not only thrive in the NFL but dominate. Future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas had 32.5-inch arms. Four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long had 33-inch arms. The thing is if a guy is big enough, strong enough, and athletic enough? Overcoming a couple of inches of missing length is no big deal. Based on the tape Slater shows every week? That won’t stop him either.
This kid can ball.
He’s got size coupled with excellent mobility and a level of strength that particularly shows up in the running game. The best part is he plays with a nasty edge. Something the Chicago Bears offensive line desperately needs. The fact he comes from right down the road at Northwestern would make a good story potentially even better.
Much of how this plays out will depend on the remaining six games of the season. The Bears hold the 16th pick in the draft next year. Their final record will determine how high or low they end up selecting. Either way Slater figures to be somebody they’ll watch closely.