While the likes of Mac Jones, Ja’Marr Chase, and Najee Harris have circled around the Offensive Rookie of the Year award like a pack of buzzards since Week 1, it’s time we flip a narrative on skill players running away with the recognition annually. While the rookie signal-caller in New England in Jones remains a -500 favorite to win the prestigious award, Los Angeles Chargers tackle and 2021 No. 13 overall pick Rashawn Slater deserves much more praise as a bruising blind-side protectant for Justin Herbert, last season’s OROY.
A topic of a pre-draft argument for the OT1 spot alongside eventual No. 7 overall pick Penei Sewell (Detroit Lions), Slater’s projection out of Northwestern, at times, looked unattainable. With a stout frame, excellent hands, exquisite footwork, and a floor as high as any eligible prospect last spring, through 14 weeks, he's blown expectations out of the water. The only Chargers offensive player to play all 838 snaps so far this season, he’s been instrumental in anchoring a Herbert-led offense to an 8-5 record, remaining within arm’s distance of the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC West supremacy.
While Slater has been the highest-graded first-year offensive tackle, both he, Sewell, and Chiefs center Creed Humphrey have each made their case for All-Pro honors in their initial NFL campaign—an attribute to the readiness and mature skill sets of linemen currently entering the pro ranks in a healthy influx.
Slater has proven to be as dominant a left tackle as there is in football today. Second in pass block win rate (91.5%) among all tackles, where his dominance flashes most is in the ground game. Running behind the wall that is No. 70, the Chargers have averaged nearly 6.5 yards a carry (most in the NFL). However, when asked to run opposite, Los Angeles ranks 29th in football in yards per carry—a drastic and obvious difference in success comparing the presence of the first-year talent in Slater, who’s still relatively getting his feet wet at the NFL level, and right tackle Storm Norton, who’s five years older and in his third pro campaign. And while it’s not a knock on Norton, who initially was looked upon to back up Bryan Bulaga prior to the veteran landing on injured reserve, it’s much more of a tribute to Slater and his ability to translate his impact from the trenches at Northwestern to the left side of head coach Brandon Staley’s front five.
Two plays indicative of Slater’s power, outstanding balance, and premier hand strength, Slater head-up on Leonard Williams and Lorenzo Carter here is just beautiful technique to watch in motion—an art form, really. While he initially gets stood up by Wiliams, his ability to anchor in the blink of an eye, halting Williams’ opposing momentum, then maintaining his hands inside the pads to limit No. 99’s ability to detach is flat-out high-level stuff. On the next play, Slater’s football IQ is on full display. A run to the 7-hole, Carter’s path to the outside is immediately identified by Slater, who engages with the inside shoulder of the Giants’ edge defender, canceling his ability to swim or rip back to the inside to make a play on Austin Ekeler.
Overpowering Carter to the ground was the cherry on top of an outstanding stretch of plays, but it’s the unique amount of ways that Slater is able to win both in pass pro and downhill in the run that makes him such a unique talent to build around.
A rookie class bursting with talent, it’s time an offensive lineman takes home OROY honors. While it’s easy to see the success of Jones, Chase, and Harris from a bird’s eye view, a look into the hog mollies of the trenches—where ball games are won and lost—has introduced one of the most vigorous, powerful offensive linemen the league has to offer.
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