Options for the Minnesota Vikings at left tackle in 2021 are shrinking. On the roster, Rashod Hill and Ezra Cleveland are the two players that could play somewhat effectively if no other transactions are enacted by general manager Rick Spielman.
Rashod Hill has been with the team for five seasons, joining the organization around the time Laquon Treadwell was drafted. He’s partaken in 59 career games, starting 17 of them. His role is likely that of a backup LT but could start in a pinch if needed.
Cleveland is more interesting. He’s a left tackle by trade, devoting his collegiate career to the position at Boise State. Yet, the Vikings employed Riley Reiff at left tackle in 2020, so Cleveland was careened over to right guard during the pandemic season. There, Cleveland played 57% of all Vikings offensive snaps. If Spielman does not strut out of the 2021 NFL Draft with a left tackle, well, Cleveland is probably headed back to his roots. Or — the team could sign a free agent like Eric Fisher or Russell Okung.
NFL.com has a different theory, however. Chad Reuter, an NFL analyst and writer, forecasts that Rashawn Slater, a left tackle from Northwestern, will slide down the board to the Vikings at their 14th slot.
This is made possible as the Los Angeles Chargers — another LT-needy organization — chose wide receiver DeVonta Smith instead of Slater. And the Chargers pick one spot ahead of the Vikings unless trades shake up the evening.
Reuter says of Slater to Minnesota:
“Slater will be a very good left tackle in the NFL, but his 6-foot-4 1/4 frame and 33-inch arms might keep him out of the top dozen selections. Tristan Wirfs fell out of the top 10 last year for similar reasons. Will teams learn that lesson and pick Slater earlier? If not, the Vikings will gladly snap him up and plug him in as Kirk Cousins‘ blind-side protector.”
This would make Slater the third left tackle selected by the Vikings in the last 20 years. In 2012, it was Matt Kalil — who was good for a single season. Before that, Minnesota seized Bryant McKinnie with the 7th pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. This “two picks in 20 years” may sound “low,” but it isn’t. In the last two decades, the Kansas City Chiefs have chosen one tackle in the 1st Round — the aforementioned Fisher. Same for the Dallas Cowboys, a team generally known for offensive line emphasis. Dallas has taken one tackle in the 1st Round of the last 20 drafts, Tyron Smith in 2011.
Regardless, it’s that time again, according to Reuter. Slater would be tapped to start in Week 1 of 2021 (the schedule will be released in about three weeks). Cleveland would presumably remain at right guard while the Vikings searched for a left guard to fill out their front fivesome. And that’s if Mason Cole is not the plan at left guard. He might be.
Pro Football Focus calls Slater the 11th-best prospect in this draft class — sandwiched between Trey Lance (10th) and Patrick Surtain (12th).
The Sporting News essentially agrees. Slater is 12th on their Top 100, with the Northwestern alumnus surrounded by Surtain (11th) and Alijah Vera-Tucker (13th).
Here’s the scouting report from The Draft Network from Kyle Crabbs on Slater:
“Rashawn Slater is a scheme diverse and positional flexible prospect who should offer a little something to everyone depending on what specific needs and traits are prioritized for any given franchise. Slater, who opted out of the 2020 college season and has not played since the end of the 2019 campaign, is well regarded for his fundamentals and functional athleticism along the front. Slater manned the left tackle position for the Wildcats. For teams that don’t prioritize certain measurable thresholds, he appears to be a viable candidate to do the same in the NFL—based specifically on his work against 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young in pass protection. But Slater’s ceiling is likely lowest on the edge and the further into the heart of the line he transitions, the higher his potential is to become a perennial Pro Bowl player and potential All-Pro candidate in my eyes. Slater has tremendous cutoff abilities and clean, patient footwork working space and the necessary functional strength to hold his own on the interior. The position flexibility he offers ensures he can be a part of any NFL offensive line’s combination of best five players to start up front from Day 1. “
Notably in Reuter’s mock draft, the Vikings said no thanks to Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, and Christian Darrisaw. Waddle landed in New England, Phillips in Miami, and Darrisaw to Carolina.