In the days leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco made it clear during a video conference with media members that he and the organization were not apt to select players based on position. The Chargers look for the best athletes available, he said.
“We’re drafting players, not positions,” Telesco said when asked if the team was looking to add depth on the defensive front line or secondary. “That’s kind of the way that we have to look at it. We’re not just trying to fill out the team for opening day in 2021; this is how we look at it. This isn’t just ‘GM speak.’ You have to look at this year, and then 2022, 2023, 2024.
“That’s what we’re drafting these players for,” Telesco added. “We don’t look at it as far as, ‘Hey, what positions do we have to add to?’ We’re drafting players first, and then we go from there. It’s players more than positions. I’m pretty confident that we won’t be drafting a quarterback real early this year. Other than that, everything would be on the table.”
— NFL (@NFL) April 30, 2021
Last year at draft time, selecting the best quarterback available was not an option for the Chargers. Longtime quarterback Philip Rivers left the team to sign a 1-year contract for reportedly $25 million. With Tyrod Taylor expected to slip into the starter’s role with Rivers’ departure, the Chargers had to look for the future at the quarterback position.
The Chargers had their eyes on Herbert and selected the Oregon quarterback with the No. 6 pick. The Chargers picked right as Herbert stepped in for an injured Taylor in Game 2 and let out an air-wild campaign, becoming the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. With a young franchise quarterback under their wings, it is logical to think the Chargers would do everything they can to protect their franchise pass thrower.
The Chargers, under new management in the form of first-year head coach Brandon Staley, got a head start in that direction, signing Green Bay Packers All-Pro center Corey Linsley. So, the answer to the Chargers making the No. 13 pick would be to just do the right thing and select an offensive tackle and then go about the rest of the draft filling out their roster.
However, drafting a player is a complicated issue. It is not as easy as people think. The Chargers lost cornerback Casey Hayward to free agency, so getting a superb physical cover corner was also a necessity coming into the draft for the Chargers. Telesco reiterated his earlier comments about drafting players and not position. That is what he is looking at, he said.
“It has to be the right player,” Telesco said. “You can’t force things. It doesn’t matter if we have a young quarterback or an old quarterback. You have to protect the quarterback. You have to be able to run-block when you have to run-block. It has to be the right player. You can’t force things.”
When it to comes picking in the first round for the last five drafts prior to 2021, the Chargers have done a great job of not forcing things and nabbing impact playmakers. Herbert, safety Derwin James (2018), wide receiver Mike Williams, and edge rusher Joey Bosa solidifies the astute job the Chargers have done in picking in the first round.
— Pat Fitzgerald (@coachfitz51) April 29, 2021
Although he has not had immediate success as his teammates, interior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery (2019) has played well in spurts. That means the Chargers usually get it right with their choices in the first round. So with the clock spotlight shining on their selection the Chargers went ahead and went with the safe pick.
By that, the Chargers picked Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater, a player that they believe will serve as Herbert’s bodyguard at left tackle. Actually, Slater can play on both sides of the center. Despite having an all-time year last season, Herbert was sacked 32 times and hit the turf countless other times. The 411 on the 6-foot, 315-pound Slater is a young man who has all the ingredients to be an all-world player for years to come.
“He fits us on and off the field,” Telesco said. “He’s a high-level player, very athletic tackle. He’ll fit in a scheme that we’re going to run extremely well. which is big part of when we draft these players is how are they going to fit exactly into what we’re going to do? I don’t want to just concentrate on the passing game. He’s a very good run blocker. He can cut off defensive ends. He can reach people. He can get to the second level, which is the linebackers, with really good speed and angles. That’s all part of your run game. And that has to get better as well. It’s just not protecting our quarterback.”
According to scouting reports, Slater rates high in pass blocking (8/10), run blocking (8.75), athleticism (8.25), footwork (8/10), strength (9.25), and versatility (10/10), among the attributes he was tested for. By picking Slater at the 13th slot in the first round, the Chargers gave the Northwestern alum the distinction of being the second offensive lineman selected in this year’s draft.
“I couldn’t have picked a better place for myself; young quarterback, great young quarterback. Young team and we’re going to have so many weapons. It’s just an honor to be part of that system,” Slater said in a video press conference shortly after his draft selection.
Despite sitting out the 2020 Big Ten season due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Slater’s power and finesse prowess as an offensive lineman caught the eye of NFL teams. The Chargers would be one of them. Playing in a physical conference like the Big Ten certainly got him ready to play at the next level, Slater said.
first look in powder blue ? pic.twitter.com/AwaVtbNUqk
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) April 30, 2021
“I had the opportunity to go against a lot of guys who ended up being highly-touted draft picks and are having success in the NFL now,” Slater said. “Even at practice, going against [DL] Joe Gaziano, who is now with the Chargers, going against people like that in the Big Ten, it’s just that iron sharpens iron. I wouldn’t have wanted to play in any other conference. I feel extremely prepared.”
That preparedness is what has Staley excited.
“We just felt like Rashawn fits all the characteristics of a player that we’re looking for, and all the positions…critical factors for being a tackle in this league, a guy who has a lot of position flex,” Staley said. “On the left side of the line for Northwestern, this guy was as good as an offensive tackle as there was in college football.
“I feel like this guy is an outstanding athlete, a guy that is really strong has outstanding balance and body control,” Staley continued. “And when you think just the way he players the game; understands angles, understands the front structures that he’s playing against. You can just see this guy can really process. And then he has the physicality to play the position at a high level.”
Featured Image: The Los Angeles Chargers made Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater (70) the No. 13 selection in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Photo courtesy of Northwestern University Athletics