Why Rashawn Slater is the likely Carolina Panthers pick at No. 8

Bringing a potentially elite left tackle such as Rashawn Slater to the Carolina Panthers at No. 8 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft might be the most likely option.

The Carolina Panthers are likely out of the quarterback hunt during the 2021 NFL Draft after acquiring Sam Darnold from the New York Jets. General manager Scott Fitterer didn’t dismiss the notion entirely, but it would be a jaw-dropping lack of confidence in their recent acquisition who they gave up three picks over the next two years to bring on board.

At the very least, getting Darnold gives the Panthers far more options at No. 8 overall. And if they were enamored with the likes of Trey Lance or Justin Fields, then their aggressive approach to finding an upgrade on Teddy Bridgewater this offseason would indicate they’d have moved up into a better position.

There are still a couple of holes that need to be filled. Most notably, Carolina needs a prolific left tackle after Russell Okung left in free agency just one year removed from his arrival via trade from the Los Angeles Chargers, which was another failed attempt to find an adequate replacement for Jordan Gross, who retired after the 2013 season.

This has been an ongoing concern for the Panthers and they’ll never get a better chance to bring in a college prospect of proven quality who can solidify blindside protection for the next decade.

Carolina Panthers could land Rashawn Slater at No. 8.

Dreams of Penei Sewell falling into their laps are obvious. But this would be a slim chance at best considering how good the Oregon prospect could be.

If Sewell is taken from picks 5-7 as expected, then Rashawn Slater would not be a bad consolation prize by any stretch of the imagination. The Northwestern stud put together some outstanding tape during his college career and although he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 health concerns, it has done nothing whatsoever to his stock.

Some even project Slater to be a better NFL player than Sewell, although it would be a surprise if that was the case. The point is, both prospects come into the league with an extremely high ceiling and the Panthers would be wise to look in either direction should the opportunity arise.

Want further proof of how accomplished Slater was? Then look no further than the three total pressures he allowed across 355 pass-blocking snaps when he last saw the field in a competitive environment during the 2019 season.

Three.

The sexier pick would be someone like Kyle Pitts, although he is another that isn’t going to be around when Carolina is on the clock at No. 8. Sewell might go as high as No. 5 to the Cincinnati Bengals if they avoid the temptation of reuniting Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase, with the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions expected to take skill position players to boost quarterback duo Tua Tagovailoa and Jared Goff.

Carolina already has these in place for Darnold. But unless the protection in front of the former USC star doesn’t improve, it will all be for nothing.

Nobody will be more aware of this than Matt Rhule and Scott Fitterer. Putting Slater opposite right tackle Taylor Moton would give Carolina a bookend presence they simply haven’t had throughout franchise history and one that could propel them to bigger and better things in 2021.

They’ve made a big bet on Darnold getting a new lease of life away from the Jets. Drafting Slater is not only the most likely scenario, it might also be the right one.