Around this time each year I find myself watching tape, listening to draft podcasts and running way too many mock draft simulations. We all have our favourite prospects. Sometimes your favourite players just aren’t the perfect fits for your team. It might be that your team plays a different system, or have already invested in the position. I think it’s important to look at what holes might be appearing on a roster and thinking outside the box.
This exercise has been a fun one for me. I like the idea of selecting prospects and playing Cupid, marrying them to the perfect franchise. For the sake of this piece, I’m going to ignore QB matchups that have been done to death. So, sorry Jags fans, you and Trevor Lawrence don’t get a mention. I’m digging a bit deeper to find my perfect matches.
As always, it’s important to note that this isn’t an exercise on what I think will happen, but what I think should happen.
Rashawn Slater (Northwestern) Tackle/Guard – San Francisco 49ers
Even though he decided to declare for the draft early and forgo his senior season, the 2019 tape for Slater shows an excellent offensive line prospect. He has A+ athletic traits for his position and very good power. He shone in 2019 playing left tackle for Northwestern, but some scouts have predicted a kick inside in the pros. At 6”4’ and 320 lbs, staying at left tackle isn’t out of the question. Teams like versatility, especially on the O-line. The rough and tumble nature of NFL trench battle can lead to injuries. Having a prospect like Slater who can move around can only be a plus point.
Given his traits, it’s obvious to see how good of a fit Slater will be to a team who operates zone blocking concepts. The Ravens with Lamar Jackson and their dominant run game would be a clear fit. Slater has the lateral mobility and athleticism to get out in space and clear the way for a run threat QB like Jackson.
However, I want to focus on another ideal suitor. The San Francisco 49ers currently have former All-Pro Trent Williams at Left Tackle. The problem is that Williams is 32 years old and projected to be a free agent in the offseason. The 49ers and Williams will likely come to some sort of agreement. Rashawn Slater would be a great fall back option in San Fran.
West Coast Fit
Kyle Shanahan is consistently touted as one of the current great offensive minds in football. He utilizes play action and pre-snap movement to help open up the pass. He consistently puts together an offensive line that creates big holes for his stable of running backs to run through. Whether it’s Mostsert, McKinnon, Coleman or Wilson, it never really seems to matter who is back there. All have found success under the Shanahan formula. Throw Rashawn Slater on that line and you have another fantastic piece to help the 49ers get back to 2019 form.
Slater could start day one at Left Guard alongside Trent Williams to provide great blindside blocking in the passing or run game. Slater’s athleticism would be ideal for the 49ers zone blocking scheme. His ability to use his athleticism to make blocks on the second level will appeal to Shanahan.
The 49ers pick number 12 in this year’s draft. That feels like the right range for Slater to come off the board. He could be the heir apparent to Williams down the line. In this scenario starts at LG and can switch to tackle in the event of injuries or Williams not re-upping in the Bay.
Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) Wide Receiver – Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz
Every NFL fan who pays attention to the draft has already heard of Ja’Marr Chase. Chase declared for the 2021 draft early and decided not to return to LSU in 2020.
Therefore we have to go back to Chase’s fantastic tape from LSU’s 2019 championship season. It’s important to not solely look at a player’s statistics and when watching Chase. You can’t help but notice a player who is consistently dominant at winning at the catch point. He has body control, vertical athleticism and hand/eye coordination that routinely make a 50/50 throws 80/20 in his favor. He is quicker than straight line fast, but his speed is sufficient to create space and an opening for a QB to strike.
Many will look at the rise of the Heisman winning DeVonta Smith in Alabama and rank Smith as the WR1 in this class. In my eyes Chase is still the best total receiver in this class and would be a benefit to all 32 teams.
This makes marrying him to a team too easy. After all, who wouldn’t want a potential all-pro WR on their roster? It’s important to find the right QB that desperately needs his talents.
Fly Eagles, Fly
Chase is a legitimate red zone and downfield threat that can make life in goal to go situations much easier for a QB. He also possesses the skills to win on quick patterns and the body control to make catch after catch on the sideline. These skills make him the ideal safety blanket for a QB who is struggling for playmakers and needs a guy he can trust to come down with the ball.
For this reason, I am suggesting Carson Wentz and the Eagles. No QB suffered from a poor surrounding cast more than Wentz in 2020. At times he was throwing to Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward as his top options. Whilst he wasn’t blameless, Wentz simply needs better pieces in place to succeed.
Even though the Eagles selected a WR in the first round of the 2020 draft in Jalen Reagor, it shouldn’t stop the Eagles from going back and grabbing another playmaker early in 2021. Selecting a player like Chase would pay dividends immediately for a poor Eagles team that has the potential to improve two positions with one pick.
Chase would clear up some of Wentz’s blemishes. He would give him a WR he can trust at all levels of the field. Alongside Reagor, he provides a nice one two punch for the Eagles at WR. There’s no better way than to rebuild your franchise QB then giving him the best WR in the draft.
Zaven Collins (Tulsa) Linebacker – Las Vegas Raiders
I really enjoyed watching the tape on Zaven Collins of Tulsa. At 6”4’ and 260lbs, he is a physically imposing line-backer. Don’t be fooled into thinking his skillset is merely run-stopping. This guy can move. He possesses underrated athletic ability. With four sacks and 11.5 TFL in 2020, Collins has shown he can make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
He can also hold his own in coverage, particularly in the flats when asked to track RBs out of the backfield. I really like his skillset and he’s one of my favourite players in the draft.
Pairing him was easy. I really like his fit with the Las Vegas Raiders, especially now they have named Gus Bradley as the defensive coordinator.
Zaven: the perfect SAM
In the 4-3 system that Bradley adopts, the Raiders will need a SAM line-backer who can hold up in the run, setting a firm edge to push runs inside. He will need to be able to excel in coverage and exploit favourable matchups. He will have to get into the back field when asked. The blitzing ability of Collins is a plus, and in this system he will flourish.
Next to Nick Kwiatkowski (MIKE) and Cory Littleton (WILL), Collins will come in and make a nice addition to the Raider second level defence. Morrow had an impressive season, but even if the Raiders decide on bringing him back, Collins’ ceiling is higher.
Littleton is the player who stands to benefit the most if Collins finds himself in Vegas. Littleton arrived with Pro Bowl pedigree, but had a disappointing first season in black and silver.
He is the ideal WILL linebacker in the Bradley system. He will benefit from an addition like Collins alongside Kwiatkowski to keep him clean from blockers in the box to make plays.
Collins also has the “Gruden Grinder” mentality. Coaches from Tulsa say that no one had better work ethic in the team. Under the Mayock and Gruden partnership, The Raiders have valued leadership, accountability and work ethic. The fit seems perfect.
Najee Harris (Alabama) Running Back – Pittsburgh Steelers
Alabama has been a production line for NFL talent for years, particularly at running back. Just look at the list of names that the current national champions have produced in recent years (Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Damien Harris and Mark Ingram). It appears after a stellar year that saw him receive consideration for the Heisman award, Najee Harris is the next Alabama running back to be getting early draft buzz.
In truth, Najee Harris could have declared for the draft in 2020 as one of the top RB’s on the board. Going back to college has served him well. He now enters the draft as a National College Champion. His growth in the passing game has lifted his draft stock. It seems that just about every big board has Harris as the number 1 or number 2 running back entering the draft.
I hate the value of taking a running back in Round One in the draft. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some ideal fits for Harris in the First Round.
Man of Steel
I really like the idea of Harris in Pittsburgh. Harris has that tough run-between-the-tackles style that would go down well in the AFC North. Pittsburgh shot out of the gates this season, and were the last NFL team to taste defeat. However, they found themselves struggling at the back end of the season.
So why did they collapse down the stretch? Simple. Teams forced the Steelers to put the ball and the game on the arm of big Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben isn’t the QB he once was, despite playing at a decent level throughout the season. His arm looks shot. Against Cleveland he threw four interceptions. At this stage, I don’t think it’s a given that Big Ben comes back for 2021.
Steelers need to get back to their identity and that’s pounding the rock. The winter weather in the AFC North necessitates a run game. Too often this year, the Steelers couldn’t find one.
It seems like with the departures that Pittsburgh is going to absorb, they will need to address the offensive line early. Taking a RB to solve the problem a different way can’t be ruled out.
Going back to college for the 2020 season helped Harris improve considerably as a receiver. He saw his catch total rise to 43, a vast improvement from 27 in 2019. We saw Pittsburgh succeed with an excellent pass catching back in years past and Harris can certainly add to this part of the offence.
I’m not saying Harris is the Le’Veon Bell we saw in Pittsburgh. I am saying that he can hold his own in the passing game. When it comes down to it, Harris is a sledgehammer in the running game. He can run through arm tackle attempts whilst grinding an opposition down to open up the pass. He will help Pittsburgh get back to the formula they were built on: tough running and defence
We hope that Mark will be back with some more 2021 NFL Draft perfect fits soon!
@5yardcollege – Saturdays are for rushing too, but every day is Draft Day!