2021 NFL mock draft: Panthers add versatile OT Rashawn Slater at No. 8

The Panthers entered the 2021 offseason with needs across most positions on the roster, and they have filled most of those needs via free agency in a flurry of moves that brought in offensive linemen Pat Elflein and Cam Erving, pass rushers Haason Reddick and Morgan Fox, linebackers Denzel Perryman and Frankie Luvu, wide receiver David Moore, tight end Dan Arnold and cornerback A.J. Bouye. In an effort to retain their starting tackles from 2020 on the roster, the Panthers placed the franchise tag on right tackle Taylor Moton and re-signed left tackle Trent Scott to a one-year contract.

The Panthers made their biggest splash of the offseason when they sent a 2021 sixth-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick and a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Jets for quarterback Sam Darnold in a desperate attempt to upgrade the quarterback position and improve on the mediocrity they’ve endured since Cam Newton’s 2015 MVP season.

The Panthers are taking a gamble on Darnold and must do what they can to surround him with enough talent to properly evaluate whether or not he’s worth keeping around beyond the final year of his rookie contract. The biggest need they currently have is a long-term answer at left tackle (something they have needed since Jordan Gross retired in 2014). The Panthers will have both starting tackles in 2021, but both are on one-year deals, so they need to find an affordable long-term option.

Fortunately for Carolina there are several quality options available to them with the No. 8 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Trading for Darnold removes the need to focus on a quarterback with their first-round pick and opens them up to taking one of the top options at tackle. The first four picks in the SBN writers’ mock draft were all quarterbacks, which kept the Panthers in the driver’s seat for one of the premier pass protectors. The Lions took one of the top tackles off the board by selecting Penei Sewell with the No. 7 pick, leaving the Panthers with the opportunity to select Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater at No. 8 overall.

How does Rashawn Slater fit with the Panthers?

Slater gives the Panthers something they desperately need: a quality tackle on a multi-year contract. Slater can play both left and right tackle, which gives the Panthers some much-needed versatility on their offensive line. If the Panthers are unable to sign Taylor Moton to a long-term contract, they can move Slater over to right tackle if needed, or they can leave Slater at left tackle if they are able to keep Moton on the roster. Having Trent Scott on a one-year deal also gives the Panthers the ability to ease Slater into the position without having to feed him to the wolves immediately. After opting out of the 2020 season, Slater would benefit from a situation where he doesn’t have to start on Day 1, and the Panthers provide him that environment.

NFL Draft analyst Lance Zeirlein shares his analysis below:

His compact frame carries play strength that can be filed in the “grown man” category … Slater operates with confidence and efficient movement that sees him in position to get his job done on most snaps. His lack of length will lead some teams to view him as a guard, but the footwork and talent outside might be worth allowing him to prove it at tackle first. His combination of strength, athletic ability and quick processing should make him one of the safer offensive line picks in this draft and an early starter.

The Panthers got their guy at quarterback before the draft, and now they must use their resources to build a team around him to unlock his untapped potential. That starts with giving him an offensive line to keep him protected in the pocket so he can adequately read the field and make plays, and adding a versatile tackle prospect like Slater is a great first step in that direction.

Even in a worst-case scenario where Slater has to move inside to guard, it still gives the Panthers a potential five-year starter on the offensive line, which is something they can always find room for on their roster.

Best prospects remaining:

  • Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
  • Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
  • Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
  • Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
  • DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

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