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Northwestern football’s most important players — No. 9: Rashawn Slater

Slater returns after a stellar freshman season.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern’s Top 10 Most Important Players in 2018. We’ve put our heads together as a staff, used the unruly power of democracy, and created a list that will undoubtedly cause plenty of disagreement.

We’ve chosen to loosely define the criteria for our list as the players “who will have the biggest impact on the overall outcome of the season.” However, we recognize that that’s still open to interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of a player over his replacement. It could just mean best player. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could mean players who have underperformed who need to step up.

One thing is certain though: no two lists will be the same. That’s why for each player, we’ll enlist two of our writers to debate the merits of the player in question.

No. 9 is sophomore offensive tackle Rashawn Slater.

Davis Rich (Rank: NR):

Here’s a cold take: Rashawn Slater is good. He was probably Northwestern’s best offensive lineman last year. He was one of the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten. He was arguably the best freshman offensive tackle in the country. Ask Or Pro Football Focus. Or

Any player that slots in on an all-freshman team with Jake Fromm, Jonathan Taylor, and J.K. Dobbins is good in my book.

My top 10 rankings tend to favor players who have something to prove— expectations are all over the player or they are coming off an injury or they need to replace a productive player who left. I didn’t rank Slater in my top 10 because he’s a pretty sure thing. It’s true that offensive line production can fluctuate year-to-year, but it’s hard seeing Slater suddenly becoming an liability on the line.

On the other hand, I put the winner of the battle for the center spot on my list because I see that player as far more important to the offensive line than Slater, who we can expect to be solid along with senior returnees Tommy Doles, J.B. Butler, and Blake Hance. Here’s where I say something about only being as strong as your weakest link.

Jokes aside, if Northwestern wants to improve on its mediocre performance along the offensive line, I see improvements from Hance and Butler as more crucial.

Caleb Friedman (Rank: 3): While I agree that improvements from less talented players would go a long way in stabilizing the offensive line, I think Slater has the most raw ability and room to grow between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Think about this for a second. Slater didn’t enroll early, and stepped right in to one of the more cerebral positions on the field and played awesome. With a full year of college-level training and coaching, he could become an elite tackle in year two.

It’s been a long time since Northwestern had a potential NFL O-lineman on its team, but Slater has the physical tools to have a chance. He would’ve been a higher-rated recruit had he not shut down his recruitment early and collected more offers, but he proved to be a key contributor from day one. The reason I have him so high on my list is that I think he could bump over to left tackle and become a complete mauler. With more protection on his blindside and more time to throw, Thorson could start punishing defenses more often with the deep ball, which has been missing for large segments of games.

The lines are the most important part of any football game, and the Wildcats are solid on the defensive front. The offensive line, led by Slater, could hold the key to the entire season.