2021 NFL Draft: Why Rashawn Slater could be Falcons' first-round pick 

Taking a closer look at why tackle Rashawn Slater could be the Falcons' first-round pick 

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Editor's note: This is the sixth of 10 prospect profiles on players who could be the Falcons' first-round pick.

If Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith decide to trade out of the No. 4 spot, they could go a number of different ways. Fontenot has said he believes in the best player available strategy and depending on where they pick, the options could vary.

Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater is a player who could be available if the Falcons were to go the trade back route. Slater is widely viewed as the second-best offensive lineman in this year's draft class. Slater played tackle at Northwestern but has the traits to slide inside and play guard if needed at first. The Falcons will be looking for stronger offensive line play under Smith who will be calling the plays on offense. Smith's offense is centered around a strong run game to complement the passing attack and Slater could help improve Atlanta's play up front.

Slater, a 6-foot-4, 304-pound reliable prospect, could be the type of player who ends up starting every game of his career. Known for his power and use of hands, Slater is as close to a sure bet as they come because of his versatility. He played both right and left tackle in college and his most impressive game at Northwestern came against defensive end Chase Young in 2019, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Why he fits with the Falcons

The Falcons allowed 41 sacks on Matt Ryan last year and struggled to run the ball efficiently for a third consecutive season. With the amount of pass-catching weapons Ryan has at his disposal in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst, shoring up the pocket for Atlanta's quarterback will be imperative.

The Falcons have finished in the bottom half of the league in rushing offense since the 2018 season where they ranked No. 27. In 2019, Atlanta finished No. 30 in this area and No. 27 in 2020.

Slater in addition to improved play from Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary and Matt Hennessy, could give the Falcons a solid core along the offensive line to build around. All four of these players started at least one game in the 2020 season.

Expert analysis:

"Three-year starter with experience at both left and right tackle positions. His compact frame carries play strength that can be filed in the "grown man" category, as evidenced by his heads-up battles against 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young in 2019. 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." - Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

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