Chargers first-round draft pick Rashawn Slater was as good as advertised in NFL debut

Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater blocks against the Washington Football Team.
Chargers coaches gave rookie offensive tackle Rashawn Slater high marks for his blocking against Washington.
(Daniel Kucin Jr. / Associated Press)

He was one of the NFL’s most-talked-about players Monday — one day after barely hearing his name.

Rashawn Slater was so good in his NFL debut that it took 24 hours for everyone to notice.

Accomplished offensive linemen want it that way, and Slater, the Chargers’ rookie left tackle, accomplished plenty in the team’s season-opening 20-16 victory at Washington.

“He was outstanding,” coach Brandon Staley said. “When you don’t talk about him a lot that means he probably performed at a high level. And that’s what the film told us. I’m really proud of him. Not surprised, but really proud of him.”


Slater starred on a day when the Chargers’ offensive line starred. That’s right. The Chargers’ offensive line.

After back-to-back seasons of injuries and inconsistency, a rebuilt front gave quarterback Justin Herbert enough time to seize control from the impressive opening drive to the final, clock-draining kneel down.

It wasn’t a perfect start to the season for the Chargers, but they responded to earn rookie coach Brandon Staley his first victory, a 20-16 road win over Washington.

Sept. 12, 2021

And Slater — all 6 feet 4, 315 pounds of him — was a massive contributor.

“He’s got outstanding movement for the position,” Staley said. “He can really unlock power from the ground. … He’s got very strong hands.”

Herbert was sacked twice — but for losses totaling only three yards. He was officially hit three other times.

The Chargers gained just 90 yards on the ground but were able to rush the ball 29 times, a real enough threat to keep Washington’s defense thinking.


Thirty of those rushing yards came on the first drive as the Chargers ran Austin Ekeler and Larry Rountree III behind Slater with success.

“If you can get yourself into a good rhythm early, that’s good to create confidence the rest of the way,” Staley said.

Slater surrendered zero pressures on 49 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He was called for no penalties while playing in his first game since November 2019. Slater sat out his final season at Northwestern because of the pandemic.

Former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz took to Twitter on Monday to proclaim Slater a future All-Pro and say he was “in awe watching him play.”

Staley praised Slater for his physicality and fundamentals, his understanding of the offense and his awareness.

Justin Herbert might not show a lot of emotion, but the Chargers quarterback’s play speaks loudly as he skillfully leads a road victory over Washington.

Sept. 12, 2021

“When you factor that into his brain and how smart he is,” Staley added, “he can just truly play the game under control and with a lot of power and velocity.”

This is precisely what the Chargers envisioned when they drafted Slater in the first round at No. 13 overall in April.

The offensive line played a critical role Sunday in allowing the Chargers to run out the final 6:43, Herbert completing passes to convert four third downs and keeping Washington’s offense idled.

“If you look at all four of those third downs, those were a lot of clean pockets,” Staley said. “That group on defense had to defend a lot of plays. I felt like they were tired. … Our energy was good at the end of that game.”

Standing on the sideline, Chargers safety Derwin James said he was convinced the offense could kill the remainder of the clock because of how Slater and his fellow linemates were playing.

“Once we saw the type of time Herbert had back there and the way [wide receiver] Keenan [Allen] and all those guys was running around,” James said, “we already knew what time it was.”

What we learned from Chargers’ 20-16 victory at Washington. First off, Michael Williams is a big target for the offense.

Sept. 13, 2021

Even more noteworthy, this effort came against a Washington defensive front that is considered to be among the NFL’s best. Staley, though, cautioned about jumping ahead too quickly.

“It’s just one performance,” he said. “I think that you treat that performance like it has a life of its own. That performance isn’t going to have a lot of bearing on how we play against Dallas.”


Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (lower back) remains day to day, Staley said. The veteran was limited to 45 of the Chargers’ 81 offensive snaps Sunday. He was replaced by Storm Norton, who won the swing tackle job in training camp over Trey Pipkins.