In the 2021 NFL Draft, there are two offensive linemen that stand a tier above the rest of the class: Oregon's Penei Sewell and Northwestern's Rashawn Slater.
Landing either player would be a home run for the Minnesota Vikings, who might be in the market for a left tackle after cutting Riley Reiff — Mike Zimmer said this week that Ezra Cleveland is still their right guard, for the time being — and appear to be doing their due diligence by scouting a number of tackles in this year's pre-draft process.
Last month, the first pro day GM Rick Spielman attended was Northwestern's, where he got a good look at Slater and cornerback Greg Newsome. On Friday, Spielman was in Eugene, Oregon for his ninth pro day of the year. While the Ducks have a couple interesting defensive back prospects, there's no doubt that the Vikings' GM was there primarily to watch Sewell.
The issue is that Minnesota has pick No. 14, and both Sewell and Slater are widely expected to be off the board before that point.
With that said, it might be closer than you think.
It's looking more and more likely that five quarterbacks (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones) will be selected prior to 14. Four pass-catchers (Kyle Pitts, Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle) will almost certainly be taken prior to 14 as well. Throw in linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Patrick Surtain II, and you've got 11 players who will probably be taken before the Vikings pick. Parsons and Mac Jones are the members of that group of 11 that I'm not entirely sure about, but there could be also be another corner (Caleb Farley, who has medical concerns, Jaycee Horn, or Newsome) or a surprise player like Kwity Paye, Jaelan Phillips, or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah selected in the top 12.
I say all of this to point out that it's beginning to seem more and more realistic that Sewell and Slater could slide further than anticipated in the draft. The Bengals at 5 are seen as a Sewell landing spot, but there's also a good chance they elect to reunite Chase with Joe Burrow or take Pitts, if he's on the board. After that, there isn't an obvious landing spot for Sewell and Slater until the Giants at 11, although the Panthers and Cowboys are possibilities. But the Panthers probably want a quarterback, the Cowboys need a corner, and the Giants might want to take Parsons or whichever of the big three receivers is still on the board.
On Thursday, I wrote about Todd McShay's mock draft, which had Sewell going at 13 to the Chargers and Slater landing with the Vikings. Matt Miller's latest mock has Slater going to the Eagles at 12 and Sewell to the Chargers one pick later. It's possible that both players make it out of the top ten.
With all of that being said, it remains HIGHLY unlikely that either Sewell or Slater fall to the Vikings at 14. It would shock me, quite frankly. That's almost entirely because of the Chargers. I expect some team to buy in to Sewell's upside in the top 12, and even if Slater falls, the OL-needy Chargers will be ready to pounce.
That means the Vikings would need to trade up to get either one. Here's the issue with that: the Vikings haven't traded up within the first round since 1987, when they moved up from 16 to 14 to land running back D.J. Dozier (which didn't work out at all). They've traded up into the first round within the last decade to land Harrison Smith, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Teddy Bridgewater, but Spielman has never moved up from his original first-rounder.
If there were a year to trade up for a non-QB, it would be this year. The Vikings desperately need help on the offensive line, and while they'll have their pick of a number of intriguing linemen at 14 or after trading back — Christian Darrisaw, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Sam Cosmi, to name a few — none of those three players are as much of a sure thing as Sewell and Slater are.
Although many people think Slater is a guard at the next level, I think he can play left tackle. His arm length is very similar to Sewell's and both players are so technically sound and athletically gifted that I don't think arm length matters too much.
The simplest trade scenario — in the event that Sewell and/or Slater are still on the board — would be to call the Eagles at 12 and see if they're willing to move back, which would allow the Vikings to jump in front of the Chargers. Philly has already traded back once, from 6 to 12, and could be willing to do so if the top three receivers are all gone already. As for Minnesota, Spielman reportedly called the Bucs last year while trying to trade up, possibly for Tristan Wirfs. That suggests it's something he would consider doing in the right circumstance.
Trading up from 14 to 12, per the Rich Hill trade value draft chart, could be done with a fourth-round pick. With the Vikings having three fourths, they could afford that. Even if it costs their second third-rounder (No. 90 overall) or a fourth and a sixth, it might be worth it. This assumes that all five quarterbacks are already gone, because if there's still a top-five QB available at 12, the price would be driven up by teams trying to move up to land that player.
Trading up higher than No. 12 — which would probably be necessary to land Sewell — will cost a bit more. Would a third (No. 78) and a fifth be enough for new Broncos GM George Paton to trade No. 9 to the Vikings for No. 14? The Cowboys or Giants at 10 and 11 could also have interest in moving down, depending on how the board plays out.
Even though the Vikings haven't traded up in the first in 34 years, it's something to keep in mind. Landing Sewell or Slater would give the Vikings a potentially elite left tackle on a rookie contract for the next five years, allowing Cleveland to remain at guard.
That's a pretty good way to fix the offensive line, if you ask me. If Sewell and/or Slater start to slide on April 29th, I think Spielman should be working the phones and seeing if he can jump in front of the Chargers to secure one of them.
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