Football: Rashawn Slater selected 13th by Los Angeles Chargers, Greg Newsome II chosen 26th by Cleveland Browns in 2021 NFL Draft


Photo of Slater courtesy of Allie Goulding. Photo of Newsome II by Joshua Hoffman/Daily Northwestern.

Left: Rashawn Slater stands with teammates at Ryan Field. Right: Greg Newsome II drops back in coverage. The duo became the first Northwestern players to be selected in the first round of the same draft.

Drew Schott, Sports Editor

For the first time in program history, two players from Northwestern became first round picks during the same draft.

Offensive lineman Rashawn Slater was drafted 13th overall by the Los Angeles Chargers, while cornerback Greg Newsome II was chosen 26th overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Slater and Newsome II are the fourth and fifth first round selections in team history following the merger between the American Football League and the National Football League in 1970.

Defensive tackle Luis Castillo was chosen 28th overall by the San Diego Chargers in 2005, linebacker Napoleon Harris went 23rd overall to the Oakland Raiders in 2002 and offensive tackle Chris Hinton was selected with the fourth overall pick by the Denver Broncos in 1983.

Slater started 37 games in Evanston at both left and right tackle, finishing his career as one of the best offensive linemen to ever play for the Wildcats. He earned a consensus All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2019 after giving up zero sacks and one quarterback hit.

During his sophomore season, Slater was named to the All-Big Ten Third Team by the conference’s coaches. He earned a spot on the Big Ten Network’s Freshman All-Big Ten Team in 2017 and was named the top freshman offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus.

Before he opted out, Slater was projected to be one of the best offensive lineman during the 2020 season. The Sugar Land, Texas native was named to the Outland Trophy watch list — an award given to the country’s top interior lineman — and received Preseason All-America recognition by Phil Steele and Athlon Sports. Additionally, Pro Football Focus graded Slater as the Big Ten’s third-best returning player.

Slater was the second offensive lineman drafted after former Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell went seventh overall to the Detroit Lions. He joins a Chargers team that finished 7-9 last season and will be responsible for protecting reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. The quarterback and No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft threw for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns last season.

The Texas native joins players such as offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, All-Pro center Corey Linsley and guards Oday Aboushi and Matt Feiler on the Chargers’ line. In Los Angeles, Slater will reunite with former NU defensive end Joe Gaziano — who signed with the Chargers last year as an undrafted free agent — and Justin Jackson, the Cats’ all-time leading rusher.

Newsome declared for the draft following a stellar junior season at NU. In 2021, he led the Big Ten in passes defended (10) and recorded his first career interception in a 17-7 win over Wisconsin. A consensus All-Big Ten First Team selection, Newsome II is the first player since linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. in 2017 to leave for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining.

After suffering a groin injury in the Big Ten Championship Game, Newsome did not play in the 2021 Citrus Bowl. He finished his three-year Cats career with 71 tackles, 25 passes defended, one interception, one fumble recovery and a half tackle-for-loss.

The Chicago native joins a Browns secondary with Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward and safeties John Johnson III and Ronnie Harrison Jr. Cleveland is one of the rising teams in the AFC, earning its first playoff appearance since 2002 last season.

Despite being the only cornerback in the draft class to allow a zero percent completion percentage on third and fourth down, Newsome II was the fourth player at his position to be selected in the Draft. South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn went eighth to the Carolina Panthers, Patrick Surtain II from Alabama was selected ninth by the Denver Broncos and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley was chosen with the 22nd pick by the Tennesse Titans.

In Cleveland, Newsome II will play with two former NU athletes. Walker Jr. signed as a free agent with the Browns this offseason and former Cats offensive lineman Blake Hance — who played in Cleveland’s Wild Card matchup against Pittsburgh — is on the roster as well.

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