Roughly 11 months after TJ Slaton was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round (173rd overall) of the 2021 NFL draft, his team is expected to add another talent at his position. This time, however, that pick could be a blue-chip prospect that the Packers invest a first-round pick toward and starts from day one. The thought is Kenny Clark, the two-time Pro Bowl selection, needs help on the interior of the line and the team doesn’t currently have the talent to help him — at least not talent that a contending club should field. Could the need be less urgent than it appears, though? Enter TJ Slaton: the forgotten Packer.
While the likes of Georgia University’s Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis, or Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey circulate as the desired first-round picks among fan circles, Slaton rest as a second-year pro with undeniable potential.
The Florida product was lauded as a developmental prospect in 2021 due to his freakish athletic ability that didn’t match a monstrous frame. The 24-year-old stands 6’4” tall and breaks the scale at 330lbs, yet shows the ability to impact the backfield while being a run-plugging anchor on the line.
His inconsistency on-field hindered his draft stock but the untapped potential, body type, and athleticism were too much for the Packers to pass up.
Slaton’s burst was evident during his time as a Gator and carried over to his pro day, where he recorded a 1.68 10-yard split. For comparison, Henry Ruggs, the former Crimson Tide speed demon, logged a 1.48 10-yard split — so, not bad for the big fella.
Slaton logged just 266 snaps in his rookie season, including the playoffs, recording three QB pressures, 23 tackles, and one sack.
Much of his opportunity didn’t come until the final month of the season, as he was on the field for at least 21 snaps in each of the last four games of the regular season — he recorded one such game in the previous 13 games.
Slaton showed promise during his time as a big contributor, standing strong against powerful interior offensive lineman, hustling to chase down ball carriers, and even showcasing his pass-rushing ability at times.
It’s a small sample size to judge the young man on but the running-mate Packers fans — and presumably the front office — covet for Clark could already be in the building.
Slaton was consistently noteworthy during the 2021 preseason when he had more opportunity and eyes on him and is the perfect fit for what would work well alongside Clark.
The addition of Jarran Reed may only help Slaton’s chances by relieving the young player from shouldering a pressure-packed workload. A potential emergence from Slaton in this year’s training camp could put the future of Dean Lowry — an $8 million cap hit — in jeopardy.
Come draft day, if a player like Wyatt or Davis is available at 22nd overall, it would make sense if the Packers revert to its mostly-successful “best player available” strategy. On the other hand, if the team believes Slaton will make a leap this season, IDL could slide down the list of needs.
A man that big and athletic should never be overlooked.
While this draft has some impressive talent in the trenches, the Packers could already have another late-round star budding in their building.——————
Joshua Frey-Sam is a journalism student and aspiring sportscaster hailing from Winnipeg, Canada. A Packers fan since 2005, Josh has worked to master the financial and scouting aspect of the NFL over the past few years. Josh remains a firm believer that Dez did not, in fact, catch the ball. You can follow him on twitter at @jfreysam.