To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern’s Top 10 Most Important Players in 2021. We’ve put our heads together as a staff, used the unruly power of democracy and created a list that has already caused plenty of disagreement.
The list’s criteria simply consisted of players we believe to be the most important to Northwestern football in 2021. However, we know that is up for interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of one player over his backup. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could also mean players who have underperformed and need to step up.
Only one thing is known: no two lists from our staff members are the same. That’s why for each player, we’ll have at least one member break down their placement for the aforementioned player.
Mac Stone (1)
No, that’s not a typo, I truly believe that Peter Skoronski is the most important player on the Northwestern football roster this year. Let me explain why before you start chucking tomatoes.
If you want to judge these rankings by who’s a clear cut leader, then your most important player on any given team would likely be the quarterback. In Northwestern’s case, all signs point toward Ryan Hilinski fulfilling that role. However, I’ve said in previous rankings that I believe this year’s Northwestern team will be carried by its defense, much like previous years. Additionally, I don’t know how Hilinski will adjust to Big Ten play.
So why Skoronski at the top spot? To put it simply, I believe he has the potential to have a big impact on every single play. His name won’t pop up in the stat sheet, but his presence is crucial. There may be four other guys on the offensive line, but he’s the headliner. He has the talent to go toe-to-toe with any of the top defensive ends in the country as a sophomore. Skoronski will impact the play, no matter if its run or pass.
So sure, one could obviously make the case for Hilinski or someone like Cam Porter to take the top spot. They both have the potential to make huge plays and turn the tide of a game. Skoronski may not have that, but if he were missing from Northwestern’s front five, his absence would be felt across the entire offense. I wish I could have chosen the entire offensive line here, but since I couldn’t, I’m going with Skoronski in the number one spot.
Jackson Gordwin - No ranking because he just joined the site this week :)
Skoronski may not be the flashiest player, but it should come as no surprise that he was ranked as the fourth most important player for the 2021 season by our staff. For starters, he is not just your dependable, run-of-the-mill left tackle — he is dominant. His quick first step and violent punch give him an advantage in the pass game, as he is able to create ample separation between the pass rusher and himself. During his true freshman season, he started all nine games and was nearly unbeatable off the line. Game by game, Skoronski earned the trust of his teammates and coaches, which led to him being involved in more one-on-one situations as the season progressed. He and the other pass blockers were so successful at defending quarterback Peyton Ramsey’s blindside that Northwestern was amongst the least sacked teams in all of the Big Ten last year, allowing just 1.4 sacks per game.
Not only is Skoronski hard to beat in the pass game, but he is also a force in the run game. The 294-pound tackle is a technician, using hand placement and brute force to generate leverage that makes it extremely difficult for a defender to get past him. The Illinois native was a master at shifting defensive linemen to create just enough space for ball carriers to maneuver through, which helped contribute to the 1,465 rushing yards that the Wildcats accumulated over the nine-game season.
Another part of Skoronski’s game that stands out is his hustle, as he is always in a relentless pursuit of would-be tacklers and stops at next to nothing to disrupt defenders.
As a freshman during the pandemic-ridden 2020 season, he made a smooth transition from the high school game to the bright lights under which Big Ten football is played. Throughout the season there never seemed to be a moment or opponent that rattled Skoronski which is impressive considering he had to fill the extremely large shoes of Rashawn Slater. His poise and dedication to the game are noticeable from a mile away, and I would expect him to make a large leap from his 2020 season to the upcoming one.
Last season, Big Ten teams had just a few weeks to prepare for the season as the league had announced that it would resume fall sports in mid September, marking a return to the gridiron for October 24th. The lack of preparation and chemistry for Big Ten teams made it difficult for players to acclimate to the new season, but this is especially true for first-years like Skoronski during 2020. Now that he will have had an entire off-season with the team to harness his skills, not to mention nine games of playing experience under his belt, a jump from All-Big Ten Third Team to Second or First Team seems imminent.
If the ‘Cats are fortunate enough to reach the Big Ten Championship, it will be an achievement that comes as a direct result of unsung heroes such as Skoronski.