As Inside NU wraps up its coverage of the 2022 Northwestern football season, it is time to review the final position group: the offensive line.
Overall Grade: C+
Like every facet of the offense this season, the Northwestern offensive line left a lot to be desired this year. The ‘Cats shuffled through different variations of lines as they were riddled with injuries this year. Northwestern ranked 97th nationally in rushing offense and failed to break 100 yards rushing in five games this year.
However, Pro Football Focus graded NU as the 61st-best team in run blocking. It certainly didn’t help that teams sold out to stop the run and wanted the QBs to beat them. Kurt Anderson’s group was in the middle of the road in pass blocking, giving up 21 sacks on the season (tied for 48th in the nation), although not all sacks were due to quick breakdowns in protection. On the other hand, PFF graded the Wildcats 18th in the nation for pass blocking.
The ‘Cats did struggle in short-yardage situations this year. Northwestern was stuffed on multiple third and fourth-and-one plays throughout the season. The purple and white allowed five plays in one game that were blown up behind the line of scrimmage. As NU will have to replace starters in the trenches for the 2023 season, let’s take one final look at how each offensive lineman fared this past season.
Peter Skoronski: A+
There is a reason that Skoronski has been projected in the top five of this year’s NFL draft; the tackle is simply incredible to watch. According to PFF, there is not a single player in the nation (with a minimum of five snaps) who is better than the Park Ridge, Illinois native in pass protection, as he was graded at a 93.0. It was the best pass-blocking grade in a season for the last two years with Skoronski only giving up six pressures and one sack in the entire season. He was the ‘Cats’ cornerstone on the blind side and was outright phenomenal at it, and his technique is teach tape for all up-and-coming offensive linemen.
In the run game, the junior is incredibly agile and impressive in climbing to the second level. He moves fluidly, but as soon as he gets his hands on the defender, will run them out of the play and finish the block. His ability to fold inside and meet a linebacker in the A-gap, combined with his speed to pull all the way around for a counter, makes him a can't-miss prospect.
Skoronski’s football IQ is off the charts, and it is clear from his tape that he can play anywhere across the offensive line. The main question regarding the junior is whether he has the size to play tackle in the NFL, a similar criticism that NU alum Rashawn Slater faced, but any scout who watches his tape will see that he is more than capable of handling the top edge rushers at the professional level.
He was a finalist for the Outland Trophy, given to the best interior offensive lineman in college football. No. 77 was also named a unanimous First Team All-Big Ten Selection and a Walter Camp First Team All-American. Watching his tape, you cannot help but gush over how quickly he’s able to get off the ball and make a key block that pops a big play, just like he did in the Big House last season. When the new Ryan Field is completed, you can guarantee that Skoronski’s name will be among other NU greats on the second deck.
Josh Priebe: B
Priebe returned from a season-ending injury in 2021 and looked dominant alongside Skoronski in the ‘Cats’ only victory of the 2022 season. Priebe was fantastic in the run game, bulldozing people off the ball and finishing blocks downfield. He moves incredibly well for a big man and is an excellent pulling guard to set the edge. The junior is tenacious in getting off the ball and climbing to the second level, and he was a good pass protector and secured the inside, helping the new center Charlie Schmidt.
There was a difference in the offense when the Michigander was carted off against Maryland and ruled out for the rest of the season. Had he played the whole year, Priebe probably would have a higher grade because he was playing at such a high level. While watching Skoronski’s tape, Priebe jumps off the screen with his down-blocking ability. If the junior can stay on the field next year, he will end up on an NFL team’s big board.
Ethan Wiederkehr: C+
The sixth-year O-lineman has been a constant presence for the Wildcats since he arrived in Evanston, as he saw time at both tackle and guard this year. Wiederkehr was decent in the run game on the interior, succeeding against double teams in the zone scheme and at climbing up to the second level. However, he struggled to create holes in individual matchups, especially as defenses loaded the box to sell out against the run.
The Long Island native improved from last year but still had trouble in the passing game. He allowed 17 pressures and 12 QB hurries on the season, the most allowed by any Wildcat this season. Wiederkehr’s leadership will be hard to replace after six years, and Northwestern will need to find someone to step up.
Caleb Tiernan: C
The former four-star was sidelined with an injury early in the season but came into his own down the stretch. Tiernan struggled in the run game all season, which was expected given he was facing Big Ten defenders for the first time.
The sophomore’s footwork is solid, and he has a solid foundation, but needs to get better at staying under control for his initial blocks and climbing to the second level. On the other hand, the Livonia, Michigan native was solid in pass protection.
Minus an abysmal game against the Golden Gophers, Tiernan held his own against edge rushers as his technique improved. With the Wildcats likely to lose multiple starters, it will be interesting to see where Tiernan can step in.
Charlie Schmidt: C
The senior made a full-time jump to center this year, taking over control of the calls along the O-line. Schmidt was a decent run blocker, helping on double teams or going one-on-one with nose tackles. However, the senior’s weakness was picking up crashing linebackers in short-yardage situations, as the A-gaps always seemed to be flooded by run-support defenders.
In the passing game, Schmidt struggled to stonewall opposing rushers, giving up 12 pressures and 10 quarterback hurries. Center is one of the hardest positions to play, and Schmidt’s durability is commendable, but he has room for improvement.
Vincent Picozzi: C
The transfer from Colorado State and Temple slid right in as a starting guard for the Wildcats. Picozzi struggled in the run game all year, as he could not efficiently get to the second level, which is needed in a zone scheme. Picozzi was better in the pass than the run game, but left a lot to be desired. The Pennsylvanian gave up 11 pressures and nine QB hurries, as he also struggled to pick up linebackers and twist stunts that proved effective against Northwestern.
Conrad Rowley: Incomplete
Rowley appeared in the first two games for Northwestern this year before medically retiring in October.
Ben Wrather: Incomplete
Wrather only saw a meaningful number of snaps in the season finale against Illinois. As he approaches his senior campaign, Wrather will have a chance to take one of the starting guard jobs.