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FILM ROOM: Why Peter Skoronski is the next great Northwestern left tackle

The junior epitomizes being a brick wall and a mauler for a reason.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 Big Ten Championship Game - Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even in a year to forget for Northwestern football, its brightest star still shone.

In 2021, left tackle Peter Skoronski enjoyed First Team All-Big Ten honors (coaches) following a stupendous first year as the Wildcats’ blindside man in 2020. Skoronski’s illustrious track record has scouts and analysts raving entering the junior’s third year in Evanston, with No. 77 being named a Walter Camp Preseason First-Team All-American and widely viewed as one of the best offensive line prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Watching Skoronski on tape only emphasizes just how good the Park Ridge, Ill. native has been, even in light of playing on two poor offensive lines in his first two seasons. The play below is just one example of how Skoronski frequently thrives in spite of communication lapses and poor blocks from his fellow O-linemen.

Skoronski has consistently shown the ability to be a one-man wrecking crew and fortress for whichever ‘Cat is behind center or toting the rock. With his ridiculous strength — especially in his hands — solid technique, relentlessness and awareness, Skoronski’s film proves why he’s one of the premier offensive linemen in college football.

Pass Protection

Playing in the Big Ten will offer linemen the chance to go to war with future NFL pass-rushers, and that was most certainly the case with Skoronski this past season. The left tackle opposed No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, No. 30 selection George Karlaftis and top-46 draftees Boye Mafe and David Ojabo. Such pressure created a diamond outline out of Skoronski, however.

One of the first things I noticed about Skoronski was just how terrific his anchor and leverage are. Even at an undersized 6-foot-4, Skoronski’s ability to generate force up from his legs is sensational and one of the major methods of neutralizing rushers.

Take this play against Wisconsin, where Skoronski engulfs a bull rush and doesn’t give an inch. I should also note the superhuman flexibility of his knees to support this angle.

Skoronski has terrific lower-body strength, but his hands truly mimic vices. A cliché for offensive linemen is that when they get their hands on a defender, that player is erased, but it’s fact for Skoronski — I’ll hammer home this concept even more when discussing run blocking.

On this rep against Ojabo, Skoronski grabs the edge rusher around the ribs, and the Wolverine is absolutely stifled, unable to gain ground as the tackle maintains his hold.

When you pair elite strength with phenomenal technique, you tend to get a superstar tackle — and Skoronski is just that. The junior almost always displayed great pad level, one of the foundations of offensive line play. On top of that, Skoronski paired such precision with an ability to mirror opposing rush moves.

Watch Hutchinson against Skoronski opposed to other NU linemen, and it’s easy to understand why the left tackle is so highly touted. Skoronski largely won the battle against the current Detroit Lion.

On this first snap, Skoronski employs a vertical set, patiently waiting for Hutchinson. From there, he brings his hands down when Hutchinson goes low. After, he moves his hands up and counters an attempt at a rip courtesy of his left arm.

This next play is purely textbook technique from Skoronski. The tackle cuts off an inside move from Hutchinson with a lightning-quick stab from the right hand, which absolutely disrupts the rusher.

In spite of this ugly interception from Andrew Marty, Skoronski does everything correctly. The LT counteracts a long-arm by leading with his right, keeping his hands inside the shoulder pads to keep Marty clean.

Likewise, Skoronski demonstrates top-notch skill in adjusting his vision mid-set, as in on stunts or simulated pressures — the types of plays he’ll assuredly bear witness to in the NFL.

On this play against Wisconsin, the Badgers have four along the defensive line, but only three of the D-linemen rush. Skoronski briefly watches the lineman in front of him but then works beautifully with Josh Priebe to pass off and stifle the looper.

The LT displays similar aptitude here, recognizing the stunt and switching onto linebacker Josh Ross.

What might be more impressive than Skoronski’s technique is his propensity to recover even after getting beaten on a move.

Although Karlaftis momentarily gets free, Skoronski keeps the DE off balance and stays with him to eliminate his attack.

Skoronski will, on occasion, lose reps on rushes — more on that later — but his proclivity to push defenders well beyond the pocket is refined.

Even though Mafe gets the edge with a swim move, Skoronski keeps working to push Mafe away from QB Ryan Hilinski.

Every offensive lineman should play with a requisite level of nastiness, and Skoronski undoubtedly checks that box.

Even with the clock winding down in a demoralizing loss in Ann Arbor, Skoronski dumps Ojabo, showcasing full effort.

No breakdown of a top-flight O-lineman would be complete without a pancake block, right? Well, here’s some sweet Friday brunch for Skoronski.

Ultimately, Skoronski plays with a fundamental tenacity, his motor running through the whistle. That grit can be invaluable on plays like this one, where no receivers are open and quarterbacks look to take off and run.

Few, if any, offensive linemen are perfect; one of Skoronski’s flaws is sometimes being susceptible to surrendering ground. A focal point of improvement should be the bull rush, something which Ojabo employed for a pressure. Against other defenders, too, Skoronski had a tendency to get pushed back on such rushes.

Likewise, Skoronski can have some issues on advanced moves.

Once, Ojabo turned to a ghost rush, a move effectively patented by Super Bowl MVP and current Buffalo Bill Von Miller, which caught the LT by surprise.

I showcased Skoronski recovering well after getting beaten by Mafe’s swim, but the new Seattle Seahawk earned a sack on this move, winning with quickness and good hands to get enough of Hilinski.

Run Blocking

For as outstanding as Skoronski is in pass pro, where he really shines is blocking on runs. I outlined Skoronski’s strength, hand placement, drive and IQ above, and he blends them masterfully when tasked with opening lanes for ballcarriers.

This snap by the left tackle is clinical. Skoronski helps seal an opening for Evan Hull by engaging low, keeping his center of gravity, pushing upward and continuing to fight.

More often than not, Skoronski generates snaps like this, in which he totally bulldozes defenders. It should not look this easy to push 300-pound players.

Even in cases when his technique isn’t pristine, Skoronski is still able to win reps because of his brute strength.

During this run, Skoronski does not engage as low as he should, yet he still walls off the defender, using good hand placement and turning his back to create an opening.

I would remiss if I didn’t address Skoronski’s hands in the run game as well. After engaging with the Purdue linebacker at the second level, the LB sheds the block, appearing in position to make a stop. Nonetheless, Skoronski halts him with a slight grab, one which causes a stoppage until Skoronski slams the door.

Speaking of the second level, the ability of offensive linemen to successfully stifle linebackers is one of the hallmarks of exceptionality. After a slight chip on Karlaftis, Skoronski moves upfield to engage with the ‘backer, holding him steady to prevent pursuit on this Hull gallop.

It’s especially crucial to reach the second level on double teams. This play by Skoronski does exactly that: after combo-blocking the 2-tech, Skoronski ensures he doesn’t invest too much time with the defensive lineman. From there, he twists to cut off the Sam linebacker and create space.

Being an offensive lineman is innately selfless, and that particularly applies to Skoronski. He’s never afraid to get low and crash down for a block, as he does here on this Hull touchdown.

Offensive line guru Brandon Thorn lauds those who “find work,” meaning locating additional players to block. Skoronski is no stranger to that principle.

On this draw against the Boilermakers, Skoronski does a good job getting in space, but he has nobody to readily block in front of him. Consequently, he peels back to find the linebacker, preventing an earlier stop.

An area in which O-linemen are especially scrutinized is pulling, as it indicates their raw athleticism and movement skills. Skoronski had several such exemplary plays, including this seal on a QB Power and on Hull’s 75-yard touchdown in The Big House.

At the same time, Skoronski didn’t seem to move super gracefully out in space, which can lead to subpar technique. Take this pull in which Skoronski hesitates slightly, tries to lower the boom with just his shoulder and is promptly blown up by Jack Sanborn.

As with edge rushers, Skoronski can be fooled by supremely fast, explosive moves in the run game.

During this play against Indiana State, Northwestern runs a zone-blocking scheme, so Skoronski is asked to get outside and upfield. Even then, he doesn’t get much of the incoming defender, netting a loss of yards. It’s very nitpicky stuff, and blame can also be attributed to left guard Conrad Rowley, but it’s still a play that probably needs to be made.

The Bottom Line

In his two years at Northwestern, Skoronski has allowed just four sacks and 10 hits while playing 1,500 snaps, over 150 more than the next-closest Wildcat offensive lineman. The junior has cemented himself as a durable, proven left tackle in a college football conference rooted in the trenches.

Some experts view Skoronski as more of a guard at the next level due to his low-percentile height and weight, but he’s done more than enough to solidify his status as a tackle at the next level. Some teams prognosticated Rashawn Slater the same way, but those that acknowledged his talent at tackle — namely the Chargers — are continuing to grin.

Skoronski projects as a first-round pick due to his overall leverage, hand strength, savviness, ability to recover and competitiveness. That being said, Skoronski will have to test well to underscore his athleticism and reach top-10 status. While he should dominate early in the NFL as a run-blocker, Skoronski may have a learning curve with faster, stronger, more technical edge defenders.

All in all, Skoronski should be viewed as a relatively high-floor prospect with room to improve. If he enters the 2023 NFL Draft, Skoronski should become the second Wildcat in three years to hear his name called on Day One.