When Peter Skoronski walked onto the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, everything came full circle.
It was the same field on which Skoronski started the 2020 Big Ten Championship as a first-year for Northwestern, another rung placed on the ladder of his illustrious Wildcat career. Now, just over two years later, Skoronski was back — but as a grizzled, bearded veteran getting prepared for his on-field workout at the 2023 NFL Combine.
As Skoronski swung his arms and stretched his legs prior to running the 40-yard dash, it was hard not to realize what this moment signified: that the former five-star had met or exceeded every expectation in his career, including being on the precipice of being a top pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The trajectory, though, hasn’t always been without bumps.
While outsiders may scrutinize the circle — its diameter, circumference, area, etc. — Skoronski is solely focused on what it represents.
Despite being the first player in program history to earn unanimous All-American status, or permitting only five sacks in his entire career, or being Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded pass protector in all of college football in 2022, Skoronski is still knocked and criticized. Almost all concerns stem from his frame.
In Indianapolis, Skoronski measured at 6-foot-4, 313 pounds. According to Mockdraftable, his height is in the eighth percentile of offensive tackles since 1999, while his weight is in the 52nd. What was more eye-opening to some was Skoronski’s arm length: only 32 1/4 inches, which is a fourth-percentile measure among tackles over more than two decades.
For the junior, however, in no way do those numbers define his talent or his ceiling as a pro. You could even say they’re not at arm’s length.
“I think the arm length number doesn’t really determine a great player. I think it’s pretty irrelevant,” Skoronski said in front of his podium on Saturday morning. “I think some of my issues have been chalked up to tiny little things that I can work on or I can fix. I’m not really concerned about that, and from what I gather, a lot of teams aren’t really, either.”
As he met with NFL franchises, from the Packers — where his grandfather Bob is a Hall of Fame member — to the Steelers and many more, Skoronski mentioned that teams were “open” about his position at the next level. While some project the Wildcat as an offensive guard, those behind the front office curtain haven’t tried to pigeon-hole Skoronski.
“No one has really sat me down and been like, ‘Oh, you can’t play tackle for us,’” Skoronski said. “No one has always said, ‘Oh, you have to play guard’ or ‘You can’t play tackle.’ No one has really boxed me in, which I’m pretty pleased with.”
In fact, Skoronski dismissed automatically viewing prospects with shorter arms as a lack of knowledge of finer aspects of offensive line play, a narrative that he hopes to dispel in the NFL.
“I guess some people just look to measurables, maybe some people who don’t understand the position that well,” Skoronski said. “Like, ‘Oh, you’re a tackle. There’s longer D-ends out there, so you need longer arms.’ As my trainer Duke Manyweather says, nobody seems to have an answer for the long-arm guys who can’t block anybody.”
The primary way that Skoronski was so successful in the collegiate ranks, and why he’s projected to be taken so highly in late April, is his assiduously technical approach to offensive line study; that includes quickness out of his stance, which his grandfather instilled. Those methods apply to any spot among a contingent of five starters in the trench, but it’s what permits Skoronski to separate himself — and to quell doubts about his length.
“You win blocks with your feet, really,” Skoronski emphasized. “Continuing to work on punch time and hand placement, I think, are huge things for me to sort of alleviate that sort of issue, which is something I’ve got to work on for sure. At the end of the day, there’s nothing I can do about my arm length. Can’t just sit here and complain about it — not that I would do it, anyway — but there’s plenty of way more important things in terms of being a good offensive lineman.”
Another way to cement yourself as being more than capable of standing alone on an island? Jump out of the gym in the Combine measurements and drills, which Skoronski did in certain aspects.
Though his 40-yard dash of 5.16 was 17th among all offensive linemen that ran in Indy, Skoronski’s 34.5-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-7-inch broad jump were each second. All told, the NU product earned an 8.95 Relative Athletic Score (RAS), indicating overall athleticism near the 90th percentile of all tackles.
At the same time, Skoronski’s measurables scored an even higher RAS at guard: 9.85. That, combined with his shorter arms, has had many believing the Wildcat could be better suited to move inside in the NFL for quite a while. Though Skoronski views himself as a tackle, he explicitly embraced a transition to guard if his pro franchise preferred it.
“Teams have talked about versatility for sure, too. Moving to guard, I’m happy to do that,” Skoronski said. “I’ve got no issues with moving inside or anything.”
Nonetheless, Skoronski would not necessarily be accustomed to playing on the interior. The star expressed that he’s played tackle “pretty much” his whole life, save for sixth grade. Skoronski called the possible switch an “adjustment.”
“I’ve always played tackle my career, so guard would be very new to me,” Skoronski said. “Even switching to right tackle would be new to me. I’m not saying I would just pick up where I left off at left tackle if I did that, but like I said, I’m more than happy to do it. Would embrace it for sure. It’s just like anything else you do — it’s gonna take tons and tons of reps and tons and tons of film to get used to that. So just kind of have to grind it out and put in the work.”
When he played in Evanston, Skoronski’s ability at tackle was never questioned; after all, he started from the moment he stepped on campus, protecting the blindside. That support has carried over to the NFL Draft lead-up, where Skoronski has leaned on his college coaches.
“They’ve been nothing but supportive this whole process,” Skoronski said. “Just constantly reaching out if I need anything. I’ve been talking to Coach [Kurt] Anderson a little bit about some of the scheme stuff, the interview stuff, since he’s been on the NFL side of this, too, so he’s been a huge help there.”
When in Indianapolis, Skoronski was joined by three other members of NU’s 2022 team: Adetomiwa Adebawore, Cam Mitchell and Evan Hull. Beyond that, he also was somewhat reconnected with former Wildcats Brandon Joseph and Eku Leota. Skoronski is content that he and other teammates were able to bring attention to the purple “N” emblem.
“We’re all sort of putting on for Northwestern,” Skoronski said. “It’s cool to represent Northwestern just given they’ve given so much to me, and so maybe give back to them in a sense with that aspect.”
Skoronski compared himself to another Wildcat: Rashawn Slater, who’s been a mentor of Skoronski’s throughout the 2022 season and during draft training. No. 77 has a chance to not only reach the marks set by the No. 13 overall pick in the 2021 Draft, but even best them — potentially becoming the highest-picked Northwestern player since Chris Hinton went fourth overall in the 1983 draft. As with his measurements, though, Skoronski isn’t concerned with those types of minutia.
“In terms of where I’m picked, things like that [don’t] matter as much,” Skoronski stressed. “Rashawn [Slater] obviously set the bar with that two years ago for sure. That’s not really a goal of mine; just want to end up at a good destination, a great spot for me.”
As he has a chance to think back to his college career, Skoronski finds solace in having been a “consistent” player in Evanston, despite “ups and downs” from 2020-22. Skoronski’s word choice may be putting his unblemished track record mildly.
Simply being at the Combine was surreal for Skoronski, who shared moments of introspection during the week.
“Spent a few moments where I’ve had to stop and think like, ‘This is really happening.’ Like, ‘Holy crap, I’m living out a dream,’” Skoronski said. “Just can’t get caught up too much in the process, and still gotta focus on being a better player. The Combine isn’t the Super Bowl; it’s not a game or anything.”
While he might not have hoisted a Lombardi Trophy following some of his stellar tests, Skoronski understands his ability to leave a mark on organizations based on his interviews and testing in Indiana’s capital city. At the end of a whirlwind of a week, the Northwestern product’s mentality hasn’t wavered: playing offensive tackle is exactly how he can elevate a team, even to the glimmer of a championship.
“I just want to emphasize that I can play the tackle position at the next level, which I think I can,” Skoronski said.