Do you hear what I hear? Those faint chimes in the background only mean one thing — the NFL Draft is almost here and the Panthers are almost on the clock. Although Peter Skoronski, Northwestern’s stud left tackle and the first unanimous first-team All-American in program history, won’t go No. 1, fans should still expect to hear his name called early Thursday night. Just two years ago, the ‘Cats had another left tackle get selected in the first round of the draft in Rashawn Slater (Los Angeles Chargers). With that in mind, let’s take a look back and compare the two Wildcat greats as prospects.
College Stats and Honors
While in Evanston, Skoronski notched 33 starts over three seasons at left tackle. He was twice named First-Team All-Big Ten and once to the Second Team. He was a Freshman All-American and in his junior year, he was named the Big Ten’s Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year and was a team captain for the ‘Cats.
Slater, on the other hand, started 37 games for the Wildcats. The current Charger manned the right tackle position for 26 starts before switching to the left side in 2019. Slater was named to the Freshman All-Big Ten Team in 2017, Third-Team All-Big Ten in 2018 and an honorable mention in 2019. Before his senior year was canceled due to the pandemic, Slater was named a preseason All-American, preseason All-Big Ten and was added to the Outland Trophy watchlist.
Graphic courtesy of Relative Athletic Score
Note: The numbers for Rashawn Slater were taken from his pro day, as the NFL Combine was cancelled in 2021.
Both tackles are stellar athletes with strengths and weaknesses in similar areas. Both prospects were dinged for their shorter arm lengths (most NFL teams prefer their offensive tackles to have 34-inch arms or longer), prompting debate on whether they should be kicked inside to guard. Slater and Skoronski both fall on the smaller size for offensive linemen, but make up for it with incredible speed, acceleration and agility. Look at all that green! Skoronski outperformed Slater in the two jumping categories (vertical and broad) but Slater takes the edge in the bench press, speed drills and the three-cone drill which measures change of direction. Also, Slater famously did this at his pro day:
no thoughts, just rashawn slater squatting 450 pounds at his pro day pic.twitter.com/EK0EHmpOvG— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) March 1, 2023
Skoronski was one of the best offensive lineman in the country from the moment he stepped foot on the field as a freshman and took over from Slater. He explodes out of his stance with burst and has a fantastic anchor. He is brilliant with his hand movement and body control, packing a punch when he hits his defenders. He’s also an elite processor who excels in both run and pass protection. He played guard in high school and has the positional versatility to play several spots alongside the line.
On the negative side, teams are legitimately concerned about his length and several NFL executives project him as a guard. Because of this, defenders with long arms often are able to initiate contact and get within his frame, pushing him back into the pocket.
For Slater, we will focus only on his college tape, not his stellar play from his time with the Los Angeles Chargers. At Northwestern, Slater had similar quickness and fluidity out of his stance with impressive flexibility to mirror defenders. He displayed fantastic strength and contact balance and showcased impressive recovery ability. He was rarely caught lunging and, just like Skoronski, showed the flexibility to play several positions on the offensive line. He was also just about the only player in the Big Ten who was able to stay in front of Ohio State’s (now the Washington Commanders’) Chase Young. He was consistently dominant in the run and pass game.
Just like Skoronski, many analysts and scouts viewed Slater as a guard at the next level (I would say he’s working out just fine at tackle). At times, Slater was prone to inside moves and would occasionally get beat.
As you can tell, Slater and Skoronski are remarkably similar as prospects. Both are stellar athletes with a requisite number of starts under their belt who were both scrutinized for their lack of length. Both ideally fit into a zone-scheme that takes advantage of their movement skills and gets them on the move in the run game. Slater and Skoronski are both deserving of early first-round picks and should be stalwarts for their teams’ offensive line for the next decade.
Ultimately, both prospects are fantastic, but if I were a GM (which I am not, unfortunately) and had to choose between the two, I would narrowly lean in the direction of Slater. The additional athleticism and slight advantage in the length department is the separator for me. That said, I would still be more than comfortable turning in a draft card with Skoronski’s name on it within the top dozen picks of the draft and feel adamant that he should start at left tackle, the more premium position, before being told he is a guard.
Who Will Go Higher?
In 2021, Rashawn Slater went 13th overall to the Chargers. I’d argue, in most drafts, Slater would be a shoo-in for the top 10, but the top of the 2021 draft class was STACKED. Trevor Lawrence, Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, Penei Sewell, Patrick Surtain II and Micah Parsons have all already made Pro Bowls (as has Slater). On top of that, Jaylen Waddle, Jaycee Horn, DeVonta Smith and Justin Fields all look like guys who aren’t far away from reaching that same status. Those account for 11 of the top 13, with the other two picks being highly-valued quarterbacks who went second and third overall (Zach Wilson and Trey Lance).
Before Skoronski is taken on Thursday night, expect to hear at least three quarterbacks come off the board with a real likelihood there will be a fourth. Will Anderson Jr., Jalen Carter, Tyree Wilson and Christian Gonzalez all seem likely to go ahead of Skoronski as well. That pushes Northwestern’s offensive tackle into the 9-15 range of the draft.
In that range, the Bears (9), Eagles (10), Titans (11), Jets (13), Patriots (14) and Packers (15) could all be in the market for an offensive lineman. Skoronski will be competing with Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Georgia’s Broderick Jones to be the first offensive lineman off the board, and if he is taken first, I expect him to better Slater’s landing spot of 13. There is a small chance Skoronski could slip out of the top-15 entirely, but my best guess is that he gets taken by New York at 13, perfectly matching Slater. That would certainly be fitting for two prospects from the same school with remarkably similar profiles. Regardless of the destination, the Northwestern offensive tackle factory has been established.