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NU in the NFL: Preseason Edition

The NFL welcomed a handful of 2023 Wildcats draftees into the club

NFL: Preseason-New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL season is upon us, and despite NU football’s dreadful 1-11 record last season, the Wildcats have multiple draftees joining the professional ranks alongside some weathered veteran alumni.

Of course, these additions do not come without departures, with the retirement of 27-year old running back Justin Jackson being the most notable. Joe Jones, the 29-year old linebacker who most recently played with the Titans, is not yet under contract.

Peter Skoronski: OL, Tennessee Titans

The Titans used the 11th overall pick on Skoronski in this year’s draft hoping he would bolster their offensive line, making the Illinois native the first Wildcat to be drafted in the first round since Rashawn Slater and Greg Newsome II in 2021.

Skoronski is expected to be the Titans starting left guard in an offensive line unit that Pro Football Focus ranks as the league’s worst going into the season. They have a mountain of a man in Derrick Henry to run the ball, but Titans quarterbacks were sacked a whopping 49 times in 2022, a bottom five mark in the league and a testament to how much help they need blocking opposing linemen. Peter Skoronski just might be the man for the job and the preseason did nothing to say otherwise.

Week 1 matchup: @ New Orleans Saints (9/10, 12:00 PM CT)

Evan Hull: RB, Indianapolis Colts

Who would’ve thought that there was a legitimate, non-zero chance of Evan Hull getting a decent amount of carries early in the Colts season? Probably not a lot of people, but thanks to Jonathan Taylor’s trade request and Zack Moss’s broken arm, Hull will likely find himself top two on the Colts depth chart come September 10.

Just a year removed from finishing tenth in the Big Ten in rushing yards and fifth in rushing attempts, Hull might find himself with a heavy workload once again in Indianapolis. It’s unclear what this offense will look like under new head coach Shane Steichen and versatile rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, but with inexperience across the board, Hull and the running back corps should be given some extended run.

Across three preseason games, Hull had a relatively pedestrian 17 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown. The 3.1 yards a carry is lower than the Colts would like to see, but in Taylor’s absence, Hull showed off his abilities in pass protection, which could allow him to see the field early and often on crucial third downs.

Week 1 matchup: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (9/10, 12:00 PM CT)

Adetomiwa Adebawore: DE, Indianapolis Colts

Joining Hull on the Colts is Adebawore, who wowed scouts at the NFL combine and saw his draft stock rise as a result. Adebawore didn’t own the Big Ten leaderboards in 2022, but in his 12 games played he was able to force two fumbles and record an impressive nine tackles for a loss.

Adebawore will have to make his mark on a middle-of-the-pack defensive line in Indianapolis, in which he currently sits second on the left defensive tackle depth chart behind veteran Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner. But like Hull, on a team with lower expectations to win now, he will likely be given a shot to prove himself in the defensive line rotation.

Week 1 matchup: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (9/10, 12:00 PM CT)

Rashawn Slater: OL, Los Angeles Chargers

After being limited to just three games in 2022 due to a biceps injury, Slater, the Chargers’ 2021 first round pick, is back and ready to prove that he is one of the best tackles in the league.

The Chargers undoubtedly missed the intimidating presence of Slater on their offensive line in 2022, which can be shown in their team stats. Their running backs averaged just 3.8 yards per attempt, ranking 30th in the league and down from 4.3 with Slater in 2021. In addition, Chargers quarterbacks were sacked 39 times in 2022 compared to just 31 the year prior.

Considering that those aforementioned position groups are anchored by Austin Ekeler and Justin Herbert, respectively, it’s not farfetched to say that Slater’s absence directly contributed to the Chargers dip in offensive production. But with Slater ready to begin what should be his second full season at age 24, the sky’s the limit for the Chargers, who expect big things from the offense with the addition of play-caller Kellen Moore.

Week 1 matchup: vs. Miami Dolphins (9/10, 3:25 PM CT)

Greg Newsome II: CB, Cleveland Browns

Newsome, the Chicago native, is coming off the most productive of his two professional seasons. Along with teammate Denzel Ward, Newsome will form one of the most skilled cornerback duos in the NFL, and continue to prove that he was worthy of the Browns’ 26th overall pick from 2021.

He contributed six passes defended to a Browns defense whose 95 passes defended ranked fifth in the league, with Newsome himself ranking behind only Ward, Martin Emerson, and Grant Delpit on his team.

After battling injuries in his sophomore campaign, Newsome needs a breakout campaign ahead of next offseason, where the Browns will make a decision on his fifth-year option. There will be ample opportunities to make plays in Jim Schwartz’s new defense, who comes in to replace Joe Woods at the helm of the defense.

Week 1 matchup: vs. Cincinnati Bengals (9/10, 12:00 PM CT)

Injured Wildcats: DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (Jets),

Other Wildcats in the NFL: OC Mike Kafka (Giants), CB Cam Mitchell (Browns), LB Anthony Walker (Browns), DE Earnest Brown IV (Rams), WR Ben Skowronek (Rams), Joe Gaziano (Falcons), DE Dean Lowry (Vikings), OL Blake Hance (Jaguars), RB Godwin Igwebuike (Falcons), WR Kyric McGowan (Commanders), QB Trevor Siemian (Bengals), LB Joe Jones (Free agent)