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Northwestern in the NFL, Week 18: Contributions in unexpected places

The final week of the season proved fruitful for some ‘Cats.

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Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Week 18 of the NFL season has come and gone, and some ‘Cats benefitted from their teammates resting for the playoffs. Let’s see what the NU alumni accomplished this week and what their future in the league looks like.

Rashawn Slater: Los Angeles Chargers, OT

Slater finished his season strong during the Chargers’ 13-12 loss to the Chiefs. He played a whopping 83 offensive snaps and gave up two pressures without relinquishing a sack. Despite dealing with a nagging ankle injury, Slater played all 1,239 snaps for Los Angeles’ offense this year.

Though he was only selected to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, Slater has undeniably grown into a leader in his third year with the Chargers. He said that his team’s 5-12 finish will only motivate them in the future. With Justin Herbert back in the fold, Slater and the Chargers will look to unseat the Chiefs for the AFC West title in 2024.

Peter Skoronski: Tennessee Titans, OG

Skoronski showcased his power during the Titans’ 28-20 win over the Jaguars. The rookie guard was mauling Jacksonville defenders throughout the game, clearing lanes for Derrick Henry to rush for a season-high 153 yards.

Skoronski had an up-and-down season interrupted by an early-season appendectomy, but his run blocking has been remarkable. There’s no doubt that he will be a foundational piece as the Titans rebuild over the next few seasons.

Trevor Siemian: New York Jets, QB

Siemian struggled in the Foxboro weather during the Jets’ 17-3 win over the Patriots. Despite the win, the journeyman went 8-of-20 for just 70 passing yards and took a sack. Breece Hall did all of the heavy lifting, rushing for 178 yards and a touchdown.

In five appearances, Siemian finished with 724 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. He also took eight sacks and lost three fumbles in relief of Zach Wilson. Siemian will likely look to land a backup gig elsewhere next season.

Ben Skowronek: Los Angeles Rams, WR

Skowronek saved his best for last in the Rams’ 21-20 win over the 49ers. He brought in two receptions for a season-high 22 yards, seeing the field for 41 offensive snaps. Skowronek also played 16 special teams snaps as a gunner but did not make a tackle on that end.

The third-year receiver finished the 2023 season with 66 receiving yards and a touchdown — his lowest output by far. He will likely enter next year at fourth or fifth on the depth chart, depending on if the Rams re-sign Demarcus Robinson.

Cameron Mitchell: Cleveland Browns, CB

Mitchell had a career-best game during the Browns’ 31-14 loss to the Bengals. In his third start of the season, the rookie made five solo tackles. In the first quarter, Mitchell came flying in to stop Joe Mixon behind the line of scrimmage, giving him his first tackle for loss in the pros.

In 13 games played, Mitchell recorded 16 solo tackles, two pass deflections, and a sack. He didn’t see extensive playing time over the Browns’ killer trio of corners, but Mitchell should continue to develop under Jim Schwartz this offseason.

Earnest Brown IV: Los Angeles Rams, DE

Brown had his most productive output of the season in the Rams’ 21-20 win over the 49ers. In 12 defensive snaps, Brown made three combined tackles, two of them solo. All of his takedowns came in the run, stopping San Francisco’s backs on short gains.

Brown will become an exclusive rights free agent this offseason when the Rams will choose if they want to extend a qualifying offer. If he doesn’t re-sign, any team that signs Brown will be acquiring a valuable rotational defender on early-down situations.

Godwin Igwebuike: Pittsburgh Steelers, RB

Igwebuike flaunted his familiarity with the NFL rulebook during the Steelers’ 17-10 win against the Ravens. During a second-quarter kickoff return, Igwebuike hit the deck out of bounds before touching the ball. This triggered a penalty that pushed the Steelers to the 40-yard line.

Though the Steelers weren’t able to capitalize on Igwebuike’s clever play, they still nabbed the win and the final spot in the AFC playoff race. Igwebuike has been a revelation as Pittsburgh’s kickoff returner and will look to rip off another chunk play against the Bills.

Blake Hance: Jacksonville Jaguars, OL

Hance had another unspectacular performance in the Jaguars’ 28-20 loss to the Titans. He played just two offensive snaps and four on special teams, entering for jumbo packages and the kicking unit.

While Hance wasn’t a difference-maker for Jacksonville this season, he still saw action in every single game. Hance is a restricted free agent, and the Jaguars may choose to bring him back to maintain their depth on the offensive line.

Joe Gaziano: Atlanta Falcons, DE

Gaziano saw action for the second time this season in the Falcons’ 48-17 blowout loss to the Saints. In 26 defensive snaps, he assisted on a tackle, bringing down Jamaal Williams after a two-yard gain in the second quarter.

Gaziano will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, meaning he is free to sign with any team in the league. However, there is a chance that he will remain unsigned entering Week One of the 2024 season.

‘Cats that didn’t play this week: Greg Newsome II (Cleveland Browns), Anthony Walker Jr. (Cleveland Browns, knee), Adetomiwa Adebawore (Indianapolis Colts), Joseph Jones (Tennessee Titans), Dean Lowry (Minnesota Vikings, torn pectoral), Evan Hull (Indianapolis Colts, torn meniscus), Ifeadi Odenigbo (New York Jets, injured reserve), Tyler Lancaster (Denver Broncos)