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2023 NFL Draft OT class: Peter Skoronski is No. 1, but will this be a down year?

Editor’s note: This is part five of Dane Brugler’s Summer Scouting series, which takes a position-by-position look at the top prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft. Previously: Part I (QBs), part II (RBs), part III (WRs) and part IV (TEs).

It’s too early to say the 2023 offensive tackle draft class is below average — players will improve and under-the-radar prospects will emerge. But at this point in the process, I find it very hard to get excited about the position for next year’s class.

Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski is No. 1 on the list, but there is a good chance he (eventually) shifts over to guard in my rankings. Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. is next, and he has sky-high potential due to his traits of him… but he has been a guard thus far for the Buckeyes and is a left-tackle projection. Three seniors round out my early top five — three talented but flawed players, who are looking to cement day-two status this season.

(Note: Asterisk represents draft-eligible underclassmen. Heights and weights are what NFL teams have on file for each player and may differ from school rosters)

1. *Peter Skoronski, Northwestern (6-foot-4, 310)

Best trait: Controlled feet

An athletic blocker, Skoronski is smooth in his setup, with the mirroring skills to ride outside speed or redirect his weight to cut off inside rush lanes. Thanks to his quick processor and controlled feet, he consistently wins with quality positioning, while also flashing the hand strength and punch timing to stymie pass rushers.

Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, lived in the Northwestern backfield on last year’s game tape. But all of his success for him came against the Wildcats’ right tackle — he did n’t find much success when lined up against Skoronski, who consistently won with his ability to stay controlled mid-connection.

Must improve: Anchoring vs. power

Skoronski owns a compact build and carries his weight well, but his lack of length leaves him at a disadvantage at times. Long-armed power rushers with a few steps of momentum can reach Skoronski’s chest and drive him backward into the pocket. Aside from continuing to get stronger in his lower body, Skoronski must continue to hone his timing to compensate for his shorter arms.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

When Rashawn Slater opted out of the 2020 college football season, Northwestern lost its best player. But Skoronski stepped in as a true freshman left tackle and played at a high level, in the process announcing himself as one of the most promising blockers in college football. Slater was the No. 13 pick in 2021 and an All-Pro as a rookie last season for the Chargers — a tough act to follow for anyone. But in talking to several people close to the Northwestern program, they put Slater and Skoronski in the same conversation, on the field and as team leaders.

There is a decent chance that Skoronski eventually shifts over to guard in my positional rankings. Do I think he can play tackle in the NFL? Gone. But, just like other college tackles like Zack Martin or Joel Bitonio, Skoronski’s skill set could be maximized by moving inside to guard. While Slater was clearly a tackle prospect, in my opinion, most NFL evaluators I’ve spoken to believe Skoronski’s best pro position is inside at guard.

Regardless, it is unanimous that he will be an early NFL starter.

2. *Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State (6-6, 315)

Best trait: Big-man fluidity

It is easy to see why Johnson was one of the highest-ranked offensive line recruits in Ohio State history. He has outstanding size and length, with the gifted athleticism of a much smaller player. From his feet to his hips, Johnson has a fluid lower body to spring out of his stance and cleanly redirect, both in pass protection and the run game.

While his technique continues to be a work in progress, Johnson’s natural fluidity and power are outstanding foundational traits. On this play against Penn State, Johnson (at right guard) cuts off the rush angle of a stunting Jesse Luketa (No. 40), then finishes him to the ground:

Must improve: Body of work at tackle

Johnson played left tackle in high school and was recruited for the blindside at Ohio State. But through two seasons, he has yet to line up at left tackle — he started every game at right guard last season as a sophomore. Johnson is expected to move outside to his more natural position for the 2022 season, and NFL scouts will be watching closely.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

Considered the top offensive line recruit in the 2020 class, Johnson was a top-10 recruit nationally and ranked higher than Jaxon Smith-Njigba and CJ Stroud in Ohio State’s recruiting class. A natural tackle, Johnson moved inside to guard when he arrived in Columbus and played sparingly as a freshman while he developed his body. He earned the starting right guard job last season as a sophomore as the Buckeyes looked to get the best five linemen on the field.

At right guard, Johnson earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the league coaches. With former Ohio State teammate Nicholas Pettit-Frere now in the NFL, though, Johnson will fill those shoes at left tackle and the rising junior will get his chance to shine. The Cincinnati native is currently a projection at left tackle, with questions about his timing and technique out in space. But with his size, strength and fluid movement skills, Johnson could translate a breakout 2022 season into an early-round draft pick.

3. Jaelyn Duncan, Md. (6-6, 288)

Best trait: Balanced movements

Duncan plays with outstanding lateral quickness off the ball and into his pass sets, thereby allowing him to stay balanced as he sets up shop. He understands depth and timing to hit his landmarks from him, and he moves with the flow and recovery athleticism to mirror rush speed. Duncan also shows balanced movements in the run game, executing pulls and pancaking defenders in space.

With his foot quickness and core balance, Duncan has the required athleticism for the next level. On last year’s tape, he matched up well against Minnesota’s Boye Mafe, who was drafted in the second round due to his explosiveness off the edge. Duncan handled him in pass pro and did not allow a single pressure.

Must improve: Punch timing

While he plays with contact balance, Duncan has only average arm length (NFL-verified 33 1/4 inches) and will struggle to recover vs. defenders who get inside his chest from him. When he does n’t stay on time with his punch, he invites long-armed rushers to bully him in reverse (see his battles of him vs. former Penn State pass rusher — and Falcons second-round pick — Arnold Ebiketie last season) .

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

A native of Maryland, Duncan was a four-star recruit and bypassed several SEC (Florida, LSU, Tennessee) and Big Ten (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State) offers to play for his home state Terrapins. He was inserted as the starting left tackle as a redshirt freshman and has started 27 games there over the last three seasons, twice earning honorable mention All-Big Ten.

Some NFL scouts believe he will make a better interior lineman, but Duncan has the tools to stay at left tackle at the next level. If he continues to build upon what he put on his 2021 tape, Duncan will cement himself as a top-100 draft pick.

4. Zion Nelson, Miami (Fla.) (6-5, 311)

Best trait(s): Light feet and long arms

Although still a work in progress in multiple areas, Nelson has several of the key measurables that NFL teams covet at left tackle. He moves well off the snap, with the slide range to protect the corner and answer speed with his own body quickness. It also helps that Nelson has the arm length (verified 35 inches) to cover up a misstep.

Must improve: Shaky balance/anchor

While he has done an admirable job adding weight and getting stronger, Nelson isn’t a power player. He can be put on skates by bull rushers, due to his soft shoulders and faulty anchor — especially when his hands are n’t on time. And, because of that shaky balance, his recovery options from him are n’t as developed as other blockers’ are.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

When he arrived in Coral Gables in the spring of 2019, Nelson weighed in at just 250 pounds and was in need of a patient coaching staff — Miami was the only power-five program to offer him a scholarship. Mark Richt, however, saw something in the raw athlete and Nelson became the Hurricanes starting left tackle as a true freshman.

Right now, Nelson is still more of a project than a finished product. But he has the length, athletic tools and coachable upside that intrigues NFL teams and could land him on day two of the draft. As Nelson enters his fourth season as a starter, scouts are hopeful that he will make meaningful progress under the tutelage of new head coach Mario Cristobal, who played offensive tackle for the Hurricanes in the early ’90s.

5. Dawand Jones, Ohio State (6-9, 370)

Best trait: Imposing size

With his size, Jones makes even the most intimidating defensive linemen appear small. The right tackle’s NFL-verified numbers speak for themselves: 6-8 1/2-inches (rounded up to 6-9 above), 370 pounds, 36 1/8-inch arms, 11 5/8-inch hands and 89 1 /8-inch wingspan. That’s a whole lot of man. Jones flexes his muscles in the run game, where he can bury defenders into the ground or latch on and drive them off the screen.

Because of his struggles to bend, it won’t always look pretty with Jones — especially in pass protection. But, due to his gargantuan frame and length of him, the right tackle can swallow rushers and get the job done.

Must improve: Pass-pro recovery/technique

Predictably for a blocker his size, Jones is a high-cut waist-bender who tends to fall apart when he can’t rely on overpowering the man across from him. His technical approach to him in pass protection looks different from snap to snap, and he often finds himself overextended and leaning, which leaves him off balance.

Jones also needs to develop from an instinctive standpoint to play out in front, instead of trying to react to rushers.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

While Johnson was the top-ranked recruit in Ohio State’s 2020 class, Jones was the lowest-ranked recruit in the Buckeyes’ 2019 haul. Growing up, Jones — an Indianapolis native — was a basketball-first athlete with NBA aspirations; he averaged 17.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game as a high school senior and received basketball scholarships from MAC programs like Ball State and Kent State.

However, Jones returned to football midway through his high school career and realized offensive line was his path to professional sports. After spot duty as a freshman and sophomore at Ohio State, Jones earned the starting right tackle job as a junior and started 12 games in 2021.

Jones flirted with leaving Columbus for the NFL after last season, but he wanted to improve upon his “fourth- or fifth-round” draft grades from scouts. Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day said Jones returned to be a “first- or second-rounder,” and the Ohio State coaches laid out a plan for the right tackle to reach that level this season.

Ultimately, I think the more realistic projection for Jones is in the middle of those two ranges — somewhere in the third round.

Preseason top 20 senior offensive tackles

1.Duncan
2.Nelson
3.Jones
4. *Blake Freeland, BYU (6-8, 307)
5. Ryan Hayes, Michigan (6-7, 301)
6. Carter Warren, Pittsburgh (6-6, 321)
7. *Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse (6-5, 324)
8. Cody Mauch, North Dakota State (6-5, 306)
9. Javon Foster, Mo. (6-5, 307)
10. Walter Rouse, Stanford (6-6, 324)
11. *Braeden Daniels, Utah (6-4, 291)
12. Darnell Wright, Tennessee (6-5, 347)
13. *Jordan Morgan, Arizona (6-5, 320)
14. Connor Galvin, Baylor (6-6, 314)
15. Luke Haggard, Ind. (6-5, 290)
16. Mark Evans II, Arkansas Pine Bluff (6-3, 297)
17. Spencer Rolland, Harvard (6-6, 298)
18. Tylan Grable, UCF (6-7, 290)
19. Dalton Wagner, Arkansas (6-9, 331)
20. Kadeem Telfort, UAB (6-8, 333)

(Note: An asterisk on this list denotes a player who is officially a sophomore or junior via redshirt and/or the NCAA’s COVID-19-year exemption but will be scouted as a senior by the NFL.)

Preseason top 10 draft-eligible underclassman offensive tackles

1. Skoronsky
2. Johnson Jr.
3. Anton Harrison, Okla. (6-6, 310)
4. Broderick Jones, Georgia (6-4, 315)
5. Robert Scott Jr., Florida State (6-5, 315)
6. Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Penn State (6-6, 320)
7. Warren McClendon, Georgia (6-4, 300)
8. Patrick Paul, Houston (6-7, 315)
9. Mason Richman, Iowa (6-6, 308)
10. Walker Parks, Clemson (6-5, 300)

(Illustration: John Bradford/ The Athletic;
photos: Getty; Michael Wade, Rich Graessle and Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire)

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