NFL Combine: A game of inches for Skoronski

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Seemingly each year in the draft there is a stellar offensive lineman prospect who has played offensive tackle in college who has questions regarding his overall length, particularly height and arm length.

But while having ideal length can make things easier for a player to succeed as an offensive tackle in the NFL, having flawless technique can help overcome some of the issues that plague players at the position.

Players such as Rashawn Slater of the Chargers, Kelvin Beachum of the Cardinals and Ikem Ekwonu, among others, are under 6-foot-5 with less-than-ideal arm length but find a way to get the job done in the NFL.

But when a tackle prospect isn't 6-foot-5 or taller or has arms that are less than 34 inches in length, there is going to be talk of him having to move inside in the NFL, no matter how successful he's been at the collegiate level.

That's the battle Northwestern's Peter Skoronski is facing this year.

Skoronski measured in at 6-foot-4, 313 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine Sunday, but his arm length was just 32 ¼ inches. Ideally, NFL teams like their offensive tackles to have 34-inch arms or longer to be better able to get their hands on pass rushers early on the edge.

"Teams have been pretty open about that. No one has really sat me down and said, 'No, you can't play tackle for us,'" said Skoronski, who was the No. 1 center prospect in the nation coming out of high school. 

"Teams have just kinda asked me where I see myself. I said that I'm a tackle, I play tackle, but am more than willing to play anywhere. Teams talk about versatility for sure, too. If they move me to guard I'm happy to do that. No one has really said, 'You have to play guard. You can't play tackle.' No one has really boxed me in, which I'm pretty pleased about."

But the difference can mean quite a bit when it comes to the draft.

In many drafts, players seen strictly as guards – even the best ones – aren't selected until the latter part of the first round. The top offensive tackles? They rarely make it out of the top 15 picks.

There are certainly exceptions. Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson were selected at picks 15 and 17, respectively, last year. Two years ago, Slater and Alijah Vera-Tucker were taken at picks 13 and 14.

But Slater has stuck at left tackle for the Chargers, while Vera-Tucker has played both guard and tackle for the Jets..

Skoronski learned from Slater at Northwestern, replacing him as the team's left tackle after Slater went to the NFL. And other than the arm length, where Slater checked in with 33-inch arms, slightly longer than those of Skoronski.

In terms of being a technician at the position, Slater is as good as anyone in the NFL. And Skoronski learned that from his former teammate.

Having quick feet and proper technique can help overcome a lack of overall length.

"You win blocks with your feet, really. That's always been my philosophy," Skoronski said. "Continuing to work on things like punch timing and hand placement have been huge things for me to sort of alleviate that sort of issue, which is something I have to work on for sure. At the end of the day there's nothing I can do about my arm length. I can't just sit here and complain about it. Not that it really matters anyways. There's plenty of more important things in terms of being a good offensive lineman."

Skoronski met with the Steelers this week at the Combine and came away impressed with head coach Mike Tomlin.

"It was great talking to coach Tomlin," Skoronski said. "He was clearly really a personable guy. He's really a great players' coach. Obviously the success speaks for itself. They're always competitive every year. I really enjoyed that interview."

The Steelers haven't taken a guard in the first round – where Skoronski is projected to be picked – since selecting David DeCastro at pick 24 in 2012. DeCastro's arm length came in at 32 ¾ inches. That also was the last time they selected an offensive lineman in the first round.

"Arm length number doesn't really determine a great player or a great blocker," Skoronski said. "It's pretty irrelevant. I think some of my issues that have been chalked up to arm length are really just technical things I can work on and try to fix. I'm not really concerned about that. From what I gather, a lot of teams really aren't either."

• Like Skoronski, North Dakota State's Cody Mauch played left tackle in college, but like Skoronski, he has shorter arms (32 3/8th inches) and could be asked to move inside.

In fact, at the Senior Bowl, Mauch not only played some guard, but was asked to line up at center, as well.

Regardless of where he is asked to line up in the NFL, one thing won't change. Mauch is missing his front teeth following a mishap while playing basketball in the seventh grade.

He's tried a number of different things to replace the teeth, but now simply goes with a toothless smile.

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"I just kept breaking and losing my retainers all the time," Mauch said. "My mom was so mad at me all the time because I keep having to go back to the orthodontist to get new retainers, and eventually, I just kind of stopped wearing it and embraced the no-two-front-teeth look.

"I say that I'm going to get them fixed after football, but I don't even know if I ever will. I don't really mind at all. It's kind of part of me, I guess."

• Offensive tackle Broderick Jones of Georgia led the offensive line group Sunday with a 4.97-second 40-yard dash.

Tackle Blake Freeland topped the offensive line group with a 37-inch vertical leap – impressive for a player who measured in at 6–foot-8. Skoronski was second at 34.5 inches.

Freeland and Skoronski also led in the standing broad jump. Freeland checked in at 10-0, while Skoronski was at 9-7.