The 2023 NFL Draft is just 24 days away.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles, at the moment, has 10 draft picks to use at his disposal — including the No. 9 overall pick. If the Bears do have to make a selection at that spot, Poles may have an opportunity to select the first offensive lineman in the draft.
But who should that selection be if it’s between Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. or Georgia’s Broderick Jones?
To help think about the potential answer to that question and to just get a better understanding of some of the offensive lineman in this upcoming draft class, I spoke with offensive line expert Brandon Thorn.
Thorn’s in-depth break downs in his Trench Warfare Newsletter along with his scouting reports on Bleacher Report make him one of the best evaluators on line play.
Here is my discussion with Thorn:
How would you categorize and assess this offensive tackle class in 2023?
“Specifically the tackle position, I would say it’s solid. Maybe, I’ve only evaluated full entire offensive line classes this will be my third year doing that. I’ve always primarily stayed with NFL film, but based on the last two years at tackle this is a little, you know, like average I would say. Not great but not bad either. You know there’s probably I think four to five guys who can probably start for probably two contracts. Maybe more after that. I don’t necessarily see an elite guy, but I see some couple higher end guys you know at tackle. And then like most other classes interior wise, no like high end elite guys there either, but I think there’s probably going to be — I don’t know — half dozen or more starters, maybe more. I really like the Day 3 portion. I feel like I like every Day 3 portion of interior offensive lineman, though. There’s always these guys that I think will be valuable, at least valuable backups who if the situation arose and somebody got hurt they could start and hold that job for a couple of years. I think there’s a lot of those guys in this class.”
Who is your top tackle prospect in this class?
“For me because I am projecting Peter Skoronski inside at guard, although I think he could probably play tackle and at least be solid. I think he just can be an elite probably guard. So I take that back, I do think there’s one elite kind of offensive lineman in this class and that’s Peter Skoronski. I think he can be a Pro Bowl caliber guy right away inside and maybe more closer to average at tackle.
But yeah with that said, probably Paris Johnson Jr. He’s my top tackle in the class. I just think, you know, he’s only played left tackle for one year. He was a left tackle in high school, but the prior year he played right guard (at Ohio State). He’s only had two years of college football, but I thought he got a lot better throughout the season at left tackle at Ohio State. I think he’s a very smooth, fluid mover. He has elite length. I think his anchor and play strength are closer to average, maybe a little bit below average. That’s kind of his Achilles heel that I think could get better over time, considering how young he is, considering he still has some physical maturing to do. So I think that could get more solid over time, but the way that he sustains blocks in the run game is really impressive. He’s very good at sustaining once he gets latched on to guys. He doesn’t fall off many blocks. I think his competitive toughness is good, too. He’s a good finisher for a guy who is like very athletic and smooth. Typically those guys aren’t the most like physical guys, but he’s actually very physical so I like that as well.
I have him with like a middle of the first round type grade — maybe closer to the end of the first round. Like I said, the anchor, play strength thing and I compare him to Brian O’Neill. That’s how I kind of see it. Just the left tackle version. Brian O’Neill is good, he’s not great but he’s good, and that’s how I see Paris being. Then after that Broderick Jones and then Darnell Wright would be my third. Then Anton Harrison fourth and Dawand Jones fifth. Dawand Jones and Anton Harrison closer to like early second round grades. Darnell Wright late first, early second and then Broderick Jones and Paris Johnson. I think Paris Johnson, Broderick Jones and Darnell Wright are in one bucket, and then Anton Harrison and Dawand Jones are in the next bucket.”
Going back to Skoronski, is it a risk for the Bears to take him at No. 9 overall if they are projecting him to play tackle and he ends being a guard in the NFL?
“I think it’s hard to say looking at him strictly as a tackle because there is that option for him moving inside if it doesn’t work out. You can’t really isolate it like that to me cause there is always that chance. And also I say the teams picking in the top 15, Chicago and Tennessee, probably the two that I can see him playing tackle at because their offensive lines are so bad. So those two places in particular, yeah I totally get drafting him and playing him at tackle first. I would, too. But you always have that fallback of a really high-end guard. It’s very similar to Joe Thuney, Joel Bitonio, Zack Martin, Ali Marpet, Mitch Morse, the list goes on and on. Brandon Scherff. All these really good college left tackles who never play tackle in the NFL who probably could do it. I think all those guys I just named could probably play tackle but it just would be almost doing kind of a disservice to them cause they’re just so much better inside.”
Is there a clear-cut choice between Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson Jr. and Broderick Jones for the Bears to take at No. 9 considering the team’s need and offensive scheme that they run?
“I don’t think a clear-cut, no. I think Peter Skoronski is the best, but I think Paris Johnson fits what they would want to do very well. He would make a lot of sense there, too. Considering they have Braxton Jones and his measurables and everything, I would think they may lean toward Paris Johnson because he is prototypical in pretty much every way on paper at least. Where as Peter Skoronski is the polar opposite in terms of on paper. From that perspective, I think Paris would make a lot of sense there, but if they want to take the best guy, I would take Peter Skoronski and just put him somewhere.”
You brought up Braxton Jones. Matt Eberflus left the door open about him possibly being moved to right tackle. I have two questions for you on him. First, what are your thoughts on Jones and what he did in his rookie season?
“Yeah, I wrote a scouting report on him coming out of Southern Utah that is up on Bleacher Report. Basically what I said in there is what I still think today after watching him. I had him graded I think in the fifth round as well. I thought he was like a high level developmental player. The fact that he played every game last year is incredibly impressive. I think considering his background is very impressive and all that. I think his issues in pass protection I’m not sure how correctable those are. I think, I would have to get pretty technical to discuss it, but I think he plays with limited range. I think he drops his outside foot too quickly, it creates short corners. Gets beat around the edge too easily. Opens up his hips and shoulders too quickly and that leads him vulnerable to getting beat across his face or driven back into the quarterback. And I don’t know that that is going to get really fixed.
I mean if he gets moved to right tackle that means that he’s now going to get more help in pass protection, then maybe because he is a good run blocker. But the pass protection thing to me, I think ideally he is your backup. You know he’s the swing tackle, but if we are not speaking ideally with the Bears’ offensive line. In their situation specifically where they have essentially nobody at tackle, he’s probably going to play next year as well even if they draft somebody. That could be at right tackle. I mean you could do worse, I guess, but there is kind of a fatal flaw in his pass protection that is going to be tough to overcome. With that said, I like his play strength. I like him as a run blocker. I think he adds value there for sure. So if you could have a really high end tackle opposite of him, somebody who is a very good pass protector, then you can funnel a majority of the help towards his side when you do pass the ball. Then he could probably start for a while and I think be functional.
I already know the answer to this question, but I have to ask. If the Bears were to draft Paris Johnson Jr. or Broderick Jones, do you put them at the position they played in college and move Braxton Jones to right tackle or do you give Braxton another year at left tackle and have the rookie play on the right side?
“Yeah, I think you definitely put the guy you draft top 10 at his position as opposed to the fifth rounder. I think that is a no-brainer.”
Let’s say the Bears don’t draft an offensive lineman at No. 9, who are some guys you like later in the draft, potentially on Day 3?
“This is specifically Day 3 because there are some Day 2 guys that are viable options. Interior Day 3 there’s several centers in this class that I like. Ricky Stromberg from Arkansas would be one. Another is Jarrett Patterson from Notre Dame. He’s another guy. I mean, even like late Day 3 I would take a swing on Alex Forsyth from Oregon. He’s not that impressive physically, but man I’ve heard things about him in terms of football intelligence is just through the roof. His leadership is just, I got a line from somebody who is in that building that said, ‘He’s the pillar of the program.’ He’s just one of those guys that might have a shot to overcome mediocre athletic ability. Not a whole lot of power. He’s very technically sound and then smart, tough through the roof type of guy. I like him if you’re going to draft somebody in the sixth round or something or fifth round. He’s a guy I’d take a swing on. But I think Stromberg and Patterson are really interesting Day 3 centers that could potentially start within the next year or two honestly. I wouldn’t be shocked to see one of those guys start in games. Even Luke Wypler is another guy that a lot of people like. I’m not as high on him, but he’s just undersized and small but he’s athletic and young and hasn’t played a lot. I think he could probably get a little bit stronger as well. He’s more of the athletic kind of guy out of that group, so those are some centers I think that are going to go in the range that I wouldn’t be surprised to see starting in the next year or two.”
Good to know, especially since the Bears could definitely be looking for a future center. How about any potential Day 3 offensive tackles that stand out to you?
“Maybe Tyler Steen and Wanya Morris. I think they have a shot to go round 3 at the highest but I would take them on Day 3. I think both of those guys are big and strong, physical, a lot of power. There’s a lot of technique stuff to clean up in pass protection specifically for both of them, but they both were at the Senior Bowl. Had some nice moments there. Those are my favorite Day 3 tackles. I mean I guess you have to mention Jaelyn Duncan from Maryland cause he’s the most athletic of those guys. But, man, he has a long, long way to go technique wise and he was a four-year starter and never got better. So, I’m kind of concerned about that. I’m pretty low on him. If he’s there in the fifth or sixth, yeah I would probably take him and just develop him for a couple of years and see what happens, cause he is a very smooth mover. Those would probably be the three that I would mention.”