What Makes JL Skinner One of the Nation’s Top Safeties?
We inch closer to the return of college football, but our work covering prospective 2023 NFL Draft players has just begun. Ticking along, we move onto one of the top safety prospects in the nation in JL Skinner.
With Brandon Joseph transferring to Notre Dame, Jordan Battle returning to Alabama, and Antonio Johnson bursting onto the scene for Texas A&M, it feels odd to turn our eyes toward Boise, Idaho. However, as Skinner enters his senior season with the Broncos, he is firmly among the top of his class as he patrols the third level of the defense. And when you possess the size of Skinner at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds in the defensive secondary, you tend to stick out.
It helps that Skinner’s production and play make it impossible not to notice him on the field. A year ago, Skinner filled up the stat sheet, recording 66 solo tackles, seven tackles for loss, two interceptions, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles for the Broncos. As a result, he was named as an All-Mountain West second-teamer.
Here we break down what the preseason Jim Thorpe Award candidate brings to both phases of the game defensively, as he is a disrupter against both the run and the pass.
Against the Run
A sturdy and dependable defender against the run, Skinner will not have to come off the field in obvious running situations. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in the box and stay disciplined to his gap assignment, but he is a reliable tackler in the open field as well.
Skinner converted 89.1% of his tackles a year ago, a massive 4% over the average for the safety position. If a ball carrier is within reach of Skinner, he is going to the ground. Skinner has also shown an ability to hammer ball carriers in the open field, leveling his fair share a year ago.
Most notable from the Broncos’ safety, however, is his effort and pursuit when he is forced to track ball carriers across the field and laterally down the line of scrimmage. There’s no quit in his game, and his closing speed is top-notch as he works downhill from the third level of the Boise State defense.
If there is room to nitpick, Skinner tends to set up camp a yard or two far off of the line of scrimmage when he is participating in his run fit. While he had seven tackles for loss a year ago, his run disruption percentage was at zero as he has room to take the aggressiveness up a notch in the box.
Against the Pass
There is a desire to see him do a bit more work over the top of the defense and display some range in this regard. He doesn’t struggle to maintain depth when playing in single-high looks, but the amount of ground he can cover is a bit limited.
However, he works downhill at such a high level, possessing great eyes and discipline that he has the innate ability to get into the hip pocket of receivers and be disruptive at the catchpoint. He could be a bit stronger working through the hands of the receiver but isn’t afraid to lay the boom on receivers in the open field.
This ability to get into the hip pocket smoothly, however, makes Skinner a threat to wipe out slot receivers and tight ends in man-to-man coverage. He has the opportunity to make a great deal of money in this role. Against Colorado State, he took on the highest-drafted tight end in the 2022 NFL Draft in Trey McBride and matched up extremely well against him.
Staying square in off-man, Skinner thrives mostly due to his ability to deploy a strong catch technique as he engages receivers with his hands at the top of their routes. This allows for him to get hip-to-hip and stay there.
Final Thoughts on JL Skinner
Skinner looks like a Day 2 pick all day.
While there are areas of his game to clean up, particularly his ability to display more range deep over the top and creep closer to the line of scrimmage in the box, there is too much to love about the way he plays. He is a threat to eliminate the offense’s most dynamic mismatch and shows the discipline to be where he is asked on a play-to-play basis.
Skinner has a high athletic ceiling, as on display in his ability to change directions and get to full speed in the blink of an eye. There’s the inevitability of some overlooking him due to the level of competition he plays, but Skinner belongs with the big dogs in this upcoming safety class.
From size to production to excellent athletic traits displayed on film, it would be shocking to see him fall outside of the top-100 of the 2023 NFL Draft barring an injury.
Banner graphic by Matt Sisneros.
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