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2021 NFL Draft Preview: James Skalski 6’0 235 LB-Senior Clemson

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What makes this player NASTY…(Strengths): Leader of the Clemson defense. Correctly aligned the front seven in the pre-snap. Lines up late to disguise blitzes and rallies to the football. Frequently seen in every frame of the film (Boston College ‘19). Excellent anticipation. Takes solid angles to the football. Versus inside zone run schemes, he attacks downhill to fit his gap control and will fight OL (offensive linemen) to react back to the action. At his best working off of OL when coming forward on designed run blitzes. Dips underneath climbing OGs to make tackles on the second level (vs. Davis, 2nd QTR, Ohio State ’19). Sifts through inside crossing traffic over the middle to get to the running backs in the flats (Virginia ‘20). Special teams standout. 14 tackles his freshman season on 20 snaps (eight on special teams). 

Weaknesses: Showed he can use his hands inside on the neck and sheds offensive linemen (Citadel ‘20), but can he do this consistently at the next level? As a blitzer, he brings the noise but exposes his chest on some of his one-on-one pass rushes vs. RBs. Leads with his shoulders as opposed to leading with his hands to ward off OL. Buys some false keys on split zone action, steps forward and takes a couple of steps to fall back (Dobbins long run, 1st QTR, Fiesta Bowl ’19). Benefited from a strong defensive front and wasn’t forced to hit and shed often. Will have to win with anticipation and film study, due to the fact he lacks natural lateral quickness.  Gets his depth in zone coverage but can he roam efficiently from side-to-side? Ejected in the 2020 National Championship game for targeting against LSU. Redshirted in 2018 due to a toe injury. Recent groin injury (2020) forced him to have surgery and will sideline him for a number of games (https://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/article246747536.html).

Skalski (No. 47 pictured) had 9 tackles, 1/2 QB sack and a half-tackle for loss in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl versus Ohio State.

Other Notes:  Attended Northgate High School (Ga.) and handled kicking duties for his football team while graduating as an all-state linebacker  • Also played soccer at the prep level, often playing day-long soccer tournaments the day after Friday night games (https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/sports/college/clemson/2019/07/30/james-skalski-3-things-you-may-not-know-clemson-football-linebacker/1493033001/) • Sister, Brenna, played softball at Georgia State. Father, John played football at Oklahoma 2016 (7 games): 11 tackles, 6 solo tackles, QB sack, 2 TFLs  • 2017 (12 games): 31 tackles, 16 solo tackles, 0.5 QB sack, 2 TFLs 2019 (15 games):  90 tackles, 40 solo tackles, 3.5 QB sacks, 6.5 TFLs, 3 PBUs, FF, FR

Time to get NASTY (Our Summary): Skalski on tape will remind scouts of throwback linebackers from the 1980s and 1990s, as evidenced by his trademark neck roll. However, like the stereotypes surrounding those linebackers of yesteryear, he can be susceptible to sharp lateral movement. In addition, he can be isolated to unfavorable match-ups in the passing game. Improving his pass coverage skills could ultimately determine his pro longevity. Skalski’s competitiveness allows him to fend off larger offensive lineman on occasion but his stack-and-shed capability is inconsistent. Look for him to start his career as a two-down linebacker and special teams contributor.

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