JL Skinner, S, Boise State
Where does the scouting report of Boise State S JL Skinner sit in the 2023 NFL Draft group? Can he take home the crown as the top safety on the board? Let’s find out by diving into his profile.
JL Skinner NFL draft profile
Last cycle, eventual first-round pick Kyle Hamilton was known for his massive 6’4″, 220-pound frame. With generational size as a safety, Hamilton commanded a great deal of hype from the start and was regarded as the next Isaiah Simmons or Derwin James. As we enter the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, we can’t help but notice that JL Skinner has the same listed size.
It’s important to note that size is by no means the sole basis for a comparison. And even then, Skinner may end up weighing lighter than his listed weight. But his size alone does pose a threat to every offense that faces him. Skinner’s size is unique and an asset both in coverage and against the run.
The question with Skinner isn’t whether he can convert on his physical traits. We know he can, and he has already. Last season, the Boise State S amassed 92 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, two interceptions, three deflections, and two forced fumbles in a breakout campaign.
We know Skinner’s size is valuable. But when projecting to the NFL, how does he supplement that size with other traits? And just how versatile and dynamic can he be? That last question is key because it ultimately dictates how high he can rise.
- Position: Safety
- School: Boise State
- Current Year: Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’4″, 220 pounds
JL Skinner scouting report
Skinner brings an incredibly unique physique to the safety position, but that alone doesn’t lift him into the Round 1 discussion. Does Skinner’s composite profile warrant a place in the top safety conversation?
We’ve already mentioned it three times, but we’ll say it once more: Skinner brings rare overall size to the safety position. He has elite height and length, and also brings a strong, compact frame. Sometimes, with larger safeties, athleticism and overall mobility can be a concern. But that isn’t the case with Skinner.
Skinner is an incredibly explosive short-area mover who brings elite initial momentum out of his stance. The Boise State S is an instant accelerator who gets up to his top speed with very little delay. He’s able to freely throttle up and down in pursuit when tracking plays horizontally. Moreover, he has exceptional long speed and full-field range. Skinner covers ground very efficiently with long strides and has the speed to close gaps and run down opponents in pursuit.
Skinner’s immediate straight-line acceleration is alluring, but the Boise State S also possesses high-end lateral burst, which he uses to mirror WRs in zone and position himself. He’s a smooth, explosive lateral mover who can stack quick cuts with ease to traverse the middle of the field. Additionally, he has the corrective twitch to snap his hips into the proper pursuit alignment and quickly accelerate. He’s an effortless mover out of his stance, who springs around in short ranges.
Fluidity can be another area of concern for taller safeties. But even here, Skinner brings a promising functional floor. The Boise State S has shown he can sink his hips on direction changes and pinch tight angles when adjusting alignment. His hips are surprisingly fluid for his size. He freely leverages himself in tight spaces and quickly flips to the sideline when runners divert outside. Going further, Skinner has shown to flip upfield and accelerate quickly, swiveling around and matching WRs, and he can stack direction changes with ease.
Physically, Skinner checks almost all the boxes. Mentally, he brings plenty to like as well. Skinner is an active pre-snap communicator who points out formations and gets his teammates in place. He can quickly recognize swings and underneath routes and track them to the sideline. Skinner’s also able to read options and leverage himself against blockers to close off running lanes.
Expanding on Skinner’s processing ability, the Boise State S has shown the patience to sift through misdirections and wait to trigger who he identifies in play direction. He actively follows the QB’s eyes when covering in the short and intermediate zones, and can anticipate intent. Moreover, Skinner can anticipate route breaks in zone and off-man, and reacts to stimulus extremely quickly. He’s an adept processor who acts on information with urgency. Through congestion, Skinner appears to process well, diagnosing run directions and options, and quickly aligning with plays.
Positioning is another important aspect of safety play, especially in the intermediate and deep ranges. While Skinner can improve here, he’s shown promise. The Boise State S can effectively position himself in deep coverage based on QB eye direction and quickly processes changes in alignment. Furthermore, Skinner’s shown to maintain his pedal and align his hips based on route relationships. He does a good job of tracking receivers horizontally as they cross his face.
Skinner’s well-rounded profile, with his size, generates a lot of excitement. But one of his best traits might be his elite physicality and utility in run support. Skinner is a fiery competitor who closes ground with voracity and hits with true destructive intent. He’s an uber-physical player who engages blockers with full force and extension, and his length affords him great force capacity.
Skinner has shown to quickly attack blocks in the torso, then extend and peek around them. He can work across-face against blockers and splice himself free, showing off a savvy beyond his boundless physicality. Skinner is also an extremely high-effort support player, who chases down opponents in pursuit. He’s a homing missile who launches into contact, and dishes out big hits with closing burst and aggression.
However, Skinner doesn’t just throw himself at opponents. The Boise State S has good tackling form. He can effectively go low as a tackler to attain proper leverage and consistently leads with the shoulder and wraps up. Skinner’s shown to take proper angles downhill and actively square up runners at contact, using his foot speed to gather his strides out of pursuit and recalibrate. His combination of explosiveness and length makes him incredibly difficult to evade.
Skinner is a fiery competitor, but he’s not reckless. More often than not, he’s calm and collected when heading into the box. He’s more than willing to step into congested lanes and obstruct running backs’ paths. Additionally, he’s patient enough to loom behind second-level defenders and meet RBs as they choose lanes. Skinner’s patience and discretion — knowing when to trigger — allows him to fill gaps in short-yardage situations and make crucial stops.
Finally, while Skinner could improve his consistency as a playmaker, he offers some modest appeal at the catch point. The Boise State S attacks the ball with aggression. He’s also shown he can at least track and run under the ball when it comes his way.
Skinner’s areas for improvement
While Skinner is listed at 220 pounds, his frame appears a bit lighter than that. Thus, he may have room to add more mass. Additionally, while he’s very fluid for his size, Skinner doesn’t have elite fluidity. His hips can get caught a bit on 180-degree transitions, and he sometimes has to take steps to gather himself, reset his track, and open his hips. He also sometimes struggles to sink when breaking back toward the ball. He sometimes gets locked up and loses his balance.
As a processor, Skinner can be drawn off the play-side by misdirections, and he sometimes struggles to correct his angles. At times, he could better anticipate angles and flatten to the sideline to seal off runners in pursuit. Additionally, Skinner can be late to diagnose play directions on runs. He sometimes freezes at the snap and is late to trigger downhill. In a similar vein, Skinner could be more disciplined when positioning himself for options. Motions can draw him too far inside, opening outside lanes.
When positioning himself in zone, Skinner’s backpedal is at times staggered, and he also plays too high when backpedaling. He has room to play lower in his stance and can be more fluid when traversing space. Similarly, Skinner sometimes crosses his feet when pedaling, which can tie him up if he needs to change directions. He doesn’t have much experience in man coverage, and these flaws don’t translate well there. Skinner also sometimes goes on autopilot when tracking back in zone, failing to mold to route spacing.
In run support, Skinner’s angles can occasionally be faulty, and he has room to anticipate more when runs turn upfield. At times, Skinner exposes himself to blockers in pursuit downhill, needing to be more cognizant of angles. He also tends to slip off tackle attempts.
Additionally, while Skinner’s long speed is exceptional, it isn’t quite elite. He can’t always make up ground from behind against faster opponents.
Lastly, Skinner must be more precise in targeting the ball and dislodging passes at the catch point. He sometimes merely seeks to generate contact. Skinner also needs to more consistently make a concerted effort to track the ball and extend toward it with his length.
Current draft projection for Boise State S JL Skinner
At the moment, there’s no surefire top dog in the 2023 NFL Draft safety group. I’m here to say Skinner can be that guy. He scored in the elite range with four traits — explosiveness, size, physicality, and run support — and his composite score landed him in the Round 1 range. He has rare size and a cross-examination of his other traits confirms that Skinner’s profile is complete enough to potentially pace the class.
The 2022 NFL Draft had a vaunted three-headed triumvirate at safety with Hamilton, Lewis Cine, and Daxton Hill. Skinner isn’t at their level yet. He needs to improve his consistency as a playmaker and refine some of his technique in zone. Additionally, his projection in man coverage is a question mark and could put a cap on his overall versatility.
Having said that, Skinner has most of the requisite traits to be a dynamic player on the back end. His size-explosiveness combo is elite, and he also possesses great agility, good hip fluidity, solid processing and football IQ, steely physicality, and elite utility in run support. He wreaks havoc in the box as a looming strong safety and can close on intermediate outs as an overhang slot.
Skinner has the range and size to rotate back to two-high and single-high. He’s a true enforcer with his playstyle, but beyond that, he has the physical tools to be an expansive, all-encompassing playmaker in the secondary. Whether in late Round 1 or in Round 2, Skinner is worth early-round capital.