Last year fan favorite and Super Bowl champion Jordan Whitehead left the Buccaneers organization when his rookie deal expired, and he received a lucrative offer from the New York Jets to join Robert Saleh as a key veteran piece in the puzzle of their rebuild. The Buccaneers filled the newfound void with a series of different names and faces. 2022 saw Mike Edwards, a part time starter and role player for the Bucs since 2019 combine with the new faces of Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal to fill in at safety opposite Antione Winfield Jr. Now, just one year later, the Buccaneers are projected to lose all three of last year’s ‘Jordan Whitehead replacements’ to free agency, leaving a gaping chasm at a position that was fairly deep not all that long ago.
Vacant spots on the depth chart means the Tampa Bay Bucs might be in the market for a safety, come draft day—
Enter today’s edition of ‘This week at the Senior Bowl’
J.L. Skinner III stepped into Hancock Whitney Stadium and onto the field day one, as a specimen. Every day since, he continues to magnetize eyes and imaginations through his utter vastness. With his official Senior Bowl measurements registering him at a tick over six feet four inches and weighing him in at 211 pounds, Skinner III simply stands out. There is no other National Team safety who is even relatively close to matching his dimensions. Skinner III spends most of practice looking like the kid who had a late birthday, missed the cutoff, got held back a year, so now he’s the oldest in the class.
Due to his enormity and the acreage his shadow occupies across the turf each day in Mobile, Skinner III is quite easy to spot. Picking him out of a crowd is as easy as finding a pillow on a bed. This noticeability has played to both his advantage and simultaneously, his disadvantage. The attention his natural frame draws, creates tremendous opportunity as he steps on the field in drills and team periods with all eyes on him, but too often this week those eyes have seen—
J.L. Skinner III is not bad, and he has not had a “bad” week, but he has been inconsistent. Maybe the most disappointing thing is for a prospect with the rare proportions he possesses he doesn’t necessarily always play in the fashion you might expect. For the size he checks in at, whether fair or unfair, you naturally just expect more. Too often he doesn’t display the body language of someone who is seeking contact or attuned to playing the kind of football you’d expect from a player of his immensity.
The coaches for the National Team, to their credit, have tried to mix and match him in different alignments all week. Throughout his three days of practice, he has spent time lining up near the line of scrimmage in the role of box-safety as well taking reps as a single high safety.
Skinner, speaking on his versatility—
“I feel comfortable anywhere honestly, being down in the box [is] just kind of using my attributes a little more I [would] say, but I feel comfortable everywhere. Just being able to be on the field [and] make an impact.”
Perhaps because of the multitude of varying assignments being placed on his plate Skinner III gets a pass for being told, noticeably more than other players throughout the course of the week, where or how to line up.
There’s frustration in evaluating prospects like Skinner III, any confident coach looks at his tangibles and thinks, “I can teach technique, I can’t teach those measurements.” It’s absolutely undeniable, a few times per practice those measurements show up in a major way. When Skinner III pieces it all together he unveils potential like this.
—Raw ability without the current coaching to maximize it—
What’s great is he is not an unaware athlete, when asked what he felt like he did best during the week he brought up the progress he has made—
“Probably, just improving day by day on my one on ones, I got better throughout the whole week in my one on ones… It’s been nice to grow, every day.”
At the safety position, Skinner III represents tangibles. I asked J.L. besides the obvious nature of his size being an important part of why a team would be interested in drafting him what would he peg as an underrated element to his game. He barely let me get the question out before interjecting with—
“My speed... My speeds a little slept on [but] we’ll show that at the combine, we’ll make some noise at that point.”
Speed. Another tangible trait.
Every draft pick is essentially a gamble, some more than others. There are players like this at every position in every draft. J.L. Skinner III is the ultimate ‘if he could only unlock his potential’ prospect. Todd Bowles has been a great defensive mind over years and specializes in the defensive backs position group. Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Antione Winfield Jr. have all benefited from and had fantastic career years under Bowles’ tutelage so it stands to reason that if there is a coach who may look at a talented but flawed player and say, “Sign me up!” It could be Bowles.
Just a note, when asked about the potential of joining the Buccaneers in this year’s draft Skinner III said— “I [would] be grateful for it honestly, my dad lives in Jacksonville, so I’ve been around Florida a couple of times, been to Tampa Bay… It would be fun to be down there.”
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