The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 02, 2021 1:00 am

Skowronek drafted by Rams with 249th pick

Ex-Spartans standout ready to prove self

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Homestead has reached the NFL.

Former Spartan star Ben Skowronek completed his journey from Fort Wayne to the professional ranks Saturday when he was picked by the Los Angeles Rams in the seventh round of the NFL draft with the 249th overall selection. 

Skowronek was the second northeast Indiana native picked in this year's draft, following Bluffton graduate D'Wayne Eskridge. Eskridge, a wide receiver like Skowronek, was a second-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks on Friday. draft expert Lance Zierlein believes Skowronek projects as more of a tight end in the league because of a lack of “suddenness” in his route running, but the receiver out of Notre Dame, who also played four seasons at Northwestern, is eager to begin proving doubters wrong.

“This weekend is just the beginning and then you have to go earn your spot in the National Football League,” Skowronek told the Journal Gazette before the draft. “I'm just ready to go to work. ... I'm just looking forward to being on a team and showing I belong in the NFL.”

Skowronek, who had 29 catches for 439 yards and six total touchdowns in his one season with the Irish, was the ninth and final player picked from Notre Dame in the 2021 draft. That is the largest draft class for the Irish since they had 10 selections in 1994.

Among those nine picks, four came Saturday, with quarterback Ian Book (fourth round to the Saints), defensive end Daelin Hayes (fifth round to the Ravens) and defensive tackle Ade Ogundeji (fifth round to the Falcons) joining Skowronek. 

Book became just the second Irish quarterback drafted since Jimmy Clausen in 2010 and will join a New Orleans franchise that is looking for its next starter at the position after the retirement of long-time fixture Drew Brees. The winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history will compete with former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian for spots on the roster.

Hayes, meanwhile, joined the team for which he grew up rooting.

“I'm still speechless,” the former Irish pass rusher said. “Baltimore's been my favorite team since I was a kid. That genuine love I have for the city of Baltimore, for that team (from the 2000s) with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, locking guys down. That was really the example I had when I started playing defense.” 

Indiana and Purdue had one player each picked Saturday. Hoosiers safety Jamar Johnson went in the fifth round to the Broncos with the 164th overall selection, and Purdue saw linebacker Derrick Barnes go in the fourth round to the Lions with the 113th pick.

Johnson was Indiana's only selection of the draft, making it eight straight drafts in which the Hoosiers have had a player picked. That's the longest stretch for the program since a 16-year run from 1983 to 1998. The safety picked off four passes in 2020, including two from No. 11 overall pick Justin Fields when the Hoosiers played Ohio State.

“I take pride in the ball in general,” Johnson said. “That's the most important thing as a DB. You're supposed to go in there and not allow a single catch. If anything touches my hands, I'm trying to come down with a pick.”

Barnes was the second pick for the Boilermakers, joining wide receiver Rondale Moore, who was a second-round choice of the Cardinals. Purdue has had multiple players picked in back-to-back drafts for the first time since 2008 and 2009. The Boilers have had a linebacker drafted in each of the last two years as Barnes followed Markus Bailey, a fifth-round pick of Cincinnati in 2020.

Once the draft was over, a large group of in-state players quickly signed free agent deals that include invitations to training camp. Among those were Notre Dame tight end Brock Wright (Lions) and cornerback Nick McCloud (Bills); Indiana running back Stevie Scott III (Saints), defensive tackle Jerome Johnson (Dolphins) and offensive lineman Harry Crider (Eagles); Purdue safety Tyler Coyle (Cowboys); and Ball State defensive back Antonio Phillips (Bengals).

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