2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 defensive tackle prospects

Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) looks on before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

• Georgia's Jalen Carter among best DT prospects in PFF era: The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder may be even better than Quinnen Williams was coming out of Alabama.

• Former No. 1 overall recruit Bryan Bresee is No. 2 DT prospect: The Clemson product hasn't quite lived up to his recruiting billing, but his athleticism is undeniable.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

This is as diverse a defensive tackle class as I’ve seen in a few years. This top includes almost every body type you can think of, from tiny three-techniques to long five-techniques and massive nose tackles. It also features the best non-quarterback in the class at the top. 

10. Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois (RS Sophomore | 6-2, 295)

  • 2022 Grade: 91.0
  • Play Style: Agile Disruptor
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

One of the biggest risers in the entire draft class, Newton played 611 snaps as a redshirt freshman yet earned only a 57.7 overall grade. He came back in 2022 and looked like a completely different player altogether with one of the most productive seasons at the position in the country. 

At 6-foot-2 and 295 pounds, Newton personifies the three-technique position. His quick feet and hands were made to rack up plays on the football. And he did just that in 2022 with 55 pressures and 30 run stops. I just wouldn’t expect him to bring too much versatility to the fold. 

9. Keondre Coburn, Texas (RS Senior | 6-2, 344)

  • 2022 Grade: 77.7
  • Play Style: Do-It-All Nose
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

Coburn’s flashes are first-round caliber. His combination of power and quicks leads to reps that leave your jaw on the floor. At 344 pounds, he’s a handful when he wants to be.

If you haven’t picked up from my wording yet, though, it should be made clear that those plays come far too infrequently to draft Coburn high. And that’s even true for his career year this past fall. His tape in 2021 was less encouraging, as evidenced by his 62.4 overall grade. Coburn could very easily be a starting nose tackle in the NFL, but can he keep that up for a 17-game season is the question.

8. Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin (Senior | 6-4, 315)

  • 2022 Grade: 73.7
  • Play Style: Versatile Penetrator
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Benton has the unique ability to get into the backfield of opposing offenses. When he pins his ears back, all 315 pounds can get moving in a hurry. It’s why he earned an 83.6 pass-rushing grade this season.

Despite Benton having the length of a two-gapping nose tackle, that’s not a role I’d love him in at the next level. Holding up to double teams and playing low was an issue on tape. If you’re playing him on the nose, I’d give him the freedom to work upfield. Otherwise, Benton is probably better suited as a 3-4 defensive end.

7. Moro Ojomo, Texas (RS Senior | 6-3, 284)

  • 2022 Grade: 90.7
  • Play Style: Powerful Hands Fighter
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Ojomo had shown promise in years past, but in 2022 he brought it on every single play. Ojomo earned a sub-70.0 overall game grade just once as he provided a consistent, disruptive force for the Longhorns. While he is listed at only 281 pounds, play strength was not a concern on tape. He can reset the line when he wants to and plays with great leverage. 

It is worth wondering why he played only 337 snaps in 11 games this season, though. That figure ranked fourth among Texas' defensive tackles. While all the others along the front are also NFL-caliber players, it’s still worth questioning. 

6. Karl Brooks, Bowling Green (RS Senior | 6-4, 300)

  • 2022 Grade: 93.4
  • Play Style: Penetrator
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Brooks is in the tweener category. He’s not quite stout enough to be an every-down defensive tackle and not quite long nor explosive enough to stay on the edge, where he played for Bowling Green. Still, the quicks he plays with for a 300-pounder is something I’m willing to bet on — especially when it translated to the football field for an 89.6 run-defense grade and a 94.8 pass-rushing grade in 2022. 

While there may be a bit of a learning curve when he gets to the NFL, Brooks is the type of athlete I’d take a chance on.

5. Mazi Smith, Michigan (Senior | 6-3, 337)

  • 2022 Grade: 76.8
  • Play Style: Stout Nose
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Smith has long-term NFL starter written all over him. When he wants to drop anchor, there’s little chance of moving him against his will. That ability alone is growing more attractive to NFL defenses trying to stop the run with light boxes.

The only question left for Smith is why four years in with one of the best athletic profiles you’ll see from a nose tackle hasn’t translated to affecting the passer more. He’s registered only 23 pressures on 368 pass-rushing snaps this season, and that may never be his game at the next level. 

4. Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh (RS Junior | 6-0, 280)

  • 2022 Grade: 91.8
  • Play Style: Twitchy 3-Tech/Edge Tweener
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Kancey will likely end up the prospect I’m higher on than most. What’s going to scare off most others is obvious. Currently, only six defensive tackles are listed at 6-foot or shorter in the NFL, and there are 16 defensive tackles listed at 280 pounds or lighter but precisely zero NFL defensive tackles who are both. Kancey will be an outlier no matter what position he plays at that size. Watch him move so effortlessly on a football field, though, and it’s easy to see him breaking the mold, whether on the interior or off the edge.

Kancey just knows how to get to quarterbacks. You see him stack moves together and counter what offensive linemen are doing so effortlessly on tape. It’s why he led all defensive tackles in college football with a 92.4 pass-rushing grade. He won’t fit into every scheme, but the ones he does will love him.

3. Siaki Ika, Baylor (RS Junior | 6-4, 358)

  • 2022 Grade: 74.5
  • Play Style: Nimble Nose
  • Initial Round Projection: 1-2

A 358-pounder never looked so good. Siaki Ika’s lateral agility at his size is a sight to behold. Centers expected him to try to play through them, and Ika consistently left them grasping at air over the course of his Baylor career. Ika racked up 51 pressures in two years at Baylor after transferring from LSU.

The biggest thing keeping Ika from getting a true first-round grade is workload. He averaged just under 35 snaps per game for the Bears in 2022. Combine that with the fact that his weight is going the wrong way from 340 pounds when he left LSU to 350 last year to now 358, and it’s worth wondering how much impact an NFL team can get from a man that size. 

2. Bryan Bresee, Clemson (RS Sophomore | 6-5, 305)

  • 2022 Grade: 72.3
  • Play Style: Long, Versatile Athlete
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

The former No. 1 overall recruit out of high school in the 2020 class has not quite lived up to that lofty billing, but the tools are still there. He’s barely played, though, seeing a grand total of 884 snaps across three seasons for various reasons (most notably, an ACL tear in 2021).

Look no further than the ACC championship game against North Carolina to see why Bresee is still thought of in such high regard despite 302 snaps in 2022. He racked up five pressures on 18 pass-rushing snaps in dominant fashion. They even had the 300-plus-pounder rushing off the edge, where he showed his prodigious athletic gifts. 

1. Jalen Carter, Georgia (Junior | 6-3, 300)

  • 2022 Grade: 92.7
  • Play Style: Complete DT
  • Initial Round Projection: Top Five

Carter has put together a viable case for being the best defensive tackle prospect in the PFF era. Quinnen Williams is the current title holder coming out of Alabama in 2019, but there were some worries about his game that don’t apply to Carter. Williams was a one-year wonder who broke out in his redshirt sophomore season, while Carter had the highest pass-rushing grade on the vaunted 2021 Georgia defensive line as a sophomore. Williams didn’t have elite strength but made up for it with elite quicks, while Carter’s play strength is off the charts.

At a minimum, the run Carter has been on since returning from an early-season ankle injury is the most dominant these eyes have seen at the position since PFF started grading college in 2014. From Week 9 on, Carter has earned a 93.0 overall grade to lead the country.

He’ll head into the 2023 draft as the top non-quarterback on PFF’s draft board.

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