Early 2023 NFL Draft DI Rankings: Georgia's Jalen Carter, Clemson's Bryan Bresee lead the pack

Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) in action against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After a few weak defensive tackle classes in a row, the 2023 NFL Draft's group has a serious chance of matching 2019’s six first-rounders. It not only includes blue-chippers, but also some serious depth. Cutting this list to only 10 players was as big of a chore as any position when looking at the 2023 draft class. 

1. Jalen Carter, Georgia (Junior)

You couldn’t digest analysis about one of the three Georgia first-round defensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft without someone bringing up the scheme and how it held them back from being more productive as pass-rushers. While those points were certainly valid, it only serves to show how special Carter is. He racked up 34 pressures on 264 pass-rushing snaps for a 90.0 pass-rushing grade in 2021 — the highest of any defensive tackle in the country.

Carter is a certifiably scheme-proof talent. At 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds with long arms, a powerful frame and cat-like quicks, Carter is the total package at the position. While we’ve seen a number of edge prospects over the years impact the passing game early in their NFL careers, PFF hasn’t graded a defensive tackle prospect as good as Carter was as a true sophomore. He is a future top-five pick.

2. Bryan Bresee, Clemson (Junior)

The No. 1 overall recruit in the 2020 cycle, Bresee hasn’t quite lived up to that lofty billing just yet. It also didn’t help that he tore his ACL only four games into his sophomore year. You see still his physical prowess on a fairly regular basis when he’s on the football field. That’s because much of his time in Brent Venables' defense was spent stunting or slanting to open up free runners instead of battling in one-on-one situations. When he did get to go one-on-one, you saw him take advantage.

He possesses a unique build for a defensive tackle in that he’s 300 pounds yet well proportioned throughout his frame. At first glance, he looks like a jumbo defensive end. That kind of body type can fill multiple roles along a front four at the next level. Don’t expect him to slip out of the first-round conversation anytime soon.

3. Jaquelin Roy, LSU (Junior)

Roy may be overshadowed a bit by all-world freshman Maason Smith, but he’s a top-tier prospect in his own right. He earned an 88.6 pass-rushing grade on 258 pass-rushing snaps as a true sophomore last season. Roy is so stoutly built for a player not even listed at 300 pounds (297), and his calling card is the power he plays with in his upper body. 

His twitch and burst aren’t on the level of the guys above him on this list, however, and that’s what keeping him from the blue-chip conversation. At his age, though, one can expect some more physical development to his game. 

4. Siaki Ika, Baylor (RS Junior)

The lone true nose tackle in this draft class, Ika isn’t your average space-eater. He can move despite tipping the scales at 350 pounds. In his first season at Baylor after transferring from LSU, Ika earned an 85.7 pass-rushing grade and racked up 33 pressures. Just when you think he’s going to play through an opponent, he proves capable of swatting a lineman’s hands away and ducking to the side. It’s hard not to see shades of Vita Vea at Washington when you see Ika’s game.

5. Gervon Dexter, Florida (Junior)

Of any player on this list, Dexter is quite easily the biggest projection currently. The defensive tackle has a lab-built frame at 6-foot-6 and 303 pounds with all the athleticism to be an impact pass-rusher. That impact was seen too rarely over the course of last season, though. Only one of his games earned an overall grade over 76.0 in 2021, and that came against Florida Atlantic.

Still, he was a sophomore defensive tackle. That’s par for the course. Quinnen Williams was still riding the pine as a backup at Dexter’s age. The long defensive tackle could very well have a Javon Kinlaw-esque physical profile and draft stock by the time he declares for the NFL draft. 

6. Colby Wooden, Auburn (RS Junior)

Lost in a disappointing 2021 season for Auburn was a breakout year for the redshirt sophomore defensive tackle. In his second season as a starter, Wooden nearly doubled his stops total, from 19 in 2020 to 37 in 2021, and his pressure went from 24 in 2020 to 41 last season. Wooden is one of the best pure penetrators in this defensive tackle class, bringing an innate ability to get off blocks. He still needs more of a power element to his game, as the 6-foot-5, 278-pounder is more of a finesse player at the moment. 

7. Jermayne Lole, Louisville (RS Senior)

If Lole hadn't missed his entire senior season with a torn triceps, he could have taken advantage of a weak defensive tackle class to likely become a Day 2 pick. Now after transferring to Louisville, he will need to prove his injury is a thing of the past. 

Lole possesses a unique build for the defensive tackle position and is the shortest player on this top 10. While listed at 6-foot-2, he could very easily end up in the 6-foot range when he measures in at the NFL scouting combine. Despite being shorter, he’s not small. Lole plays with natural leverage at 305 pounds and rarely gets moved one-on-one in the run game. Add to that some impressive quicks, and there’s reason to think he could be a Jurrell Casey type of defensive tackle at the NFL level.

8. Tuli Tuipulotu, USC (Junior)

Tuipulotu is a bit of a tweener at the moment, somewhat reminiscent of Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal last year. That’s because only 76 of his 630 snaps last season were from inside the tackles, while 305 came outside the tackles entirely. Many of his wins as a pass-rusher come off the edge, which obviously bodes well for his versatility at the next level. That being said, a 290-pound true sophomore is almost always better served to put on the weight to be a playmaker on the interior.

Even in that mostly edge role, Tuipulotu still earned a very respectable 82.6 overall grade. He’s already shown a well-rounded game against both the run and pass.

9. Jacob Slade, Michigan State (RS Senior)

Michigan State’s breakout 2021 season was the confluence of many factors, with Slade’s emergence being one of them. He went from a 71.3 overall grade in 2020 to an 86.1 overall grade in 2021 with 40 pressures and 27 run stops. That latter figure was the fifth-most of any defensive tackle in the country.

Slade did it all while rarely coming off the field. His 651 snaps played were the 10th-most of any returning defensive tackle in the country. That’s no minor workload for a 315-pounder and bodes well for how he’ll handle the NFL game.

10. Byron Young, Alabama (Senior)

It’s a loaded defensive tackle class, meaning this top 10 didn’t have enough space for the likes of Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey, North Carolina’s Myles Murphy, Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton, Oklahoma’s Jalen Redmond, South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens, Clemson’s Tyler Davis and Oregon’s Brandon Dorlus — all of whom could all play their way into top-75 picks with big 2022 seasons. Young gets the nod for the last spot, though, because he just feels like the yearly Day 2 Alabama defensive tackle. He’s solid as can be against the run, earning an 88.8 grade in that regard last season.

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