• One of the best pass-rushing three-techniques in the country: Illinois' Jer'Zhan Newton keeps his eyes on the ball, whether it’s a run or pass play, and can often disengage and get past blockers without even looking at them.
• LSU duo lands in the top eight: Maason Smith is the No. 3-ranked interior lineman, while Mekhi Wingo comes in at No. 7.
• Dontay Corleone is a riser to keep an eye on: The Cincinnati lineman ranked first in the FBS with a 93.5 overall grade and a 94.4 run-defense grade in 2022.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
Our summer scouting journey for the 2024 NFL Draft has taken us to the great divide where we switch to the defensive side of the ball.
2023’s group featured some players of intrigue and a few first-rounders, but the 2024 class looks even deeper in talent. Former five-star recruits in Miami’s Leonard Taylor and LSU’s Maason Smith are draft eligible for the first time, with their eyes on the first round. And players such as Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton and Michigan’s Kris Jenkins have big years ahead where they, too, could find themselves as first-round or top-50 picks.
Here are our pre-season top eight interior defensive linemen for the 2024 NFL Draft.
More Early 2024 Draft Rankings
1. JER’ZHAN NEWTON, ILLINOIS
Newton is a fun tape study because of how smart he is. Don’t get me wrong: He’s also physically gifted. The 6-foot-1 1/2, 300-pound interior defensive lineman has incredibly fast hands and quick feet, which aid him in being one of the best pass-rushing three-techniques in the country.
But it’s the way he goes about pass rush and run defense that makes him No. 1 on this list. His anticipation is fantastic. He keeps his eyes on the ball, whether it’s a run or pass play, and can often disengage and get past blockers without even looking at them. He won’t win in the NFL with imposing size or length, but he’ll win with quickness and anticipation about as well as anyone in the class. Pair that with a motor that never seems to quit, and you’ve got a football player all 32 NFL teams will want on their roster.
2. LEONARD TAYLOR III, MIAMI (FL)
Taylor was once Miami’s prized recruit, as the No. 11 overall player and No. 3 defensive lineman in the 2021 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. He’s about as well built as you’ll ever see for a defensive lineman at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.
Taylor's five-star label shows up in his physical gifts. His burst off the ball is very impressive and he can convert speed to power in a bull rush that is devastating for all kinds of offensive linemen. It also allows him to shoot gaps with ease. His pass-rush plan right now is basically just being bigger, faster and stronger than anyone else. That works at the moment, but he’ll need to develop a more diverse pass-rush plan for the NFL level.
If and when he does, he can absolutely be a first-round type of player.
3. MAASON SMITH, LSU
Smith is another former five-star recruit who really just needs experience to solidify a high draft status. At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, Smith is a massive man in the middle. He played 354 snaps in his true freshman campaign with a 7.6% pass-rush win percentage. He was aligned mostly as a defensive end during that season, so his sophomore year was supposed to be when we saw him take over as an interior player. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL seven snaps into the 2022 season.
How Smith returns to form will go a long way toward telling us what his NFL timeline might be like. But even if he picks up where he left off in 2022, the baseline for what he can do physically reads like a prospect you’d take a chance on in the top 50.
4. KRIS JENKINS, MICHIGAN
If the name looks familiar, it’s because he is the son of former Carolina Panther and New York Jet Kris Jenkins Sr. For Junior, his NFL bloodlines quickly show up in his tape with how refined he already is.
Jenkins stood out as a run defender as a junior last season at Michigan. At 6-foot-2 1/2 and 292 pounds, Jenkins earned a positive grade on 29.2% of his run-defense snaps — an incredibly high number, especially for a player of his size. He also missed just one tackle on 233 run-defense snaps. Jenkins’ ability to play with good leverage is a calling card of his. His shoulder pads are so low in his stance, yet he is able to fully explode out of his stance to get into his blockers and the backfield.
But unlike other players who might start low and pop straight up, Jenkins maintains lower leverage to consistently get up and under offensive linemen in order to control them in run defense and move them aside in pass rush. He’s still working on his pass-rush plan, but this is a top-50 player with a very high floor.
5. MICHAEL HALL JR., OHIO STATE
Hall has tons of fans in the draft community due to the alluring movement skills he brings to the three-technique spot. At 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, Hall’s best tape shows lightning-quick burst, foot speed and hand usage. As a rotational player in 2022, he recorded five sacks and 16 pressures for a 9.9% pass-rush win rate. He was even a little banged up from injury, so big things are expected in a fully healthy 2023 campaign. His lower weight and finesse style leave him susceptible to double teams and how effective he is with power, but the flashes of speed rushing are some of the best in the class.
6. RUKE ORHORHORO, CLEMSON
Clemson has been churning out defensive lineman prospects over the past half-decade, and Orhorhoro looks to be another featured player in that assembly line.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound interior defensive lineman was a former defensive end recruit but has since thrown on some weight and played more as an interior defender (though Clemson uses him all over the line). The first thing you see on his tape is the effort and motor; he is going full speed until the whistle is blown each and every play. This hot motor also yields quick hands and great leg drive through contract when trying to push the line of scrimmage. He recorded 27 pressures and a 7.6% pass-rush win percentage in 2022. He also recorded no missed tackles in run defense.
The burst, effort and versatility from Orhorhoro will be coveted.
7. MEKHI WINGO, LSU
Wingo started his career at Missouri, where he played just one season before transferring to LSU in 2022. In his lone year with the Tigers, the 6-foot-1, 295-pound defensive tackle recorded 25 pressures on 413 pass-rush snaps for a 6.5% pass-rush win rate. That is on the lower side when it comes to efficiency, but he also recorded an 83.9 run-defense grade, showcasing his reliability at a lower weight.
His burst and his hand usage are good. He has a nice little one-two pass-rush plan with a strong push-pull right at offensive linemen’s chests. Then, later in the game or drive when the lineman braces for it or gets overaggressive to set, he hits them with a nice swim move to get into the backfield. But there are also too many times where Wingo engages an offensive lineman and can’t get off the block. He needs more in the realm of counters; he has the quick hands to get free more often. He’s a bit of a boom-or-bust type of player right now, in both pass rush and run defense, but the highs are fun.
8. DONTAY CORLEONE, CINCINNATI
If you don’t know the name Dontay Corleone, you better get familiar with it. Or you can just get familiar with his nickname: The Godfather.
This 6-foot-2, 318-pound interior defensive lineman is a force. His 93.5 overall grade ranked first in FBS among all defensive linemen in 2022, as did his 94.4 run-defense grade. And he’s not just a one-dimensional run stuffer, either. He also posted a 15.2% pass-rush win rate in 2022. At the level of competition Cincinnati plays, he is an immovable object in the middle. He can also stack and shed with quick hands and good strength. He could be a big riser throughout the season with sustained success.