With the NFL Draft process well underway, there is a much clearer picture of the 2023 class than there was even a month ago. With exhibition games and the Combine now in the past, it is easier to build a full profile of this year’s prospects. This interior defensive lineman class has the best player in the draft and a few other defenders who will contribute early in their careers.
1) Jalen Carter, Georgia
Jalen Carter wins with great burst off the line of scrimmage, advanced understanding of leverages and surprising strength as a lighter defensive tackle. Carter is a dominant, penetrating defensive lineman that can take over games by himself. He has the quickness to shoot gaps and the strength to two-gap. Carter is scheme versatile and a defensive building block.
Jalen Carter can take a leap by improving his conditioning and answering tough questions off the field. It’s hard to poke holes in Jalen Carter’s game when he’s on, and he is on more often than not. However, there are notable games where he was out hustled (Ohio State) or out muscled (Florida) and it comes down to improving his conditioning. Also, Carter has faced a lot of questions about off-field issues over the last few months, culminating in an arrest for his involvement in a deadly traffic accident. All the information isn’t clear to us on the outside, and jumping to conclusions about a young man’s character and ability to grow are needless.If Carter can make teams feel comfortable with what he brings to a locker room, they will love what he can bring to the field.
Pro Comparison: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
2) Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
Jalen Redmond wins with a stout anchor and impressive athleticism. Jalen Redmond was asked to do a lot on the Sooners defensive line, especially in the last year. Redmond showed he can hold his own as a run defender, lining up anywhere on the interior defensive line. He has a short, but stout and muscular build that helps him as a run defender. Redmond is a fantastic athlete, maybe the best among the pure interior defenders in this draft.
Jalen Redmond can take a leap by letting his athleticism shine on the field more. Redmond’s tested athleticism showed something that wasn’t obvious on tape and it could come down to a more reactive role on the Oklahoma defense. If Jalen Redmond is put into a more aggressive position on an NFL defense, he will surprise people early in his career.
Pro Comparison: Tyson Alualu, Jacksonville Jaguars
3) Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin
Keeanu Benton wins with overwhelming strength, athleticism and a high motor. Keeanu Benton is a fantastically physical player that turns every snap into a backyard brawl. He can bully guards and centers with his physicality and make his way to a ball carrier with ease. Benton tested well at the NFL combine and that athleticism flashes when he gets an opportunity to play more aggressively instead of reactively.
Keanu Benton can take a leap by being more disciplined in his technique and playing in a defense that lets him attack more. In terms of Benton’s play, he could be a more technically skilled player. He tries too often to win each snap with brute strength and activity, like the Tasmanian devil holding hammers. It worked in college, but NFL lineman will have a much easier time neutralizing him. If Benton can play with better pad level and more careful hand placement, he could be a force very quickly. Also, in terms of his role, it would be to his benefit to play in a defense that lets him fly a bit more instead of playing on his heels.
Pro Comparison: Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers
4) Gervon Dexter, Florida
Gervon Dexter wins with great size and athleticism. Gervon Dexter is one of the more intriguing prospects in this class. He stands tall at 6’5” and carries around 310 pounds with ease on the field. He is an obviously gifted athlete who has brilliant moments where he can blow up plays all by himself.
Gervon Dexter can take a leap by continuing to improve as a polished defender. Gervon Dexter only played football for two years in high school and three years in college and that lack of experience shows. He is a boom/bust player that can take over at any moment or get completely washed out of plays. As a taller player, his height can be used against him if he doesn’t get off the ball quickly and maintain good pad level. He can also improve his motor. Dexter’s upside is as high as any player’s in this class, but he will need to land with patient coaching staff.
Pro Comparison: Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers
5) Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
Calijah Kancey wins with rare burst as a defensive tackle. Calijah Kancey was a force to be reckoned with during his two years starting at Pittsburgh. He flies off the ball and into blockers without fear. His low pad level gives him a natural advantage and, combined with his speed, makes him almost unblockable as a pass rusher. That same burst also can come in handy against the run, where he makes splash plays when he is able to split blockers.
Calijah Kancey can take a leap by proving size won’t be prohibitive in the NFL. It’s not just that Calijah Kancey is short, it is that he is small too. He barely cracks 280 pounds and has short arms for a defensive lineman. That size deficiency shows up on tape, especially against the run. If Kancey loses off the snap, he loses the snap entirely more often than not. On an NFL defense, Kancey likely needs to be a complementary piece instead of a building block defender. There is also a possibility Kancey could be moved to the edge, where he might do a bit better as a three down player.
Pro Comparison: Xavier Cooper, Cleveland Browns
6) Bryan Bresee, Clemson
7) Siaki Ika, Baylor
8) Mazi Smith, Michigan
9) Keion White, Georgia Tech
10) Zacch Pickens, South Carolina
11) Karl Brooks, Bowling Green
12) Byron Young, Alabama