2023 NFL Draft Position Review: Defensive Tackles

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2023 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2023 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 13, 2023. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Defensive Tackle Class
Early-round talent: B
Mid-round: B
Late-round: C
Overall grade: B-

Merging the 2022 and 2023 prospects
Jalen Carter
Jordan Davis
Devonte Wyatt
Calijah Kancey
Mazi Smith
Phidarian Mathis
Bryan Bresee
Siaki Ika
Keeanu Benton
Zacch Pickens
Travis Jones
Gervon Dexter
Zachary Carter
Perrion Winfrey
Eyioma Uwazurike
Neil Farrell Jr.

Just to be clear, this article and series is all my opinion based off my own study and information I’ve gotten from general managers, directors of college scouting, national scouts, area scouts, and NFL coaches who know way more than I do.

Two years ago was a terrible year for defensive tackle talent as zero went in the first round, only two were selected in the second round, and only three were drafted in the third. Last year was a slightly better class, but still was underwhelming overall with two first-rounders, one second-rounder, and two in the third. This year there could be one or two in the first round, but has some decent talent on day two.

If you were to merge these two classes together, Carter would be the top prospect as he offers more pass rush and run stuffing ability. Calijah Kancey may not go as high as Wyatt but I think Kancey could end up being a better player. Mazi Smith is about equal to Phidarian Mathis. Bresee, Oka, Benton, Pickens, and Dexter are third round prospects the caliber of Jones.



Safest Pick: Jalen Carter, Georgia
Previous Picks:
2022: Jordan Davis
2021: Christian Barmore
2020: Derrick Brown
2019: Christian Wilkins
2018: Vita Vea
2017: Jonathan Allen
2016: Jarran Reed
2015: Leonard Williams
2014: Louis Nix
2013: Star Lotulelei

From a skill set perspective, Carter is a safe bet to turn into a good pro. He has tremendous physical talent with speed, strength, size, power, and athleticism. If Carter stays on the field and focused, he could be a superb interior lineman. However, teams have character and work ethic concerns with Carter that could derail his career. Thus, Carter isn’t a typical “safe pick.”



Biggest Bust Potential: Siaki Ika, Baylor
Previous Picks:
2022: Perrion Winfrey
2021: Marvin Wilson
2020: Ross Blacklock
2019: Jerry Tillery
2018: Maurice Hurst
2017: Malik McDowell
2016: Robert Nkemdiche
2015: Mario Edwards Jr.
2014: Anthony Johnson
2013: Jesse Williams

Ika is a big, strong nose tackle that can clog up lanes and is tough to move at the line of scrimmage. However, he does not project to having a role in the sub package and teams play sub 70 percent or more. Hence I could see him getting drafted too high considering he plays a role that is not a big impact position. As a potential second-round pick, that could be a disappointment.



Defensive Tackles Rankings by Attributes


Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: Aaron Donald, Rams
  1. Calijah Kancey
  2. Jalen Carter
  3. Keeanu Benton
  4. Zacch Pickens
  5. Mazi Smith
  6. Bryan Bresee
  7. Gervon Dexter
  8. Siaki Ika


Recap: The NFL is always searching for interior linemen who can get after the quarterback. They are a hard commodity to find, and one can make a massive impact on a teams’ ability to rush the passer. Tackles who can rush the quarterback set up a lot of sacks for edge rushers via disruption and double-teams. The fastest way to get to a quarterback is from up the middle, and even just forcing quarterbacks to get off their drop spot hurts the passing game. Pass rush up the middle is more disruptive for quarterbacks than edge rushing.

What makes Kancey stand out is his interior pass rush ability. Off the snap, Kancey is extremely explosive with phenomenal first step quickness. He is a lightning bolt firing his gap to get upfield and his speed to penetrate takes guards by surprise. With his crazy speed getting guards on their heels, Kancey is able to generate speed to power to push them out of the way to keep them from locking him up. Kancey is an extremely fast interior defender that can fire upfield to get penetration into the pocket. Kancey uses active hands to keep guards from getting a hold of him and his natural pad level keeps him low with good leverage. With good athleticism, agility, and loose hips, Kancey can contort his body to dip underneath blockers and keep gaining on the quarterback. Kancey’s speed and athleticism to contribute in the pass rush are his calling card to get drafted early and play in the NFL.

As a pass rusher Carter showed more natural ability to get after the quarterback than Jordan Davis or Devante Wyatt in 2022. Carter is quick off the ball with excellent first step quickness. With his speed, Carter is dangerous to fire his gap and get into the backfield. His speed catches offensive linemen by surprise and that allows him to often get them on their heels. Carter has a serious burst to close and he will blast into the backfield.

Benton flashes the ability to contribute in putting pressure on the quarterback. He is quick off the snap and he plays with good pad level to gain leverage on offensive linemen. With active hands, Benton has developed good technique and is smart about how he attacks guards. In both phases, Benton has a steady motor and doesn’t quit on plays going hard through the whistle. While he is not overwhelmingly fast or powerful, Benton is a well balanced defender that can contribute.

Pickens can contribute to the pass rush. With a burst off the snap, Pickens can fire upfield to get penetration into the pocket and his steady motor helps him to finish rushes by outfighting blockers to get to the quarterback. Pickens uses active hands to keep guards from getting a hold of him. With some athleticism and agility, Pickens can contort his body to dip underneath blockers and keep gaining on the quarterback while working through trash. However pass rushing moves for the NFL. Hence he is rated below these other prospects.

As a pass rusher Smith has some ability to get a push into the backfield with his power, but after gaining some ground upfield Smith struggles to finish the play by getting to the quarterback. He is limited from a speed and athleticism perspective to be a dangerous pass rusher in the NFL. As a pro, he probably will be rotated out of the game in the majority of sub package plays. If Smith had more pass rush ability, he would have been a definite first-round pick.

In the pass rush Bresee is a physical defender. He tries to go through blockers and did not show the pass rush ability to dart past them in 2022. For the NFL, Bresee could use more pass-rushing moves. With his size and strength, it would be ideal to see him add a club or rip move. Right now, Bresee looks like he would leave the game in passing situations and is not an every down starter.

The weakness to Dexter’s game is pass rush ability. In the past two seasons, Dexter contributed to the pass rush some by bulling blockers back to collapse the pocket but he was not shedding them and making sacks. He flashes some shocking twitch, quickness, and athleticism, so the talent is there for Dexter to do more. As a pro, Dexter needs to develop his hands and pass rushing moves. If he can develop his pass rush ability, Dexter could be a valuable three down starter.

As a pass rusher, Ika has some ability to get a push into the backfield with his power, but after gaining some ground upfield Ika struggles to finish the play by getting to the quarterback. He is limited from a speed and athleticism perspective to be a dangerous pass rusher in the NFL. As a pro, he probably will be rotated out of the game in the majority of sub package plays.



Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Javon Hargrave, Eagles
  1. Jalen Carter
  2. Mazi Smith
  3. Siaki Ika
  4. Keeanu Benton
  5. Gervon Dexter
  6. Bryan Bresee
  7. Zacch Pickens
  8. Calijah Kancey


Recap: In the ground game Carter is a tough defender that can hold his ground and cause disruption in the backfield. Regularly Carter will push through blockers or fire his gap to cause havoc behind the line of scrimmage leading to a blown up run cleaned up by teammates. With his skill set, Carter is a well-rounded defender to play both phases well.

Smith is a tough defender. He is very stout at the point of attack. When runs come downhill at him, he is able to anchor and hold his ground. He also shows the strength to shed and tackle. Routinely Smith pushes his way into the backfield to disrupt runs and resets the line of scrimmage. His lateral anchor is advanced for a college player as he is tough to move at the point of attack. Smith is very strong to take on double team bump blocks and hold his ground when getting hit from the side. Smith is a very good run defender entering the NFL.

Ika is a skilled run defender. He is very stout at the point of attack. When runs come downhill at him, he is able to anchor and hold his ground. He also shows the strength to shed and tackle. Routinely Ika bulls his way into the backfield to blow up runs and resets the line of scrimmage. His lateral anchor is very good for a college player as he can’t be moved at the point of attack. Ika flashes the ability to take on double team bump blocks and hold his ground when getting hit from the side. In run defense, Ika is a basset.

As a run defender, Benton is strong and physical at the point of attack. He uses his strength and length to take on blocks while being very reliable to hold his gap. There is no doubt that Benton has developed strength as he is adept at shedding blocks to flow to the ball for stops or disruption. Quickly in the NFL, Benton will be a plus run defender as a defensive end.

In the ground game, Dexter can be an animal at the point of attack. There are plays where Dexter absolutely manhandles offensive linemen grabbing them and throwing them to the turf. He is very strong to hold his ground at the point of attack and not get pushed out of his gap. Dexter uses his length to shed blocks and shows the quickness and athleticism to flow down the line to make tackles out of his gap. With his size and athleticism, Dexter can run and chase down the line to be really tough run defender. For the NFL, Dexter has the potential to be an asset as a run defender.

In run defense Bresee is a mauler that fights at the line of scrimmage. He has quality length, size, and plays hard. With his heavy hands, Bresee is adept at getting off blocks and then uses his quickness to get in on tackles. Bresee’s run defense was not as good in 2022 as it was in 2021 and 2020 coming off his ACL injury.

In run defense Pickens is generally a solid but not exceptional defender. Pickens uses his developed upper body to keep guards from pushing him off the ball and he shows a nice ability to push off and pursue down the line to get in on tackles. Pickens will be a contributor but not a dominator as a run defender in the NFL.

In run defense, Kancey is a liability for NFL teams entering the next level. Considering he is vastly undersized for a pro defensive tackle, those issues may never change. Kancey lacks length, height, and weight to stand up blockers and keep them from getting a push. He can get knocked off the ball and power guards in the NFL are going to pose a problem for pushing Kancey out of his gap. He is going to have real issues defending downhill runs coming straight at him.





Speed:
NFL prototype: Aaron Donald, Rams
  1. Calijah Kancey
  2. Jalen Carter
  3. Gervon Dexter
  4. Keeanu Benton
  5. Mazi Smith
  6. Siaki Ika
  7. Bryan Bresee
  8. Zacch Pickens


Recap: Kancey is the fastest with his explosion off the snap and ability to fire into the backfield. However that is to be expected considering he is lighter than the rest, but even if he gains some weight I think he will be the fastest of the group. Carter is a fast interior defender and is very explosive. He is freakishly fast for such a big tackle.

Dexter and Benton have a disruptive burst off the ball. Smith and Ika are quick for nose tackles. Bresee was faster in 2021 and 2020, but looked slow in 2022. Pickens has adequate quickness to play in the NFL but he is not a fast defender.



Three-Technique:
NFL prototype: Chris Jones, Chiefs
  1. Jalen Carter
  2. Calijah Kancey
  3. Bryan Bresee
  4. Keeanu Benton
  5. Gervon Dexter
  6. Zacch Pickens
  7. Mazi Smith
  8. Siaki Ika


Recap: Good three-techniques are generally hard to find, and this class has a few players that can do some work as a three technique.

Carter is a rare prospect with amazing physical talent. With his speed, burst off the ball, and strength to power through blockers, Carter has the potential to be a beast as a three technique. Kancey is a phenomenal fit as a three technique as he is lightning fast with pure explosion off the ball. He can fire his gap and get into the backfield in a blur. However, Kancey needs to add weight to hold up and handle a quality work load.

Bresee flashed some three technique potential early in his career at Clemson, but in 2022 he was overweight and not as fast or disruptive. He would need to trim weight and rework his body to be a three technique.

Benton could play three technique in the NFL. He has enough quickness to get the job done. Dexter also has the physical talent to play three technique but he is a better fit at nose. Pickens lacks the speed to be a three technique.

Smith and Ika don’t fit as three techniques as they are heavy nose tackles for the NFL.



3-4 Defensive End:
NFL prototype: Justin Simmons, Titans
  1. Jalen Carter
  2. Gervon Dexter
  3. Bryan Bresee
  4. Keeanu Benton
  5. Mazi Smith
  6. Siaki Ika
  7. Zacch Pickens
  8. Calijah Kancey


Recap: This group has a lot of natural fits for 3-4 ends. Carter could be an excellent 3-4 end that also offers pass rush ability for a five technique. Dexter, Bresee, and Benth all could be good fits as five technique ends. Ika and Smith are nose tackles, but they have enough length and height to play five technique as well. Pickens could play five technique while Kancey is not a fit to be a 3-4 end. At just above 6-foot tall, Kancey doesn’t have the length to play end.



3-4 Nose Tackle:
NFL prototype: Vita Vea, Buccaneers
  1. Mazi Smith
  2. Jalen Carter
  3. Siaki Ika
  4. Keeanu Benton
  5. Bryan Bresee
  6. Gervon Dexter
  7. Zacch Pickens
  8. Calijah Kancey


Recap: A good nose tackle in a 3-4 defense is a tough commodity to find. Someone like Vince Wilfork or Casey Hampton in their prime sets the tone for the pass rush and the run defense by blasting the center into the backfield. An effective zero-technique stuffs the run and occupies interior blockers to open up lanes for blitzes up the middle. Davis has that ability, and he could be a Wilfork or Hampton caliber defender during his career.

Kancey is the only player that is not a fit to play nose tackle. At 280-pounds being just above 6-foot tall makes him too undersized to be a zero technique. The rest of the group are all capable nose tackles.

Smith is the most tailor made nose as he is big, powerful, and has burst. Carter has the talent to play any interior technique, but being a nose tackle could be a waste of not letting him be an interior rusher.

Ika, Benton, and Bresee are well suited to play nose tackle as well. They have the strength, length, and burst to be tough to move out of their gap. Dexter has the skill set to be a superb nose tackle and he was a beast against the run in 2021, however his 2022 performance was disappointing. Pickens has the potential to be a solid nose tackle.




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