by J.T Toth
Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics.
As this year comes to a close, Draft 412 will take a look at the 2023 and 2024 draft classes by position. The following is a current “Best Of” list for both offense and defense, taking a look back at the top players from last year’s draft party and ahead to the coming NFL selection process in April.
From Draft 412 to you…Happy Holidays and get your mock drafts ready!!
The defensive tackle is a lot different today than it was back in the 70’s or 80’s. Teams look for athletic, big men who can run down ball carriers now and are not just big bodies. Though they may not get the notoriety of the defensive end, edge rusher DT’s are still a very important component to a defensive scheme.
The 2023 NFL Draft had 15 defensive tackles selected and here are the best of last year’s selections:
1- Philadelphia - Jalen Carter
Once Jalen Carter logged a 5.15 in his 40 time and a 28.7” vertical in his pro day, it was safe to assume the 6'3” 314 lbs. defensive tackle was going to be something special. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carter 9th overall and he has had some ups and downs, but overall has shown he can be dominant on the defensive line. In 14 games, he has accumulated 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He is a future pro bowler.
2- Los Angeles Rams - Kobie Turner
The Rams found another productive defensive lineman in last year’s draft, this time in the 3rd round out of Wake Forest. Kobie Turner has played in 15 games, only starting 4 but has been so productive for the Rams that he could be in the running for some Defensive Rookie of the Year votes. He has 6.5 sacks to go along with 52 tackles and 12 quarterback hits. At 6’2” and 288 lbs., Turner has the mobility to be able to make plays all over the field.
3- Pittsburgh - Keeanu Benton
Benton may not have all the stats of some of the other rookies, but he was thrown into a rough situation early on in his career and came through with flying colors. When the Steelers lost veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward to an injury early in the season, Benton was thrust into a starting role and has not looked back since. A 2nd round pick out of Wisconsin, Benton played in 15 games, starting 8 and has shown the ability to make plays anywhere on the field. The Steelers did a great job getting Benton after taking cornerback Joey Porter Jr. in the beginning of round 2, solidifying one of the best Steelers drafts in years.
As we move from the 2023 draft to the 2024 NFL Draft, here is Draft 412’s Top Ten defensive tackle prospects:
1- Jer’Zhan Newton - Illinois
Newton has separated himself from the pack with his dominance on the defensive line this past season for Illinois. His non-stop motor makes him a handful on every snap and he will wear interior linemen down. He should be the first defensive tackle off the board.
2- Leonard Taylor III - Miami, FL
Taylor had some nagging injuries in 2023 but still showed the athleticism and leverage ability to be a force in the middle at the NFL level. If your team plays a 4-3, Taylor is your man.
3- Michael Hall Jr.- Ohio State
Another high energy defensive tackle who explodes off the ball with a violent punch. Although his numbers did not show it this past season, he could be one of the better pass rushers in this class and has several ways of creating pressure. A nice late 2nd day pick.
4- Maason Smith - LSU
Maason Smith has had some injury concerns, but his play jumps off of video. He is 6’6'' and a freak athlete who explodes off the snap. The only thing keeping him from being a first round pick in this draft is his injury history. He is a prime example of a player who can get a big paycheck after the combine.
5- T’Vondre Sweat - Texas
T’Vondre Sweat is the old school defensive tackle at 6’4” and 362 lbs., and an anchor that is hard to move. Sweat will help a team’s linebackers roam free and make plays. Teams will have to worry about his weight, and his stamina keeps him off the field late in drives and in games.
6- McKinnley Jackson - Texas A&M
Jackson is another space eater who does an excellent job of jamming up gaps, allowing linebackers and defensive backs to make plays. Not as athletic as the other top prospects, but a very nice day 3 pickup.
7- Kris Jenkins - Michigan
Jenkins’ name is found all over draft boards. As high as a first round on some and as low as 5th round on others, Jenkins has the makeup and ability to go higher than the ranking here. He needs to show more consistency and if he does Draft Nation wouldn’t be surprised to see Jenkins march up draft boards after the combine.
8- Byron Murphy II - Texas
Murphy uses his impressive power and leverage from his 6’1” 308 lbs. build to blow up the middle of the line. His problem is he is all north and south and lacks the agility to make plays east and west. He will best be used as a space eater who can add pressure up the middle.
9- Ruke Orhorhoro - Clemson
Orhorhoro is one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in this draft class. He is limited in what he can do with run defense but is capable of being a disruption up the middle.
10- Mekhi Wingo - LSU
Wingo is another prospect who may be a lot higher once draft day comes. His versatility will help his cause, though he must show that he is fully recovered from a season ending surgery last season. As of the publication of this article, Wingo is still deciding whether to enter the NFL Draft or return to LSU.