2023 NFL Draft interior DL class: Jalen Carter could be the first defender taken - bdsthanhhoavn.com

2023 NFL Draft interior DL class: Jalen Carter could be the first defender taken

Editor’s note: This is part eight of Dane Brugler’s Summer Scouting series, which takes a position-by-position look at the top prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft. Previously: Part VI (Interior OL) and Part VII (Edge).

A year ago, interior defensive line was arguably the weakest position in the 2022 NFL Draft class. Ultimately, only three defensive tackles were taken within the first 75 picks.

However, thanks to a loaded group of underclassmen and several impressive seniors, defensive tackle has a chance to be one of the strongest — if not the strongest — position groups in the 2023 draft.

(Note: An asterisk represents draft-eligible underclassmen. Heights and weights are what NFL teams have on file for each player and might differ from school rosters.)

1. *Jalen Carter, Georgia (6-foot-3, 310 pounds)

Best trait: Twitchy body control

A dynamic lineman, Carter is naturally explosive enough to win laterally or upfield, wrapping blockers and closing on the football. His movement skills and suddenness are rare for a 310-pounder, and his body twitch allows him to unleash various swipe or arm-over moves. Carter also shows the shock in his hands to efficiently counter, or defeat, single blockers.

With his initial burst, Carter routinely shoots gaps and disrupts the rhythm of the backfield. On the following play versus Kentucky, Carter, lined up over the B-gap, shows his impressive initial quickness to launch out of his stance, clear the face of the right guard and blow through the opponent’s shoulder. Carter then shows off his big-man twitch and body control by sticking his foot on the ground and making a play on the running back:

Must improve: Ability to produce with a target on his back

With Travon Walker, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt now in the NFL, Carter will receive a lot of attention from offenses this season. He averaged only 26.4 defensive snaps per game last season as part of a deep rotation, but his usage will increase as a full-time starter in 2022, and NFL evaluators are eager to see how he handles the extra workload.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

Georgia had an NFL-record five defenders drafted in the first round last year, including those aforementioned defensive linemen: Walker, the No. 1 pick; and Wyatt and Davis, the first two defensive tackles off the board. However, most who studied last year’s Bulldogs championship-level defense asked themselves the same question: Was No. 88 the best defensive prospect on the team?

A former five-star recruit from just outside Orlando, Fla., Carter flashed dominance over his first two seasons in Athens despite mostly coming off the bench. He finished third on the team last season in tackles for loss, and he also led Georgia with a pair of blocked kicks. Not only will Carter be the first interior defensive lineman drafted in the 2023 class, but he is also in the discussion with Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. to be the first non-quarterback off the board.

Anderson is the best player I have scouted in this draft cycle, but several scouts I spoke with this summer believe Carter has a legitimate chance to be the higher draft pick based on positional preference.

2. *Bryan Bresee, Clemson (6-5, 300)

Best trait: Explosive force

Bresee passes the eye test with his thickly built frame and power in his upper half, but he has the explosive movements of a much smaller player. Always competing with the dial cranked up, Bresee overwhelms blockers with the momentum he creates via his initial acceleration and pure strength.

Projecting best as a three-technique or base end at the next level, Bresee also can create disruption as a zero-technique over the center. He uses those explosive movements to force his way through contact — it’s just a matter of time before he breaks down the door.

Must improve: Consistent block destruction

Bresee owns the natural power and athletic twitch to escape blockers. However, evaluators want to see more nuance and proficiency with his hand usage. Bresee is still learning how to be a technician at the point of attack so he can efficiently counter and shed when he doesn’t win with his initial burst. It will also be important for Bresee to stay durable this season as he works his way back from last year’s knee injury.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

A big-time basketball and football player out of Maryland, Bresee was a man among boys on his high school tape — it earned him five stars and the No. 1 ranking in the 2020 recruiting class. He committed to Clemson and looked like he belonged from Day 1, living up to the immense hype as a true freshman starter. However, Bresee missed most of last season with an ACL tear, so he has something to prove this fall.

To fully unlock his gifted skill set, Bresee needs to continue developing his hand usage and efficiency. But his big-man explosiveness and brute strength were as advertised on tape. With a fully healthy 2022 season and another step in his development, Bresee has all the talent to warrant a draft pick in the top half of Round 1.

3. *Siaki Ika, Baylor (6-4, 354)

Best trait: Blend of nimble feet and power

For a 350-plus-pounder, Ika has rare short-area quickness and disruptive traits. He stays nimble on his feet, with the length, hand strength and body flexibility to press blockers from his frame and redirect his momentum. Ika’s power and anchor were expected, but the explosiveness and fluidity for a player that size were a pleasant surprise.

Last season’s bowl game versus Ole Miss was a highlight tape for Ika. Lined up as the nose tackle in the following clip, he sets up the center with a stab to get him leaning, before finishing with an arm-over. He explodes into the backfield with almost no wasted movement, and the quickness and efficiency of the move don’t allow the blocker to reset his hands. The left guard is able to help and knock Ika from his feet, but the penetration is still enough to flush the quarterback and blow up the play:

Must improve: Inconsistent pad level

Ika competes with impressive urgency and bend, but his inconsistent pad level will work against him. He can get caved by angle blocks when he doesn’t properly sink and secure his outside leg, or he’ll find his upper half overextended, inviting blockers to bury him.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

Derek Stingley Jr. was the headliner of LSU’s 2019 recruiting class. There was a ton of excitement in the LSU building, though, when Ika chose the Tigers over Florida, USC and a few other programs that year. The Polynesian lineman from Salt Lake City saw the field as a true freshman for LSU’s national championship team in 2019 and played in four games in 2020 before entering the transfer portal. Ika decided to reunite with coach Dave Aranda at Baylor and was named Big 12 newcomer of the year last season.

Ika, who also goes by the nickname “Apu,” split his time evenly between the one- and three-technique positions for Baylor last season and had an outstanding first year as a starter. He isn’t quite on the Vita Vea level as a prospect, but he is in the same mold, a rare mix of power, fluidity and short-area quickness for a 350-pounder. Ika is a Day 2 prospect with first-round upside.

4. *Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida (6-6, 315)

Best trait(s): Length and strength

Most 6-foot-6 defensive linemen struggle with pad level, but Dexter owns the natural flexibility and length to out-leverage blockers. As a pass rusher, he uses his forward lean to uproot, drive his feet and create movement. And as a run defender, Dexter has the long arms to maintain separation and the body control to unwind from blockers.

On this play against Alabama, Dexter shows off his stack-and-shed skills. Lined up over the A-gap, he strikes upward at the point of attack and bench-presses right guard Emil Ekiyor, freeing himself to make the stop in the hole:

Must improve: Snap-to-snap consistency

The clip above is Dexter at his best and shows his impressive traits. However, he tends to disappear for stretches and doesn’t consistently use his talent to be disruptive. The box score doesn’t always back up the tape, but Dexter’s meager production last season (four tackles for loss, 2 1/2 sacks) is a reflection of his inexperience and inconsistency.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

A basketball-focused athlete most of his life, Dexter returned to the football field midway through his high school career and emerged as the top recruit in the state of Florida. The five-star lineman signed with the Gators and quickly found himself part of the defensive line rotation.

Dexter grew up a ton this offseason with the birth of his son, Gervon Jr., in May, and he is expecting that growth to continue on the field this fall. With a new coaching staff in Gainesville, he is expected to see snaps inside and outside as an end in defensive coordinator Patrick Toney’s scheme.

Watching his sophomore film at Florida brought back flashbacks of Chris Jones at Mississippi State — a tall, physical athlete with a ton of potential. Though he shows only flashes right now, Dexter could emerge as a first-round prospect.

5. Zacch Pickens, South Carolina (6-4, 305)

Best trait: Red-hot motor

With his size, length (34-inch arms) and quickness, Pickens’ physical traits check a lot of boxes. His athleticism allows him to play up and down the Gamecocks’ defensive line, and he rushes with the aggressiveness to tear through blocks. But I was most impressed with Pickens’ effort to consistently finish plays, regardless of whether the ball was in the backfield, near the sideline or downfield.

Pickens benefited from a pathetic chip by the Vanderbilt running back here, but this play illustrates his physical traits and motor when in pursuit:

Must improve: Raw rush/run technique

Pickens is a balanced big man with the tools to be disruptive, but his technical understanding of the position isn’t on the same level as his natural gifts. He needs to show better setup and execution as a pass rusher to keep blockers guessing with his rush moves. As a run defender, he can hold the point of attack but will be late to shed blocks and make stops.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

The top 10 high school recruits nationally in the 2019 class included several defenders who went on to be first-round picks, like Kayvon Thibodeaux and Stingley. As the No. 8 recruit that year (and the No. 1 defensive tackle and No. 1 recruit in South Carolina), Pickens hasn’t yet realized that potential. But the flashes explain why he was highly coveted as a recruit. Last season was his first as a full-time starter, and Pickens finished with 38 tackles and four sacks.

Over the past decade, South Carolina has produced five first-round picks on the defensive side of the football. Pickens has the natural traits and effort to join that group, but he must show a more technically sound approach as a senior to make the jump from a Day 2 to a Day 1 prospect.

Preseason top 20 senior defensive tackles

1. Pickens
2. Tyler Davis, Clemson (6-2, 291)
3. Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin (6-4, 312)
4. Brandon Dorlus, Oregon (6-3, 289)*
5. Byron Young, Alabama (6-3, 299)
6. Keondre Coburn, Texas (6-2, 339)
7. Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma (6-3, 289)*
8. Darius Robinson, Missouri (6-5, 293)
9. Jermayne Lole, Louisville (6-2, 310)
10. DJ Dale, Alabama (6-0, 300)
11. PJ Mustipher, Penn State (6-4, 324)
12. Cameron Young, Mississippi State (6-4, 316)
13. Jerron Cage, Ohio State (6-2, 306)
14. Jaden Crumedy, Mississippi State (6-4, 313)
15. Jacob Slade, Michigan State (6-4, 315)
16. Isaiah Mullens, Wisconsin (6-4, 300)
17. Fabien Lovett, Florida State (6-4, 309)*
18. Taron Vincent, Ohio State (6-1, 289)
19. Kobie Turner, Wake Forest (6-2, 290)
20. Jayson Ademilola, Notre Dame (6-3, 276)

(Note: An asterisk on this list denotes a player who has multiple years of eligibility remaining, via redshirt and/or the NCAA’s COVID-19-year exemption, but will be scouted as a senior by the NFL.)

Preseason top 10 draft-eligible underclassmen defensive tackles

1. Carter
2. Bresee
3. Ika
4. Dexter Sr.
5. Ruke Orhorhoro, Clemson (6-4, 303)
6. Jaquelin Roy, LSU (6-3, 315)
7. Tim Smith, Alabama (6-4, 305)
8. Brett Johnson, California (6-5, 300)
9. Tuli Tuipulotu, USC (6-4, 290)
10. Mazi Smith, Michigan (6-3, 335)

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos: Getty Images; James Gilbert, Steve Limentani / ISI Photos, Jacob Kupferman)

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