NFL Draft

Top 10 interior defensive linemen of the 2023 NFL Draft:

Finishing up our conversations on the top linemen inside and out on both sides of the ball, we end on the best interior defenders. While plenty of these prospects have flexibility in terms of alignment, based on main position, this list includes anything from a true zero-technique nose-tackle all the way out to a base D-end in a 3-4, lining up at five-technique straight across the offensive tackle.

This group includes what many consider the most talented all-around player in this draft. After that, I believe there are two more guys worthy of going in the first round, along with another three names I have second-round grades on and a kid who will go some time on day two I would think, largely dependent on how teams value a fairly narrow role. After that, there are a couple of names I value higher than consensus rankings and I think you can find useful pieces for certain roles way down the line potentially, but in terms of complete players that will play on all three downs, the board drops off pretty dramatically.

Here’s what it looks like to me:

Jalen Carter


1. Jalen Carter, Georgia

6’3”, 310 pounds; JR


A top-20 national recruit in 2020, Carter had some legit flashes as a true freshman, but really took off in his second season, arguably being the most disruptive player along that Georgia front-seven already, which saw five(!) guys get drafted in the first round alone. Last year he was the dominant for the Bulldogs and led the way for back-to-back national titles. Across his final 27 games, he put up 15.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes batted down at the line, going from second-team All-SEC in 2021 to first-team All-American this past year.


+ The shock in this young man’s hands to control 330-pound guards is unheard of

+ Has the natural force that even on neutral pad-level confrontations, he can ride guards backwards to squeeze down running lanes

+ You see him just whack blockers out of the way and swallow up ball-carriers with regularity

+ Had one play against Kentucky in 2021, where he literally slapped the guard to the side and ate up the back for a TFL

+ Tremendous lateral agility to work down the line and over blocks against perimeter-oriented run schemes, plus then the force to pull blockers to the side and get the initial wrap on the ball-carrier

+ Has some freaky reps on tape, where he’s slanted across the face of guards and just makes that guy’s face land on the turf with a quick arm-over, to create chaos in the backfield

+ You see the same back-dooring zone blockers, with the short-area burst to track down the running back trying to get wide

+ And when being blocked down against, he can suddenly work over the top, to chase after the ball with impressive burst

+ This is somebody against whom you have to put a comprehensive gameplan together, because he can create chaos in the backfield in a hurry, by holding up pullers and making plays when on paper he’s clearly accounted for


+ Can straight-up drive interior offensive linemen back into the quarterback’s lap and the way he can grab underneath the shoulder-plate of linemen and turn their shoulders, to open up a path for himself, really stands out

+ Yet he displays crazy flexibility as a pass-rusher, to torque his upper body to where his shoulders are at a 90-degree angle to the ground, and then he can step through the gap

+ If guys try to get underneath him, he gets by them in the flash of an eye with the high swim

+ Has almost odd balance to bang around in traffic as a rusher and somehow stay on his feet, to impact the QB

+ The agility to redirect and cross-face blockers, who slide towards him or counter the other way is often times simply too much for opponents

+ The way he can stop and start as well as step around bodies almost doesn’t look real for a guy his size

+ And he routinely frees himself late by pulling the arm over the top or rip through the reach of blockers

+ Has the ability to loop all the way out wide from zero-alignments and then corner back towards the QB by powering through tackles running at an angle

+ Only Alabama’s Quinnen Williams in 2018 had a higher pass-rush win rate (20.0%) among Power Five interior D-linemen than Carter in ’21 (18.9%) over the last five years

+ And what he did last year also with Nolan Smith missing time and all those high draft-picks leaving UGA, might have been even more impressive, considering there weren’t nearly as many legitimate threats around him, to where he saw extra attention constantly (yet still had a 16.3% win rate)


– His pad-level overall into contact could be better and it’ll be more apparent at the next level, unlike against some college kids, who he could simply overwhelm physically

– Could still do a better job of playing half the man and maintaining vision on the ball in the run game

– Would benefit from being a little more pro-active with getting to his secondary rush maneuvers, if he can’t get those instant wins on the high swim


Quick spoiler – Carter will be my number one overall prospect. Guys like this just don’t come along. The only interior D-lineman I’ve seen dominate high-level competition like this was Quinnen Williams four years ago (who I also had at the top of my big board) and Carter is even a little more physically talented. The way he was tossing around SEC linemen in the run game was insane to watch and he was the most impactful pass-rusher on Georgia’s vaunted defenses these last two years, racking up 66 pressures across 537 pass-rush snaps. And his impact on games was felt even more so this past season, when he had far less help around him. I will never get the picture out of my head of him holding up LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels like a trophy in the conference title game – which the Bulldogs would of course win, en route to their second straight national title. The conversation around Carter right now of course is the incident he was part of last year and his general maturity, but I don’t have the information to judge any of that – purely based on tape, this is the best player in this draft.



Calijah Kancey


2. Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh

6’0”, 280 pounds; RS JR


One of the top-1000 recruits in 2019, Kancey took an initial redshirt and then already made an impact in his debut campaign, before really breaking out in 2021, when he recorded seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss, making him a third-team All-American in 2021. Last season he actually slightly increased those numbers (14.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks) and was named a first-team All-American, along with winning the award for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.


+ Very much comes in the mold of three-time DPOY Aaron Donald, as a fellow undersized D-tackle whose explosiveness jumps off the screen and brings a lot of violence in his hands

+ Already flashed with his suddenness as a freshman, and profiles best as a penetrating three-technique, who can throw off a lot of plays before they can even get going

+ Routinely penetrates with his upfield burst, And he’s so quick to get from holding up his blocker to arm-overing that guy and creating disruption in the backfield, when he sees a chance

+ His quickness laterally allows him to back-door blockers and disrupt zone concepts at a high level

+ Does a nice job of turning his shoulders to minimize the surface area for the angular blocker on combos and standing in that gap between the two guys

+ Yet his height allows him to consistently win with pad-level and he also has pretty impressive contact balance, to stay on his feet after getting bumped

+ Quite regularly you see ball-carriers try to hit the hole next to him, as Kancey squeezes the blocker down into the pile and he’s able to come off to wrap up the runner

+ Basically had the exact same combine numbers as former Pitt standout Aaron Donald, with a 4.67 40 and 1.64 split


+ This guy’s explosion off the ball and suddenness in short areas really creates problems for guards singled up against him in passing situation

+ Especially when they slide his way and he beats them across their face in a split-second, guys often don’t even know what hit them

+ There are plenty of instant wins with a rapid swim move on tape and you see his flexibility when his shoulders are basically aligned vertically as he steps around the blocker

+ Can dig underneath one shoulder and press through it, to create balance issues and create softer corners for himself

+ You see him slant inside by one gap and go through the chest of linemen sliding towards him, who aren’t low enough, to push up the middle of the pocket

+ At the same time, if they overstride towards him, Kancey can also cross-face them with the swim move and get vertical again almost instantly

+ Really good when linemen lean into him, to hit a rapid arm-over and pull those guys by him, to get up into the quarterback’s face

+ One of the rare interior rushers to pull off cross-chop maneuvers, where he actually snaps his hips to point at the quarterback

+ Has definitely improved his ability to finish rushes, in terms of blockers arm-barring him after he won off the line or another linemen can help out and step towards him late, to knock off that extra hand and actually get through

+ Already earned a 83.7 overall PFF grade in 2021 as a redshirt sophomore, when he racked up 38 pressures (367 pass-rush snaps), but then last season that number went up to 91.8, with an insane 47 pressures across 275 pass-rush snaps, with a 22.7% win rate


– Clearly an outlier in terms of size for defensive tackles, with his height, weight, arm length and hand-size in the bottom-7th percentile – and if blockers are able to latch their hands into his frame, he has a tough time getting off them

– Simply lacks the mass to anchor against true double-teams, if the offensive linemen actually step together and unite their power

– Tends to get a little bit out of control and off track with his rush lanes in passing situations

– The lack of length, with T-rex like arms at 30 5/8-inch arms, does show up when he has push-pull maneuvers and hand-swipes perfectly set up it feels like, but he can’t quite pull them off cleanly


Right off the bat – the Aaron Donald comparison is unfair (even though I actually did use that parallel here). We’re talking about one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history and really a unicorn at the position. While he has about same height/weight combination and ran the same times basically at the combine, don’t believe Kancey is as strong as Donald and what really hurts this year’s prospect out of Pitt is that his arms are a full two inches shorter. That lack of size and length along with not playing under control as much as I’d like are what concern me. With that out of the way – the kid is fun to watch. He plays with his hair on fire every single snap, attacks up the field, uses violent hands and a gift for getting home as a pass-rusher. Teams will be scared of drafting another outlier like this, but Kancey has been a first-rounder for me all along and I’m happy to see him finally receive some more buzz.



Bryan Bresee


3. Bryan Bresee, Clemson

6’5”, 300 pounds; RS SO


The number one overall recruit in the 2020 class, Bresee broke onto the scene with an impressive freshman campaign, in which he recorded four sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and two passes batted down. Unfortunately, he only played 152 snaps in 2021, before tearing his ACL, and wasn’t overly productive. However, in 2022 – a season, in which he entered the national spotlight because of stories about his sister dying and how he wanted to play for her – he finally lived up to his potential over the second half of the season, with 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks and two passes batted down across ten games, whilst making much more of an impact on a down-to-down basis, making him a second-team All-ACC selection.


+ Built like a bear and was asked to play all over the defensive line by the Tigers

+ Quick to land his hands and set the tone when asked to play control, with the ability to press off and create an angle on the ball-carrier as he works down the line

+ Was asked to slant on the majority of snaps however, whether it was crossing the center’s face or even as a looper on interior twists on early downs, and can reduce his height well in that regard

+ His ability to reduce the near-shoulder to the blocker and rip underneath them is very impressive for a guy just under 6’6”

+ Brings the natural force to crash through the play-side shoulder of blockers who work away from him on zone schemes – Has those moments of just exploding through a crease as guys have to get their body across, and can’t slow him down

+ Not afraid to do the dirty work inside against the run, even if he may not have the anchor to hold up double-teams, where he does a nice job of dropping the knee and angling into contact

+ When he recognizes the guy across from him pulling, he shows the quicks to bubble over the top of down-blocks and then chase down the ball-carrier

+ At 298 pounds, he ran a 4.86 in the 40 (93rd percentile), while his 1.71 ten-yard split was tied for second among the IDL, He was also top-eight in the two other disciplines he participated in (vertical jump & bench press) and had an excellent on-field workout, where he looked very light on his feet and tightly navigated around the bags


+ When he sells out for the bull-rush, Breese can ride guards back into the quarterback’s lap

+ I thought in 2022, his ability to swipe away the hands of guards and corner around them was so much better

+ He was able to get a lot more instant wins with the high swim, because he worked on his flexibility to torque his upper half and actually step through the hip of the blocker simultaneously

+ Quickly IDs slide-protections and swat down the reach of blockers who haven’t been able to slide in front of him, to penetrate up the field

+ Flashed a pretty nasty spin move, particularly when rushing off the edge, which he started to unleash in the latter parts of this past season

+ When he’s locked up with a blocker and sees the quarterback move, he has that suddenness to disengage and track things down

+ On play-action, Breese has that quickness to go from having guards stood up, to arm-overing them and flattening towards the quarterback

+ Received a 81.2 pass-rushing grade as a true freshman and 82.0 as a junior from PFF, with a 14.5% pass-rush win rate last season, despite lining up at the nose quite regularly (in three-man fronts)

+ Brings the force to crash through one shoulder of blockers and create lanes for his teammates on games up front

+ In 2022, the Tigers coaches put him on the edge to give him a run-way against tackles to build up power at times, as well as make him the secondary looper on E-T twists


– Didn’t really take over any stretches of play until this past season, and even then it was somewhat limited

– Has to play with his eyes up more consistently and work off blocks accordingly, instead of just trying to create chaos

– Misses chances to work over the top of down-blocks when he sees somebody pull away from him, and allows himself to get pinned on the backside

– Way too reactionary as a pass-rusher and overall, it doesn’t feel like he plays the game at an advanced level mentally yet

– Overall, his 32 and ½-inch arms make it a little more difficult to clear himself of the blocker’s reach and he doesn’t reduce his surface area in the pass game the way he does in run defense


On the opposite spectrum of what I said about fellow Clemson D-lineman Myles Murphy in my edge rankings, I didn’t get why people were hyping up Bresee coming into this past season, other than bringing up the fact he was the top overall recruit in the nation. I thought he had an enormous way to go technically and did not like what I saw from him trying to make an impact on an every-down basis. With that being, his urgency, plan off the snap and just motor he plays with all went to a different level once he returned from a very difficult personal situation last year. I still believe in terms of play-recognition and dictating reps in passing situations, he has a ways to go, but how better he got at winning his gap and was able to beat guys cleanly, I’m so much more on board with him now. He arguably had the best game of his career in the final one with real meaning, creating havoc against North Carolina in the ACC Championship game, even though all the stat sheet showed was one tackle, and he really impressed me with his movement skills at the combine.



Adetomiwa Adebawore


4. Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern

6’2”, 280 pounds; SR


Slightly outside the top-1000 overall recruits in 2019, Adebawore’s playing time and statistics slightly increased every year, recording 17.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, an interception, four passes batted down and fumbles forced each across these past two seasons- Yet it only was good enough for honorable mention and third-team All-Big Ten respectively.


+ Played as a big defensive end on the strong-side mostly (alternating between over and under fronts), before transitioning more inside this past season

+ While he may be on the short end for the position, he does have above-average 34-inch arms

+ Offers plus explosion off the ball and it went up a notch in 2022, when he didn’t operate from a four-point stance anymore (consistently first out of his stance on the D-line) – You really see it when left unblocked initially and he can create traffic in the backfield, wrong-shoulder guys coming his way, etc.

+ Consistently plays with extension through blocks, regularly creates knock-back at initial contact and is able to stand his ground routinely, You rarely see the back be able to press the front-side hard, because of the way this guy holds up combos between the tackle and tight-end

+ Rides tight-ends into the pile when they’re assigned with sealing him away from the action and gets his hands on the ball-carrier when that guy tries to bounce to the C-gap

+ The lateral agility and strength to press off blockers as he’s flowing with zone concepts, makes him excellent at countering those

+ You see Ade bounce off contact with pullers banging into him and somehow stay on his feet typically

+ Frequently forces the ball-carrier to bounce wide, when he’s the designated kick-out target

+ Had a tremendous showcase versus Ohio State last season, where he forced a hold on the very first play, shut down cutbacks his way and just created general disruption, to hold the Buckeyes to their worst performance of the year


+ Beats the guy across from him off the snap in passing situations more often than not, and I thought his first step last season reached a different level, where you see his entire body tilted forward almost like somebody coming out of a sprinter’s stance

+ Combines the ankle flexibility, hip flexion and power to corner his rushes through contact

+ Transitions well from the long-arms to the rip move, knocking away and getting underneath the reach of blockers

+ When rushing from interior alignments, you see the brute force to bend the pads of big linemen backwards and drive them into the depth of the pocket

+ The quick-twitch and flexibility makes this guy a nightmare to take over on stunts, because of how he can slither around blockers

+ If you set him up on loops, that burst and ability to bend his path can allow him to get home or force quarterbacks to escape the pocket due to the spiking lineman inside

+ Has some impressive moments on tape, where he changes directions and shows that closing burst to run down scrambling quarterbacks

+ Despite being the only guy in the entire Northwestern front-seven basically to worry about for offenses, Adebawore ended up with a 14.3% pass-rush win grade last season

+ Had an absolutely insane combine performance, when he ran a 4.49 in the 40, with a 1.61 split, a 37.5-inch vert & a 10’5” broad jump – those were all better than last year’s first overall pick Travon Walker, despite weighing 10 pounds more(!) at 282 – And he was gliding just through all the on-field drills, with no issues of changing directions, great snap in his hips and burst


– Presents that tweener body-type, where he may not be a fit for every team and you’ll need to figure where he’s best deployed

– Shows a bad tendency of lifting his inside foot whilst being engaged with blockers in the run game, instead of using it to anchor down and make himself more effective, when playing out on the edge, Inside he was too worried about shooting through the crease and allowing double-teams on zone concepts to move him off his landmarks

– I would like to see him disengage from blocks and create angles towards the ball more regularly in general

– Could do a better job of better pro-active with defeating the hands of blockers before they even put them on him in passing situations

– His pass-rush arsenal is fairly limited at this point and you rarely see him get to much less land counter moves


For Ade to play with the type of motor every week for a 1-11 team is something that can’t be overstated. He has the mindset to play hard all the time, while literally being a one-on-one athlete, when you look at the absurd testing numbers he put up at the combine. The timing and aiming points on his hand swipes to beat the hand of blockers in the pass game are still a work in progress and I’d like to see him discard linemen in the run game in according to how strong he is. With that being said, you just don’t find guys with the athleticism to play on the edge, that can also place an offensive guard in the lap of the quarterback. Adebawore’s first step is marvelous and he has the arm length to defeat blockers cleanly. So if he can learn to use those tools accordingly combined with everything I just described, he could terrorize offensive lines as a three-technique – and I don’t think the NFL will let him slip out of the first round.



Keeanu Benton


5. Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin

6’4”, 315 pounds; SR


A three-star recruit in 2019, Benton started half the games of his true freshman season and became a fixture in the lineup ever since. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2021, thanks to 24 tackles, five for loss, 2.5 sacks, two passes batted down and fumbles recovered each. Last year he inexplicably dropped to third-team, despite reaching career-highs in tackles (36), TFLs (10) and sacks (4.5), along with two more passes defensed.


+ Largely lined up as a shade nose-tackle for the Badgers in 2021, while splitting more evenly with the B-gap this past season, as a rock in the middle of their run defense, which allowed just 65.4 and 99.2 yards on the ground these last two years respectively

+ His wrestling background is on display against the run, winning with quickness, leverage and violent hands

+ Does a great job of locking out and shedding blockers to wrap up the ball-carrier going as he’s trying to get through the hole

+ In short-yardage situations, you see him fire off the ball and work upwards through his man, as if he was the one blocking at times, to squeeze down any potential lanes on the interior

+ On combo-blocks, he can turn his body and reduce surface area, plus he can drop his weight and sort of re-anchor against angular blocks

+ Consistently is able to either gain leverage on the play-side gap when linemen try to pin him away from the play direction or at least dig his shoulder into their chest to ride them that way and plug the gap the blocker is trying to keep free

+ When offenses pull the guard to Benton’s side across and the center doesn’t establish that play-side foot quickly enough, he will arm-over that guy and scrape down the line, to get involved on the action

+ On the backside of zone runs, Benton does a great job of flowing laterally while maintaining leverage on his gap and being able to place himself in it, to stuff the ball-carrier on cutbacks

+ For as much as he’s asked to own space in the run game, his 12 tackles for loss in 2022 are pretty impressive


+ Has the power to ride linemen into the depth of the pocket, if no extra blockers slide towards him – which he had to deal with constantly this past year

+ Packs a forceful rip-through to ride blockers backwards and collapse the pocket, where he torques his upper body more than sufficiently, and violent pulls that that arm through, to clear the hips or blockers

+ When given the freedom to rush either gap, his ability to cross-face guards with the arm-over makes him tough to deal with

+ Is able to create angles towards the edges of blockers with a strong initial club and being able to get them off balance when digging underneath their arm-pit

+ Certainly worked on his pass-rushing skills in 2022, trying to broaden his arsenal of moves, earning him a 13.4% win rate in that regard

+ Can bang into offensive linemen and give his teammates room on stunts and twists, Yet he can also run at an angle an slant across the face of his blockers pretty well for a big body and is capable of getting home on wider loops

+ Regularly puts his hands up as the quarterback initiates his release and affects those passing lanes over the middle more than his passes defensed would indicate

+ When the ball is thrown out to the flats or over his head, you see this guy chase his ass off regularly

+ Surprised people during Senior Bowl week with his disruptiveness when allowed to attack up the field more regularly, where he showed his power to pull linemen off himself as well as crash across their face with a tight arm-over to clear their reach, when they overset him in pass-pro


– For his playing-style, Benton’s height can be a bit challenging, once somebody can get his pad-level to rise

– Going back to the tape, there was little wiggle or finesse to his guy rushing the passer that you would speak of

– And while I appreciate the want to become a more diverse rusher, it felt like he was experimenting quite a bit this past season

– I’d say generally there’s room for improvement with his hand-placement and how he keeps his frame clean, while you don’t seem just toss blockers to the side necessarily


I wasn’t as shocked about what I saw from Benton down in Mobile, but I did go “I didn’t know he could do that” or “He didn’t that quick on tape”. It’s a reoccurring theme where the interior D-linemen are allowed to showcase their skills in a different role and this guy was basically unblockable from day two on. I do believe he still has work to do in being able to pro-active defeating the hands of offensive linemen and actually be able to pull off a wider variety of rush moves, but the natural power and flexibility are there to continue to evolve. I believe when you draft this kid, you get a hard-working D-lineman with the versatility to play anywhere from one- to 4i-technique, take care of his run fits and has plenty of upside to still become a more productive pass-rusher. He may just not never be a well-known name by casual fans. Yet I’d have no problem with him going top-50.



Mazi Smith


6. Mazi Smith, Michigan

6’3”, 330 pounds; RS JR


Just outside the top-100 overall recruits in 2019, Smith appeared in only two and five games respectively over his first two seasons with the Wolverines (three total tackles). In 2021, he started all 14 games and was named an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, with 37 tackles, 2.5 for loss and four passes batted down. Last season he improved that to first-team all-conference, with very similar numbers, although he had a fumble forced and recovered each, but more importantly, more of an impact on a play-by-play basis.


+ Has that fridge-like build, but is a wicked athlete, who landed at the number one spot of Bruce Feldman’s Freak List, for reportedly having clocked in below seven seconds in the three-cone drill, along with pumping 22 bench press of 3(!)25

+ Was asked to line up in a light four-point stance on about half of his snaps, in order to play under control as the rock in the middle of the Michigan defense

+ Can legitimately two-gap against centers or guards, with shock in his hands if he just gets his hands inside the frame of linemen and the insane upper body strength to yank big men to the side

+ You rarely see Smith get moved off the spot against single drive-blocks and he does a good job of transitioning his weight to effectively anchor against double-teams for the most part

+ Has some impressive balance when caught on the wrong foot and too tall, to somehow still get back in the picture

+ When aligned head-up on an OL, you see his agility to back-door zone blockers and show himself in the backfield effortlessly, unlike most guys of his size

+ Shows impressive short-area burst when he sees the ball-carrier and has to flatten down the line to run that guy down

+ You regularly see that on the backside of inside zone, where stays square to the guard and then meets the back right as he tries to slice through the A-gap

+ Became much more of a play-maker in run defense this past season – especially after the first couple of weeks – with 32 defensive stops on the year (tackles that constitute a positive outcome of the play for the defense)


+ Because of the stance he had to line up in, where he didn’t load up the weight onto his hands, he couldn’t explode forward as much

+ Yet when he was allowed to get into a more aggressive three-point stance and shoot up one gap, his get-off and charge up the field in passing situations definitely popped off the screen at moments

+ When he connects well on his clubs, he can really whack linemen to the side

+ His push-pull maneuver is really tough to deal with, You regularly see guards and centers stumbling forward as he throws them by

+ Rushing over the guard, he shows the strength to dig up through the inside shoulder or stab at the outside pec and get their pads turned, in order to create a direct path towards the passer, even if he has to take the blocker with him

+ The explosiveness shows up when hung up with a blocker and then sees a path to get to the QB with a secondary burst, after knocking off the hands

+ Shows a knack for getting his big paw up as the ball is being released

+ The sack production may not have been there, but Mazi did have 25 pressures across 398 pass-rush snaps and 22 of what PFF labels “other pass-rush wins”

+ Displayed his stamina this past season, when he averaged 49 snaps in 11 games against Power-Five competition, while looking at grades and the film, he played his best over the second half of his final season, indicating that the arrow is pointing up in terms of player development


– Smith’s recognition for concepts still has room for improvement, too often getting caught on the wrong side of blocks

– I’d like to see him more active with knocking away the hands of blockers and creating an angle to the ball, to chase it later into plays

– Largely subbed off on passing downs in 2021 and to some degree ’22 as well – an area where he doesn’t show much of a plan yet and half a career sack if tough to sell as a potential top-50 pick

– Other than pushing guys into the depth of the pocket and throwing out some push-pull maneuvers, you don’t see much in terms of pass-rush moves, with very few clean wins on tape

– After being labelled as this crazy athlete, we never saw him run or do the agility drills at the combine or Michigan pro day, while not even reaching 30 inches in the vert or nine feet in the broad jump (did put up 34 reps on the bench press at his pro day)


First and foremost, I believe Mazi was overhyped coming out of the summer. He put up freakish testing numbers at Michigan, which put him atop Bruce Feldman’s annual list, but if you look back at the ’21 tape, very little of that actually translated onto the football field, other than occasional flashes. This past season I was impressed with his ability to be a much more impactful run-defender and the consistency despite a much larger workload. With that being said, while the upside is certainly there to become more of a pocket-pusher at the next level, so far there’s not much diversity to his repertoire in that regard and without even a full sack to his name, I just can’t justify a first-round pick, where he’s mocked to go at times. To me the second half of round two is more appropriate for the value he can provide.



Siaki Ika


7. Siaki Ika, Baylor

6’3”, 340 pounds; RS JR


A four-star recruit for LSU in 2019, Ika had a modest two years with the Tigers. He then followed his (former) defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to Baylor, where he had a breakout season, racking up six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and impressive underlying numbers rushing the passer. In 2022, he matched the amount of total tackles (24) and batted down two passes, but the number of negative plays forced was minimal (two TFLs, zero sacks). Still, Big-12 coaches recognizes his impact and actually elevated him from second- to first-team all-conference.


+ Massive nose-tackle who can stack and shed like a true zero, but also be a menace as a penetrator, with highly impressive agility for that size

+ Ika constantly demands double-teams in the run game and set the table for a Bears defense that held opponents to 3.4 and 3.9 yards per rush respectively over these last two years

+ When he is soloed up, you frequently see him bench-press centers and then slide into either A-gap as the ball-carrier approaches

+ If he is shaded towards one shoulder of the blocker and can just stack blockers, he will force ball-carriers to cut upfield earlier than they’d like to usually

+ Flowing laterally with wide zone concepts, Ika’s ability to stop his momentum and eat up ball-carriers as they try to cut up behind him is very impressive

+ Does a great job of reducing his surface area against angular blocks and minimizing the momentum opponents are able to build up

+ Kind of swallows that bump guys try to deliver on quick combos a lot of times

+ If the offense legitimately double-teams him on vertical run schemes, his ability to drop that knee closer to the lineman arriving on an angle, allows him to still own his space


+ Will surprise blockers with sudden club-swim moves and working cross-face in passing situations

+ If he goes for a straight up bull-rush he can walk just about anybody back to the quarterback if you give him some time

+ Off that, he flashes an impressive push-pull maneuver, as blockers have to lean into him

+ Every once in a while, he will pull off a spin move that made me go “Whoa”

+ Quickly recognizes when it’s play-action and that he needs to disengage from blocks to get to the QB, particularly back-dooring zone-blockers

+ When Baylor mugged the MIKE backer over the center in five-man fronts, Ika would line up at three-technique and show the ability to use that little bit of extra runway to build up power

+ Was frequently utilized as the set-up man for LB wrap-arounds, slanting across a guard and crashing into the center

+ Was one of the most productive nose-tackles rushing the passer in 2021, with 33 total pressures on 275 pass-rushing snaps, And while that number did shrink (18 on 215 such snaps), having established himself in that conference and receiving more attention, he still put up a more than respectable 12.2% pass-rush win rate

+ Routinely tracks the eyes of the quarterback and gets his hands up into the passing lane when doubled and/or not having an opportunity to get home


– His short arms (32 and 3/8) do show up at times trying to disengage and I think he could still become a little quicker with doing so altogether, to become more of a play-maker at that spot – Only earned a PFF run-defense grade of 69.1 in 2022, where his down-to-down consistency wasn’t quite the same as the year prior

– Has to do a better job staying on his feet, not crossing them over as he works laterally and just improving his body-control in general, in order to stay balanced

– Presents a limited tackling radius and missed nine of his 33 attempts last season (27.3%)

– Would benefit from attacking the edges of blockers more regularly in passing situations

– Doesn’t show any plans of a legitimate secondary move, if his initial approach doesn’t work out


Ika to me was undoubtedly a top-five interior defensive lineman heading into the 2022 college football season. With Baylor not being as relevant on a national scale and more of my focus shifting towards giving NFL analysis, I didn’t track his development as much. I heard a lot about a drop in effort and overall play by the D-tackle and while I do believe he was less impactful, I still think there’s a lot to like about this massive human being, with much better movement skills than you’d expect. Where I was a bit disappointed about his ’22 tape was the fact he looked much more like the space-eater people think of for a 350+ pounder rather than the play-maker I saw the prior season. However, with the proper coaching to revitalize that facet of his game, I believe he can become a plus starter as a two-down nose-tackle, with the potential to add more to his pocket-pushing when teams do drop back. Weight management will be key for a guy of his dimensions however, after he surprisingly showed up a good 20 pounds lighter than expected at the combine.



Dante Stills


8. Dante Stills, West Virginia

6’4”, 285 pounds; SR


A three-star recruit back in 2017, Stills immediately stepped in for Mountaineers as a freshman and then in year two led the team with 14 tackles for loss and eight sacks, which made him a second-team All-Big 12 selection. His stats slightly dipped in 2020, before cracking 15 TFLs and seven sacks, plus an interception and forced fumble each in ’21, landing him first-team All-Big 12 honors. Last season his numbers again went down a little (26 tackles, nine for loss, 4.5 sacks and two FF), but he repeated as first-team all-conference. Dante’s father Gary Stills played in the NFL as a linebacker for a decade and his cousin Kenny Stills did the same at wide receiver.


+ Longer body-build than his brother Darius who he played alongside until 2020 and lined up everywhere more from 2i- to a 6-technique for WVU

+ I was surprised to see him “only” measure in at 32 and 3/8-inch arms, because of the way he consistently maximizes that length

+ You can ask this guy to two-gap or penetrate up one gap, with his team even lining him up at a true zero-technique at times

+ Brings a lot of juice off the ball and disrupts a bunch when getting upfield or tasked with slants across the face of offensive linemen

+ Has become much better at playing with extension and going through blockers – When he shoots his hands and just attacks the chest of blockers, he can make their heads snap backwards and take them a couple of steps into the backfield

+ Constantly plays with active hands and is looking to disengage in order to create negative plays

+ Regularly back-doors blockers on zone concepts, with a fluid high-swim

+ With those long arms, Stills can swipe down or rip through the reach of blockers and create angles towards the ball for himself even if he doesn’t step into the gap initially

+ Ran a 4.85 in the 40, with a 1.72 ten-yard split, at 286 pounds in Indy, He looked explosive in the way he planted off his foot to change directions & navigate through the bags, and his ability to dip that shoulder and effortlessly execute the figure-eight on the “run the hoop” drill was also very impressive for his height


+ His combination of explosiveness, power and agility can create problems for anybody along the front-five in passing situations

+ From 2020 on, we saw him ride offensive linemen back into the quarterback’s lap at a much higher frequency

+ Has a tremendous swipe-rip combo, where he keeps the blocker on his hip, and he is very effective with engaging and pulling yanking linemen’s pads

+ Despite his height, his ability to corner his rushes is pretty damn impressive, plus his arm length gives him that extra room for error on hand-swipes, being able to knock away the reach of blockers routinely

+ Showcases the flexibility to torque his upper body and turn the near shoulder away from contact as he steps to the hip of blockers

+ The closing burst shows up when asked to execute those wide loops and not allowing quarterbacks to get out to the sideline as somebody flushes him by slanting inside

+ A non-stop worker in the run and pass game, who continues fighting with his hands and eventually finds ways to make quarterbacks move, chasing them out to the sideline regularly

+ Has been one of the most productive interior pass-rushers in college football over the last three years, with a career-high 30 total pressures across 334 pass-rush snaps this past season, despite the gap next to him regularly being free and extra linemen sliding his way

+ Was basically unblockable throughout Shrine Bowl week, where I’m pretty sure he led all players there in TFLs and constantly got those quick W’s during one-on-ones, either being quicker into the gap or beating guys across their face


– Plays too tall in the run game and spins off blockers, which leads to him giving up ground unnecessarily

– Allows his base to narrow a little too much and can’t anchor against hip-checks coming in on an angle

– Still has to do a better job of anticipating when linemen will strike, hitting the right aiming spots to get rid of their arms and add some variety to his pass rush arsenal in general

– You’d like to see Stills just play under a little more control overall and not get off his rush lanes as much (in part because there was so much traffic due to all the three-man lines they used)

– I thought I saw a bunch of screens go right over his head through the years and him not showing the awareness to redirect towards the recipient


If there’s one prospect in this entire draft, who I just have no idea about why he’s projected to go where he currently is, Stills is the name for me. This guy is very solidly built, his initial quickness to win the gap is excellent, yet he also understands how to lock out and create angles for himself eventually in the run game, he’s hyper-active with his hands and has the agility to get around blockers, which made him one of the most productive interior pass-rushers we’ve had in recent years. I do believe he plays too high at times and would benefit from being under better control generally, but the fact he’s projected to be a sixth-/seventh-round pick based on consensus boards is unfathomable to me. The only reason I could see him fall a little bit is that teams don’t know exactly where to put him. I personally have him as a third-round type of player.



Jaquelin Roy


9. Jaquelin Roy, LSU

6’3”, 305 pounds; JR

A top-50 overall recruit in 2020, Roy immediately saw action as a rotational player on the LSU D-line and was a full-time starter by year two. Over his first 18 career games, he recorded ten tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries (plus one forced). This past season he reached a career-best 49 total tackles, with 3.5 of those for loss, but one half a sack.


+ Pretty freakish natural strength, to where I’ve seen him just throw 320-pound guards off him after the play was over a couple of times

+ Offers a trunky lower half and can control his space in the run game

+ When dealing with down-blocks, he digs that opposite foot into the turf and drops the near one, in order to absorb force

+ However, he’s really at his best as a penetrating one-technique, where he can take away the front-side and force premature cutbacks

+ Routinely squeezes blockers into the action to plug up gaps/lanes and can push guys off himself late, digging underneath one shoulder-pad

+ Also has some pretty impressive lateral agility to work down the line against zone-blocking and can then fall back into the opposite gap as the back cuts it upfield or rip and flatten as the ball goes wide

+ Displays the contact balance to stay upright as he takes bumps from the side and not get off his landmarks

+ Continues to occupy two bodies on combo-blocks and can do so whilst staying square, rather than having to attack one man


+ Great quickness as an interior rusher, with a forceful rip move to drive through one shoulder of pass-protectors

+ You see him really whack the upper body of blockers sideways when he connects that initial club with their elbow and has room to become more dangerous as he learns how to follow that properly with the opposite arm

+ Uses one-handed stabs and long-arms to test the balance of interior linemen

+ When he gets guards to commit to turning towards him shooting up the B-gap, he can crash through the inside shoulder or swim that way effectively

+ Can power through one shoulder of the center and flash to the quarterback early, as well as get there late with the arm-over, if he sees a path for himself

+ Had a 81.2 overall PFF grade, with a 89.6 in the pass-rush department in 2021, and was close to those on a higher snap count this past season

+ Regularly saw three or four hands on passing downs, forcing him to switch intro control rushes, where he tracks the quarterback’s movement pretty well and is able to press off blockers consistently as he sees that guy try to take off

+ You see him close ground in a hurry for a guy his size as he’s slipping the blocker and chases after QBs pulling the ball on bootlegs


– Not a real “play-maker”, in terms of beating blockers by countering their steps or disengaging in time to create negative plays – testing in the bottom 11th percentile for both the agility drills is part in that

– Still has to find a better balance dealing with zone-blockers, where he’s sometimes too hell-bent on crossing their face and creates cutback lanes that way, while other times he could easily mirror and keep leverage to the play-side gap on those

– Way too many wasted pass-rush reps, lacking a defined plan or reliable counters if the initial approach doesn’t work

– There are several snaps, where he’s basically just hand-fighting with the center on the spot and doesn’t stress them laterally

– Has to do a better job of pro-actively countering the hands of blockers sliding his way and as they re-fit, he has to continue to do combat and take back control


Physically there’s not much to find issues with looking at Roy. He carries 305-315 pounds well, with a plus get-off for that size, the ability to own his space against solo-blocks and some impressive moments of getting up the field in passing situations. Unfortunately he hasn’t quite found that knack for how and when to disengage from blocks in order to make many plays in the run game, while his approach rushing the passer leaves things to be desired. To me he can become the best version of himself shaded to the edge of the center in an even front, where his ability to win the A-gap and force cutbacks with penetration or avoid being scooped/reached on the backside can really shine. His value on longer downs will depend on how well he takes teaching and is able to dictate terms with his hands and power. Slightly inside the top-100 picks seems like appropriate value for me.



Byron Young


10. Byron Young, Alabama

6’3”, 290 pounds; SR


A top-100 overall recruit in the 2019, Young increased his numbers all three years with the Crimson Tide, recording 81 total tackles, 13 for loss and six sacks over the past two seasons combined. Last year he also batted down a couple of passes and forced a fumble. The Associated Press voted him second-team All-SEC for it.


+ Has 34 and 3/8-inch arms and monstrous 11-inch hands, while consistently playing with excellent pad-level and hand-placement

+ With the way he can take control of blockers and toss them aside, you can put Young at five-technique and two-gap against tackles

+ However, he can also be a play-maker in a disrupting interior role, blowing through the reach of blockers

+ Regularly creates knock-back at first contact in the run game and then crash through the play-side shoulder if the ball comes that way, but also lock out with the inside arm as he sees guys redirect in the backfield

+ Is able to press off and create an angle to flatten down the line when runs are drawn up the other way regularly

+ You’re just not going to seal him on the backside with a tight-end or wing, as he bench-presses them off effortlessly it seems like and negates any cutback lanes

+ Digs that shoulder and creates stalemates with pullers coming his way in the backfield with consistency

+ Yet if they work away from him, he quickly realizes that and tries to attach to their hip, with the force to run through the shoulder of the lineman next to him on the down-block

+ Recorded a 88.8 run-stopping grade from PFF, being able to hold his ground against powerful blockers at just 292 pounds


+ His usage on passing downs didn’t lend itself to major production, because he was asked to loop out wide or spike inside to set up his fellow rushers along the front regularly

+ Considering that, his pass-rush win rate of 12.5% last season is pretty solid

+ When he can legitimately work one-on-one, his ability to lock out and work into the depth of the pocket with relentless leg-drive on the bull-rush stands out

+ Effectively slaps down the mitts of blockers at their wrists and stabs at the side of their pads to create a softer corner that way

+ Rushing off the edge or looping out there, Young can condense the pocket with power, but also chop down the outside if the tackle presents it to him and flatten his arc

+ Shows the ability when blockers overset him or he feels a soft inside edge opening up as he connects with that pec, to pull the opposite arm over and swipe down the blocker’s reach, to take that direct path to the QB

+ Once he’s at the hip of linemen, his length is a big plus to swipe or lift up arms of the opponent, allowing him clear their reach

+ Regularly outworks pass-protectors and is ultimately able to create an angle to chase the quarterback on extended plays or as they escape the pocket

+ Had a big showing against Ole Miss, riding linemen backwards, batting down balls and fighting through traffic, to create disruption


– A bit lethargic off the snap and simply focused on just locking out on the guy across from him, rather than trying to “make a play”, while his base can narrow near the point of attack

– Doesn’t have the short-area burst to run down plays out to the sideline

– Not a really twitchy or light-footed interior rusher, who will challenge the edges of linemen a whole lot

– Lacks the flexibility in his hips to corner his rushes effectively and shows no spins or otherwise dynamic counter maneuvers


I think what we saw during Senior Bowl week describes best what type of player Young is at this point. He was consistently the one to get his hands inside and control reps in the run game, just owning his space, while blockers had to really into him to not get driven backwards, which set him up to win with the rip off that. However, those guys figured out his plan, he didn’t really any change-ups to throw at them. So he can line up somewhere between head-up on the guard to head-up on the tackle, do the dirty work in the run game and test the integrity of the pocket with power. I believe his best fit at the next level is as a 4i-/5-tech in odd fronts, where he can play that gap-and-a-half for you, in order to counterbalance negative box numbers. The amount action he sees on passing downs will depend on how much he can diversify his pass-rush arsenal and if his future DC is creative to create ways for him to be a useful set-up man for games. Somewhere later on day two is where I would target him.



Just missed the cut:


Zacch Pickens


Zacch Pickens, South Carolina

6’4”, 300 pounds; SR

The number one defensive tackle recruit in the country for 2019, Pickens made the SEC Coaches’ All-Freshman Team despite only eight tackles and no sacks across 12 games. In his second season, he started the final seven of ten games and notched 35 tackles (2.5 for loss and a sack). Pickens started all 25 games in over the last two years and combined for 80 total tackles, nine of those for loss and 6.5 sacks, along with a fumble recovery in each of those and three passes batted down this past season.


+ Has the frame of a nose-tackle, but moves much more like a penetrating three-technique and brings a lot of charge off the ball

+ Brings plenty of pop in his hands and can arch the backs of blockers as he locks out with those 34 and 3/8-inch arms into them

+ You can put this guy at a shade nose and he shuts down the front-side by himself at times, as he bench-presses the center into the backfield and wraps up the ball-carrier

+ Some of the plays, where he hits blockers with that rapid arm-over moves off the line, you see him completely make those guys whiff and stand in front of the running back all of a sudden

+ Highly impressive lateral mobility, to work down the line in the zone run game on the front-side, but if he can rip through the play-side shoulder of the blocker in front of him when he’s away from the action, he can create disruption as well

+ I thought in 2022 he was able to crash through the reach of blockers and flash color in the gap much more regularly

+ When getting down-blocked against, he brings the natural force to create knock-back and plug the next gap

+ Even when he does take himself out of run-fits to some degree initially, he can push back against the momentum of blockers and squeeze down gaps

+ Displays impressive burst to get to the ball on perimeter-oriented plays and screen passes


+ Brings the natural power to ride interior O-linemen into the depth of the pocket and you frequently see him fully extend to push guys off into a back-pedal mode

+ Has the agility in short areas to effectively work around guards when soloed up in dropback situations

+ The hands and feet are already pretty well-synced to actually tightly navigate past blockers rather can widening his path

+ When he swats down the back-hand of linemen sliding away from him, he can split those quasi-combos with the other blocker trying to get in front of him, because he’s too quick up the field for them

+ Packs the natural strength to pull blockers aside, as he sees the quarterback start to scramble, or at times pushes those guys into the way

+ Pickens’ 11.5% pass-rush win rate according to PFF is way higher than his sack numbers would indicate

+ Consistently pushes off his blocker and elevates with one arm up, to potentially knock down passes if he can’t get home

+ Towers over quarterbacks, to make them adjust the release and was actually dropped into the hook area a few times, where his length makes it tough to throw crossers behind him

+ Finished top-five at the combine among the defensive tackles in the ten-yard split (1.74), both the agility drills, the vert (30.5 inches) and broad jump (9’8”), which was tied for the top mark for that group


– Has to do a better job of keeping his chest clean and really taking advantage of his length, as well as attacking half the man more effectively, not feeling like he has to peak around blockers as much

– Part of this is being a miscast in the A-gap to a certain degree, but Pickens lacks a certain discipline in run defense and gets off his landmarks, which hurts the entire unit

– At this point, I’d say Pickens largely relies on his physical gifts and sort of reacts on the fly, outside of a few reps a game

– Rushing the passer, that means being pro-active with defeating the hands and getting to his secondary move right away – There are way too many chest-to-chest reps

– I’d like to see Pickens play with his hair on fire more consistently and fight off blocks


I felt like I needed to talk about Pickens here, because while I couldn’t quite fit him into my top-ten, I believe he has the physical tools to eventually become as productive as anybody outside of the first five names I listed here. The explosiveness at that size combined with his length and agility are all there to become an impact starter at three-technique. Unfortunately, he doesn’t protect his frame or play the game at a mental level to a point, to where I would feel comfortable in putting him out there week one, because I think offensive lines can take advantage of him. Put on the Arkansas film and you can see him get displaced by double-teams and worked on angles with regularity. If you allow him to just win his gap and light that fire under his ass, he could become a difference-maker, but his floor may be a rotational D-linemen who flashes at times.



The next names up:

Kobie Turner (Wake Forest), Mike Morris (Michigan), Colby Wooden (Auburn), Moro Ojomo (Texas), Jalen Redmond (Oklahoma), Karl Brooks III (Bowling Green), Jerrod Clark (Coastal Carolina), Desjuan Johnson (Toledo), Jonah Tavai (San Diego State) & Ikenna Enechukwu (Rice)


4 thoughts on “Top 10 interior defensive linemen of the 2023 NFL Draft:

  1. Pingback: Top 10 tight-ends of the 2023 NFL Draft: | Defy Life

  2. Pingback: Top 10 tight-ends of the 2023 NFL Draft: | Halil's Real Footballtalk

  3. Pingback: Recapping the entire 2023 NFL Draft: | Defy Life

  4. Pingback: Recapping the entire 2023 NFL Draft: | Halil's Real Footballtalk

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