Layout of the Preview:
1) Brief Positional Overview
2) Top 15 Prospects. Includes Grade, NFL Comparison, Summary, Extra Thoughts
*Comparisons are more about physical profile and play style, NOT projection
3) Grades only: 16-28
90+: All Pro
85+ Pro Bowl
81-84: 1st Round / Year 1 Contributor / Starter
79-80: 2nd Round / Year 1 Contributor / Year 2 Starter
77-78: 3rd Round / Contribute by end of Year 1 / Year 2 Starter
74-76: Early Day 3 / Special Teams / Future Backup / Possible Starter
71-73: Mid-Day 3 / Special Teams / Future backup / Gamble Starter
68-70: Late Day 3 / Back End of Roster / Practice Squad / Developmental
65-67: Preferred UDFA
4) Positional Approach – Draft Weekend
Throughout the season I often labeled the Leonard Williams + Dexter Lawrence duo as the top interior defensive line pair in the league. After another NFL offseason, that statement still rings true. I was worried there was a chance the Williams deal would lead to him becoming a cap casualty, but the fact he is coming back is a big deal. Lawrence and Williams give this defense an enormous asset to build and scheme around. They’re both equally impactful against the run and pass, they can play a lot of snaps, and they make other players better. If the guys on the outside both take a step up, you are talking about a front four that could be mentioned among the best in the league. Bringing in Rakeem Nunez-Roches will give them a tremendous leg up compared to what they marched out there a year ago with three linemen on the field. The depth and a third linemen who can play more of a five-technique role are still spots that can use an upgrade. DJ Davidson is a nose tackle only, one who can be solid. Vernon Butler provides competition. But as much as I liked Ryder Anderson as an UDFA – that is a spot that looks awfully weak right now on paper.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1) Jalen Carter – Georgia – 6’3/314
NFL Comparison: Quinnen Williams / NYJ
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Apopka, FL. All-SEC in both 2021 and 2022, first team in his final season. Despite missing a couple games midseason this past fall with a knee injury, Carter ends the pre-draft process as one of the two elite-caliber talents in the class. When it comes to defeating blockers one on one, this is a defensive weapon that will consistently shrink the pocket in front of the passer’s feet. He wins with explosion on one play, and sheer power on the next. With the way the league is slowly shifting toward to value of interior rushers, Carter is the prototype. He carries elite grades across the sheet. Size, strength, bend, and speed are all near or at the top of the class among defenders. The lone question surrounding Carter will be durability and conditioning. The Georgia program rotates their defensive front as much as any in the country. Carter has the goods to be the number one overall player in the class, but if a franchise wants to make him the focal point of their defense, he will need to play more snaps and smooth out the edges to his skill set. There is no denying the talent and upside, but the question of 75% snap share reliance can rightfully cause hesitation.
*For the record, I did not deduct anything from his grade as a result of the legal issue he had in March. It will have zero impact on his availability. That said, there is some smoke brewing around this kid and his maturity. Every conversation I have had about him with people I trust has included something along the lines of “when he wants to” or “when he tries hard”. There is a consistency problem here with his effort and this is the kind of position and body where that does matter. Taking him top ten is going to be a risk no matter how you spin it. But on the field, over the course of multiple years, this is the best player in the draft and a potential game wrecker.
2) Adetomiwa Adebawore – Northwestern – 6’2/282
NFL Comparison: Aaron Donald / LAR
Senior entry. Three-year starter from Kansas City, MO. Two-time Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. Adetomiwa is one of the more unique prospects in the entire class. He does not have a true every down position, as he spent over just 50% of his snaps outside and just under the remaining 50% of his snaps scattered between the A gap and inside shoulder of the tackle. This is the kind of matchup nightmare for opposing blockers because of his rare combination of burst, quickness, and length. He plays with such a low pad level but maintains immense power and strength while moving at such a sudden rate. Adetomiwa is going to be a force in passing situations. The impact may not always be felt via traditional stats, but do not overlook how much he can do for a defensive front, especially on a team that is trying to protect a lead late in games.
*After all is said and done, I may be the highest on this kid of anyone out there. I have him as a credible top ten talent in this class. The first thing I noticed about his game was the uniqueness of his skill set and tools. He is undersized for the interior, no question. But his measurements are nearly identical to Aaron Donald, but with even more length, burst, and speed. He is not nearly as developed when it comes to rush techniques, his hands in particular, but the suddenness and versatility are in rare territory. There are a lot of freaks in this draft class and Adebawore is up there with the best. What a weapon this would be for Martindale.
3) Bryan Bresee – Clemson – 6’6/298
NFL Comparison: Zach Sieler / MIA
Junior entry. Three-year starter that was named All-ACC each season, including first team honors as a true freshman in 2020 where he also won the ACC Rookie of the Year award. Missed most of the 2021 season with a torn ACL and it appeared to hamper him in 2022. Bresee was a five-star recruit that immediately made an impact on one of the best defenses in college football. The trajectory was spiking through the roof but when the injury occurred, that was only the start of adversity. Bresee’s teenage sister passed away in September of 2022 to brain cancer. Football and injuries are secondary to the loss of family and that must be kept in mind when evaluating his tape. Bresee is an elite physical package, a mature young man way beyond his years, and produced across multiple seasons after coming in with high expectations. There is some roughness to his game when it comes to pad level and lower body power, but the best is clearly ahead of Bresee and this is a story that teams will want to root for.
*While there are a few issues with his game that center around his lower body power and bend, Bresee brings one of the most versatile skill sets to the table in this draft class. He is one of the tallest defensive tackle prospects ever. He has tight end-caliber movement skills at just under 300 pounds. He can line up across the line. He has flashes of sheer dominance on tape over different years spread apart. The interviews with him and extra background checks will be vital. While he does have more bad tape in 2022 than I wanted to see, there are credible justifications. An offseason without rehab and an incredibly unfortunate personal situation from last season now fueling his fire could get the most out of the upside he possesses. Bresee would be a nice fit for the Leonard Williams role in a year or two and his versatility could get him on the field in year one as a big-time disruptor. I have been told his grades are all over the place in the league. Very interesting prospect and situation to follow.
4) Calijah Kancey – Pittsburgh – 6’1/281
NFL Comparison: Mike Daniels / FA
Fourth year junior entry. Three-year starter from Miami, FL. Two-time first team All-ACC and a consensus 2022 All-American. Kancey is arguably the biggest anomaly in the entire draft class. He measures off the chart in the wrong direction across all dimensions. The lack of staying power and the short arms show up against the inside run. He cannot stay home against the double team. Catch the right play and it is easy to come away with the idea he does not belong in the NFL. Kancey, however, is a force and a credible threat to the offense every-down. His get off, rapid-fire feet and hands, and feel for the game all enable him to create plays in the backfield. He plays under the pads of blockers and has the suddenness to get the initial advantage snap after snap. He excels with adjustments and understands how to play the game with his hands. His ideal role will be a three-technique in a scheme that will allow him to slant his way into space. He cannot handle the traditional stay-at-home role. He will get bodied from time to time, but the decision will be how much a defense is willing to risk for the reward of several plays in the backfield.
*Yet another freak athlete and this one played in the same program as Donald. Personally, the comparison game is not as strong as the one mentioned above. Kancey can move as well as anyone interior pass rusher in the league. His burst, change of direction, and bendability can be a lethal combination. Length is a big deal to me, however. He is nearly off the chart in the wrong direction there. He can be an elite package-defender but I’m not all the way sold it can work at that size and he is not going to be an every-down player.
5) Keeanu Benton – Wisconsin – 6’4/309
NFL Comparison: Folorunso Fatukasi
Senior entry. Four-year starter from Janesville, WI. Two-time All-Big Ten. Benton arrived at Wisconsin after a 48-2 record as a high school wrestler. He started off as a big and powerful, stout run plug. As his career progressed, he evolved into an every-down threat that could handle a full snap load as pose as a multi-dimensional threat. He has the NFL body enough athleticism to pursue runs from tackle to tackle and beat pass blockers one on one. He checks all the boxes both physically and mentally. Benton is a guy that will come into the league and make an impact right away. He is a safe bet to give the team that drafts him at least a double. He will hold the point of attack, keep linebackers clean, and make the occasional play behind the line of scrimmage.
*There isn’t anything sexy about Benton’s game. We are in an era of defensive tackles being paid $23+ million per year (Dexter Lawrence is next). Because of that, he is an easy guy to look past. Benton is not going to be a household name but look around the league and you will see plenty of guys that fit his profile that several teams want. They’re important defenders to a defense that is a well-rounded unit. I am not sold on him being a Martindale fit, but he is going to be in the league a long time.
6) Byron Young – Alabama – 6’3/294
NFL Comparison: Ta’Quon Graham / ATL
Senior entry. Two-year starter from Laurel, MS. Young is the kind of blue-collar defender you may not find in the highlight reel, but one that coaches and players know is a vital part to the front. First, he can play anywhere on the line, in any scheme. His power, length, and hand strength are difference making traits. He is always the aggressor, the one that initiates contact and sets up camp where he wants to. Second, his distribution among different spots along the line was a credible moving target that can adjust on the fly. Third, Young beats one on one blocking. While he may not be the best two-gapper against the run and he will take himself out of some plays, the sum of the parts here is enough to warrant a starting job early in his career in hybrid fronts. He will show up to work every day, put in his top effort, and maintain a strong physical presence. Early on he will be a versatile rotational piece and he has a shot at being a long-time starter down the road. Young is a winning player.
*Throw the traits of Young into an algorithm and then pair them what NYG is looking for on the defensive line, good chance Young ends up being the match. I’m not saying he is going to be picked by Schoen, but this is the profile I can see them adding. A guy with a bit more juice than their current backups, but also someone that can shift outside in certain looks. The question with him is two-gap run defense and overall stoutness. If that is what Wink wants more of, the fit may not be there. Personally, I love Young and if he falls into round four, it would be immense value.
7) Mazi Smith – Michigan – 6’3/323
NFL Comparison: Dontari Poe / RET
Fourth year junior entry. Two-year starter from Grand Rapids, MI. Two-time All-Big Ten, including first team honors in 2022. Smith is a physical marvel. At 323 pounds, you may never find a guy that athletically tests the way he does. He was atop the infamous “Freak List” put together annually by Bruce Feldman last summer. This is a guy that simply does things with his body that nearly no one else can at that size. It does not carry over to physical dominance or production, however. Simply put, Smith is a guy with a half-sack and just five tackles for loss in college. Defensive line play goes much deeper than that, however. Smith’s movement and power did cause a lot of disruption, but it was sporadic. There are pad level issues, hand-technique issues, and mental processing issues. Add them up together and this is simply an inconsistent player with a high ceiling. Schematically he can fit into multiple roles. Teams with hybrid fronts should be all over him but the question will be, how soon is too soon to gamble like this. Smith will be an interesting player to follow but the team that drafts him needs a specific plan and progression.
*I could talk about Smith for 20 minutes and the listener may not know if I like him or not. What I mean is, the strengths and upside of this kid’s game are unrivaled. There are physical and talent comparisons to Jalen Carter. In the same breath, you will not find a stretch of his career where you were blown away. Not one. He flashed, then disappeared. Flashed, then disappeared. This is a hard player to project, and I assume it will take a bit more, in-depth screening with coaches to see what can be tapped into. Smith will likely go higher than where I have him and on paper, seems like the kind of profile BAL drafted when Martindale was there.
8) Zacch Pickens – South Carolina – 6’4/291
NFL Comparison: Sheldon Richardson / CLE
Senior entry. Three-year starter from Anderson, SC. Was a team captain and won multiple team-awards, both on and off the field. Pickens has a rare athleticism package. He is fast and explosive attached to a thick, broad, but also long frame that when used correctly, looks unstoppable at times. Pickens is a penetrator that did not always play in a scheme or role that best suited his strengths. The hope at the next level is that he finds a one-gap scheme that allows him to shoot upfield. His stamina needs work as well. Too often Pickens appeared to lose a gear late in games. For these reasons he will likely be a rotational pass rusher early in his career with the potential to be a starter down the road. He may never be a solid stay at home two-gapper, however. It is simply not his game.
*Pickens is role specific, scheme specific. Get him a classic three-technique role and I think he does well. Ask him to play most of the snaps and use up energy defending the run, I think he struggles. The burst is real, and he has some room on the frame to grow. There were a few at the Senior Bowl that said he is an absolute lock for a day two selection. With the money being tossed around to pass rushing interior guys now, they may be right. This is becoming a positional value spot.
9) Jaquelin Roy – LSU – 6’3/305
NFL Comparison: Larry Ogunjobi / PIT
Junior entry. One-year starter from Baton Rouge, LA. Roy became a part of the LSU rotation inside right away. Although he has just 13 starts under his belt, do not mistake that for a lack of experience. Roy has the play style to be an active nose tackle. He can play stout and strong inside, manning two gaps to keep linebackers clean. He is a tree stump against double teams. There is also some sneaky burst and closing speed when he is near the action that he put on display. Roy will not be an every-down player, but he can make a rotation early in his career. The upside will be capped because of the tightness in his lower half combined with a lack of ideal length, but the floor is high. He will be a strong run defender that will make the occasional takedown in the backfield.
*This is about the area where I see a few 3-4 nose tackle types jockeying for position. Roy does not have the ideal measurables for the spot when looking at other pros, but he is the furthest along when it comes to technique and awareness. Roy plays smart, he knows what to do. He flashed a bit more playmaking within the box than I was expecting, too. Really solid day three option for NYG if they want to bring a guy in to compete with Davidson for the backup NT job.
10) Colby Wooden – Auburn – 6’4/273
NFL Comparison: Solomon Thomas / NYJ
Fourth year junior. Three-year starter from Lawrenceville, GA. Wooden is a versatile, high-character type that will line up all over the line. Pegging him to a specific position would be a disservice to both him and the team. He showed up as a 240-pound edge defender but played at 285 pounds in 2022 and most of his snaps over his final two seasons were inside the tackle. What position he is specifically stacked at will vary from team to team, but his greatest tape comes as an interior pass rusher. He plays with tremendous pad level, sudden lateral movement, and effective rush moves. He beat one on one blockers several different ways over his career. Wooden will not have a traditional position, but that not as important as it used to be. He will be a difference maker and can be moved around to create mismatches.
*I have been back and forth on which stack to place Wooden into. That said, I would not argue against anyone that left him in the EDGE stack. Wooden played at 280+ pounds last year at Auburn and I have to think he will be back there in 2023. He could even make his way up to 290 in time. There aren’t many guys that played over 700 career snaps inside and over 670 snaps outside in college. A near-split with an additional 360+ snaps over the tackle. Wooden did it and can do it at the next level. He could be a surprise day two pick because there simply is such a small supply of this kind of player. Was he overly productive? Not really. Is he a standout athlete? Not really. But this guy is tough, strong, and smart. Coaches want that on their depth chart.
11) Gervon Dexter – Florida – 6’6/310
NFL Comparison: Chris Jones / KC
Junior entry. Two-year starter from Lake Wales, FL. Dexter’s path to the draft is not like most of the others. He was a highly touted basketball player and discus thrower in high school. He began playing football as a junior and dominated in year two. He earned the scholarship to Florida but was, as we understand now, not an ideal program for player development. He is a guy that really needed it. After three years, Dexter still struggles with basic fundamentals of the position. He is late out of his stance routinely, his hands are rarely where they need to be, and the pad level is inconsistent. Even though he is blessed with top-tier tools, it has not translated into quality football yet. He can move like very few do at his size, however an odd lack of length will make life difficult if he does not clean up the shortcomings. Dexter has potential for the inside role in both odd and even fronts as a two gapping boulder that will impact the pass rush at times. He needs time, good coaching, and a development plan.
*I was hesitant to put Chris Jones in there as the comp. The All-Pro Chris Jones. Obviously, I did not grade him to that level in the NFL. But the list of 6’5+ / 310+ pound defensive tackles with oddly short arms and plus athletic ability is small. Dexter, as a matter of fact, tested out better than Jones. Jones, as a matter of fact, I graded way too poorly out of Mississippi State in 2016. I had him at 76. The irony here is that both players finished the scouting process in the same area. Is this a sign of things to come? Dexter is a huge unknown. There isn’t a tackle in this group that brings this package to the table. There are enough flashes on tape that look good too, real good. I have to stay day three here, but I would be lying if I said I was not intrigued.
12) Siaki Ika – Baylor – 6’3/335
NFL Comparison: Danny Shelton / KC
Senior entry. Two-year starter from Salt Lake City, UT. Two-time First Team-All Big 12. Ika began his career at LSU but then transferred to Baylor, following Head Coach Dave Aranda who was previously the Defensive Coordinator at LSU. He is a one-dimensional, two gap run defender that will not be a fit for every team. For the schemes that are still using a classic 3-4 nose tackle, Ika fits in like a glove. He does have a quick first step and wins a lot of initial battles. The secondary rush moves and closing ability are lacking. He walked himself into six sacks in 2021 but that portion of his game off a cliff in 2022. He will be a situational defender at the next level that will likely play under half the snaps on a week-to-week basis. Do not expect a pass rush impact, but do expect a high floor run defender that will help the process around him.
*This is a classic example of a good player for the role he plays in, but it is not a role everyone uses or wants. Ika will find a home and I bet he sees playing time in 2023. I don’t see any sort of upside beyond what he is right now. He has such an odd body type. Not nearly as broad as most pro nose tackles and borderline sloppy. 2021 production put him on the radar, but he did not progress. If anything he went backwards. Ika is fine for the run defending interior role, it just needs to be weighed properly.
13) Karl Brooks – Bowling Green – 6’3/296
NFL Comparison: James Lynch / MIN
Fifth year senior. Five-year starter from Lansing, MI. Two-time All-MAC, first team in 2022. Brooks played more outside linebacker than defensive line throughout his career. His measurables scream interior pass rusher, however, as he does not have enough speed and explosion to play on the outside. The combine snub will essentially need to learn a new position in the NFL while also making a big jump in competition. While he shows crafty rush moves and quick feet, Brooks does not have enough mass or power to push the pocket. His game will be largely dependent on lateral movement and twists. A team will need a specific plan for him and while he can occasionally push outside in specific looks, Brooks will be a rotational three-technique that needs time to gain power and strength.
*Brooks measured in well below average when looking at the arm length and body mass. Throw in he is making a huge jump in competition and likely shifting positions in the NFL, we may see him go later than where I had him. I personally thought he should have been a combine invite over at least a handful of interior guys that were there, and he was not. You need to watch a lot of his tape to appreciate what he can do as a pass rusher. He is consistent and crafty. A guy that simply knows what to do against lone blockers. He will be very one-dimensional though.
14) Cameron Young – Mississippi State – 6’3/304
NFL Comparison: Carlos Watkins / ARI
Fifth year senior. One-year starter from Crosby, MS. Was also a heavy part of the rotation in 2021. Even though he was not a starter, his snap count was close to what it was in 2022. Young does not have a set of dynamic traits that can disrupt the offense, but he is undoubtedly an NFL body with NFL power and NFL speed. His game does not make the highlight reel, but the more he plays the more he exudes reliable play along the interior. He has elite length and hand strength with solid initial get off. He will fit best as a backup that sees snaps weekly and will specialize in run defense. Young brings a high enough floor to warrant a day three selection and could easily outlast several defenders drafted ahead of him.
*Traits, traits, traits. You are not going to say “wow” when you watch his tape, but you are going to see an NFL lineman. The league is filled this kind of player. Long and thick with good power and a solid get-off. Young is going to be a safe day three pick that you will see get snaps early in his career. Even though he will always be a guy that you can replace down the road or someone that you wish produced more, you’ll never be unhappy he is on the depth chart. 4-3 fronts will favor him a bit more.
15) Keondre Coburn – Texas – 6’1/332
NFL Comparison: Daylon Mack / BAL
Fifth year senior. Four-year starter from Houston, TX. Three-time All-Big 12. The classic 3-4 nose tackle does not bring multiplicity to the table, but he is a refined specialist. He is built, and plays, like a boulder that eats up a piece of both A-gaps. When he is on the field, a defense can be nearly assured there will be traffic inside. The lack of length in addition to the tightness in his hips will limit the impact he can have consistently away from the starting point. He did elevate his pass rush in 2022, however, doubling his career output in both sacks and pressures. There is a nimbleness to his feet that can take advantage of a crease and there is no mistaking the raw power he can bulldoze with. Coburn will be an asset only to 3-4 fronts, but one that should stick in the league for a long time.
*The NFL comparison I have for Coburn was drafted by BAL while Martindale was the Defensive Coordinator there, for what it’s worth. A very odd body type here. You see the weight and first look on tape, and you think he is massive. He really is not. He is short with very short arms and a lack of broadness. The lower body does not bend very well, so he could be a guy many teams will not even look at. In those situations, I look for opportunity. On day three, I think the opportunity is worth a swing if NYG wants another nose tackle. He knows the game and it shows. He has developed a long way in the last three years. Good kid too, coaches will love him. This one makes sense if he is there late.
16) Jalen Redmond – Oklahoma – 6’2/291: 71
17) PJ Mustipher – Penn State – 6’4/320: 71
18) Dante Stills – West Virginia – 6’3/286: 70
19) Moro Ojomo – Texas – 6’2/292: 70
20) DJ Dale – Alabama – 6’1/302: 70
21) Devonnsha Maxwell – Chattanooga – 6’1/299: 69
22) Jerrod Clark – Coastal Carolina – 6’3/334: 69
23) Nesta Jade-Silvera – Arizona State – 6’1/304: 69
24) Brodric Martin – Western Kentucky – 6’5/337: 69
25) Kobie Turner – Wake Forest – 6’2/293: 68
26) Ryan Cooper – Florida State – 6’2/309: 68
27) Taron Vincent – Ohio State – 6’1/303: 68
28) Ifeanyi Maijeh – Rutgers – 6’1/289: 68
This team is looking for at least one more defensive lineman, no question. I believe they are going to add multiple prior to camp and at least one of them is coming in the draft. Yes, early is possible. I would not say it is likely, but I can’t see them wanting Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams on the field for 90+% of the snaps in a game as often as they did a year ago. I’m also not sold Williams is going to be here beyond 2023 because of economics. No matter the case there, this team needs, and I know for a fact they want, another body in there that can contribute in 2023. Calais Campbell priced himself out (signed with ATL) and A’Shawn Robinson believes he is getting more than what the league has told him he is worth this offseason. Whether it ends up being him or another veteran (they’re available), a guy with size and A-Gap pass rush presence will be signed.
In regard to the draft, the team could use a body anywhere because of the long-term projection that comes with a pick. If Wink had his way, he wants more pressure right up the middle. It could be a Lawrence-sized guy (likely) or more of a three-technique (Adebawore?) and give Williams more snaps inside the guard. No matter what, a defensive lineman with pass rush prowess could taken anywhere in the draft including round one. How this team feels about DJ Davidson could dictate how they feel about nose tackle depth. There is a cluster of day three guys who fit that role. If they are taken somewhere after round five, I am on board.