The 10 best defensive tackles in the 2023 NFL Draft, ranked

NFL teams are always looking to improve on the defensive line, and it’s one of the most crucial positions in all of football. The position has taken on added importance in recent years with many defenses moving to lighter box counts and more defensive backs. In an effort to counter the prolific passing attacks often employed by NFL offenses, teams are asking more and more of the “big nasties” on the interior.

That makes things tough heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, as the defensive tackle group is perhaps the thinnest position in the entire class. There’s still talent to be had here, particularly with a star at the top and a number of very intriguing prospects on Day 2, but the depth could thin out very quickly.

Our panel of NFL Draft analysts here at SB Nation came together to rank the top-10 defensive tackles in this class. Check out our rankings below!

10T. Keondre Coburn, Texas

We’ve got a tie at 10 in our defensive tackle rankings, with two nose tackles in contention here. The first is Keondre Coburn, an experienced starter who enjoyed a consistently productive career in the middle of the Texas defensive line. Coburn is a solid athlete (5.72 RAS) with good size (nearly 6’2, 336 pounds), but he lacks length (31.5” arms, 6th percentile). He makes up for it with his raw strength and motor, as he’s very effective at clogging up run lanes. Coburn isn’t ever going to be a high-end pass rusher, but his ability to immediately bolster an NFL run defense is valuable.

10T. Jaquelin Roy, LSU

One of the lesser-known prospects in this class who should definitely get more attention, Jaquelin Roy projects as a starting-caliber nose tackle in the NFL who could also offer something on passing downs. Roy has good size at 6’3, 305, but didn’t test out great at the NFL Combine (3.72 RAS). He’s an inconsistent player on tape, but I like his flashes as a run defender and his better-than-expected quickness as a pass rusher.

9. Tuli Tuipulotu, USC

I personally view Tuli Tuipulotu as an edge rusher or hybrid player (and I quite like him in the Day 2 range), but he’s also a potentially intriguing interior defensive line prospect. Tuipulotu has a frame that could go either way, as he slimmed down for more of an edge role in 2022 to 6’3, 266 pounds, but played in the 285 range in years past. He’s strong and has a good first step, often winning with a dangerous speed-to-power conversion and a relentless motor. Tuipulotu was also one of the most productive defensive linemen in college football in 2022, finishing with an incredible 13.5 sacks and 22.0 TFL.

8. Siaki Ika, Baylor

From here on out, the remaining players in the rankings were all pretty close. Baylor’s Siaki Ika slots in at 8. Once considered the top nose tackle prospect in the class and a possible late-first round pick, Ika’s poor 2022 season and disappointing Combine testing have pushed him into the late-Day 2 range. Ika has good size (6’3, 335) and some really encouraging flashes, particularly as a pass rusher, but needs a lot of development. He’s a much riskier prospect that initially expected.

7. Gervon Dexter, Florida

Another prospect who had late-first round hype at one point but fell due to a lackluster final season, Gervon Dexter is a very intriguing Day 2 target on the interior. Dexter never put it all together at Florida, with a career high 4.0 TFL and 2.5 sacks coming in 2021, but possesses outstanding size (6’5.5, 310) and elite athleticism (9.53 RAS). He’s in need of significant development, but all the traits of an NFL starter are there.

6. Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin

One of the most underrated interior defensive linemen in this class, Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton has had arguably the best pre-draft process of anyone in these rankings. Once a projected Day 3 pick, Benton turned heads with an outstanding Senior Bowl and followed that up with a great NFL Combine workout (8.90 RAS). At nearly 6’4, 310, Benton possesses prototypical size and strength for the interior and matched that with a strong production in 2022 (4.5 sacks, 10.0 TFL). I wouldn’t be shocked if Benton outperforms this ranking in the end.

5. Mazi Smith, Michigan

Coming in at 5 is Michigan’s Mazi Smith, who is a bit of a polarizing prospect despite his prototypical size (6’3, 323). Smith’s flashes on tape stand up with some of the best prospects in this class, but he’s extremely inconsistent on tape. That inconsistency carried over to his production, as Smith has never managed more than 2.5 TFL or 0.5 sacks in his entire career. Smith has exceptional strength and looks like a great athlete on tape, but he’s a significant projection at this point. He received a vote at 3, a vote at 6, and a lot of votes in between in our polling.

4. Bryan Bresee, Clemson

The rankings really heated up here around 4, as our consensus had the next two players extremely close. Bresee winds up in the fourth spot thanks to his elite athleticism, prototypical size, and versatility. He’s a high-upside prospect in a pretty thin class, and he’s dealt with a set of very difficult circumstances in his college career. There is a lot of hope for Bresee to become an impact player in time with the help of NFL coaching.

3. Calijah Kancey, Pitt

Pitt’s Calijah Kancey just edged out Clemson’s Bryan Bresee for third overall, thanks to the largest number of second-place votes of any player—but also a fair number of fourth-place votes. Kancey is a polarizing prospect due to his size: at just 6’1, 281, Kancey is well below typical size thresholds for the NFL. But the athleticism (9.60 RAS) and production (7.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL in 2022) are impossible to ignore, and he’s one of the most fun tape watches in the class.

2. Lukas Van Ness, Iowa

This is a bit of a weird one, but many scouts on our panel actually had Lukas Van Ness as their second overall interior defensive lineman. He’s also the number 5 edge rusher, according to our rankings. It’s clearly a projection, but Van Ness does have experience on the interior from early in his college career. Van Ness’ outstanding burst and speed-to-power conversion, in combination with his length, could make him quite dangerous rushing on the inside. He’ll need to add another 20 pounds or so to make it work, however.

1. Jalen Carter, Georgia

First things first: teams will have to be comfortable with Jalen Carter’s off-field problems to consider him early in the draft. That being said, Carter’s talent is undeniable—he was the unanimous top selection in our rankings. He’s a rare athlete with prototypical size, and possesses an elite first step and incredible strength at the point of attack. Carter is versatile and can line up anywhere on the defensive line. He’s got the traits and film of an immediate starter who has a Pro Bowl ceiling with some additional development.