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NFL teams without stout interior defensive linemen have a clear ceiling, even in today's NFL. Look no further than the Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas led the NFL in quarterback pressure rate (45%) in 2023 on the strength of its edge rushers, All-Pro Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence, but they were only average against the run (112.4 rushing yards per game allowed). That was their undoing in regular-season losses against the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills as well as their season-ending beatdown (a 48-32 defeat in which they trailed 27-0) in the wild-card round of the postseason against the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Jones went off for 118 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 21 carries that day. Journeyman Johnathan Hankins and 2023 first-round pick Mazi Smith were unable to present much resistance. 

CBS Sports HQ NFL analyst Rick Spielman, the Minnesota Vikings general manager of 16 seasons (2006-2021), dishes his takes on the 2024 defensive tackle class from the "With The First Pick" podcast episode that aired on April 3 to inform the diehard football fandom community on who to watch for in the event their team needs to improve its defensive front. 

This is the eighth position group in CBS Sports' pre-draft evaluations with wide receiversrunning backsquarterbackstight endsoffensive linedefensive backs and linebackers all available for your reading pleasure. Each prospect also includes a closer look from yours truly. Enjoy the creme de la creme of the 2024 NFL Draft defensive tackle class.    

Tier 3

Ruke Orhorhoro (Clemson)

  • Height: 6-4 | Weight: 294 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 Third Team All-ACC, 97 TKL, 25.5 TFL and 12 sacks in 53 career games (30 starts)

 Pro comp: Atlanta Falcons DL David Onyemata

"He has very good size, and he is a good athlete," Spielman said. "He improved his instincts and playmaking ability from 2022. Only played high school football for two years. He is quick out of his stance and can uncoil his hips. Very good laterally with quickness down the line. He is tough to reach/cut off. Needs to get off blocks quicker and find the ball. He is a twitchy athlete as a pass rusher. Still raw with hands and technique, but if he can gain an edge on a blocker he can close to the quarterback. More disruptive than productive, but he has improved each year. He has as a lot of natural athletic tools to develop, but he will take some time." 

  • Highest he could get drafted: Low second round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Middle of third round

Final Thoughts: Orhorhoro ranked as the most athletic defensive tackle at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to the NFL's NextGen Stats, thanks to his 4.89 40-yard dash, 32-inch vertical jump and 9'8" broad jump. Clemson lined him up in multiple places along the defensive line, working as both a space eater against the run or as a lineman-splitting pass rusher. He possesses a naturally dynamic first step as his athletic testing would suggest, launching his body into an offensive lineman without fear. Orhorhoro also has the agility to quickly find new gaps to attack if he fails to find initial success, and he does a strong job at consistently hustling and chasing plays to the opposite side of the field if need be. Orhorhoro will need some coaching to develop as a pass rusher, and he may need to pack on some pounds at the next level. He has the tools to give teams hope in his upside. 

Braden Fiske (Florida State)

  • Height: 6-4 | Weight: 292 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 3 sacks in 2023 ACC Championship Game win vs. Louisville

 Pro comp: Retired eight-time Pro Bowl DT Geno Atkins/Detroit Lions DL John Cominsky 

"Good height but 31 (inch)" arms will be a concern with some teams," Spielman said. "Excellent motor. Transfer from Western Michigan.  Best suited as a three-tech. Really jumped out at the Senior Bowl. He can get overwhelmed at the point versus combination blocks and double teams inline but continues to fight to the ball carrier. As a pass rusher, he has to win off the snap and rely on his technique to win. Longer-armed offensive guards can stalemate him if they get locked on early in the down. Very good quickness running inline games and knows how to work the edge of blockers. He recognizes how he has to win and works to master that craft." 

  • Highest he could get drafted: First 10 picks of second round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Low second round

Final Thoughts: Braden Fiske was one of the most athletic defensive tackles at the NFL Scouting Combine (4.78 40-yard dash, 33.5" vertical jump and 9'9" broad jump), but he measured in with shorter arms (31 inches). He is also already 24 years old. The smaller wingspan could hinder him when fighting to release off of blocks, and he needs to add more moves to his repertoire outside of the bull rush. However, Fiske has a strong fast twitch off the line of scrimmage, a coveted skill in the league, and he always keeps his hands moving to fight through linemen or to keep them out of his way. Fiske has solid leverage despite being on the smaller end in terms of his length, and he can hold his own against double teams. He will be a nice depth add to many NFL teams' defensive front rotations. 

Tier 2

Darius Robinson (Missouri)

  • Height: 6-5 | Weight: 285 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 First Team All-SEC, 8.5 sacks in 2023 (fourth most in SEC)

 Pro comp: New England Patriots DE Keion White/Las Vegas Raiders DT Byron Young

"Had a great Senior Bowl showing his versatility as an outside and inside rusher," Spielman said. "Disappointing 40 time (4.95) at combine, but he has excellent length and was explosive with his jumps. He is explosive off the snap and jolts blockers at the point versus the run. Long arms (34 1/2") help him shed and separate at the point of blocks. Another defensive lineman that plays hard and chases the ball in pursuit. He needs polish and development as a pass rusher. Has the lengths and physical tools to be a power-type rusher off the edge and move inside on third downs. Needs technique work and needs a rush plan. I see him as a base defensive end or five-technique that has upside to work with. Will be in a rotation rookie year and develop into a starter as he improves his technique."   

  • Highest he could get drafted: Low first round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Top 15 picks of second round

Final Thoughts: Darius Robinson's build is like he was developed in a laboratory to be an NFL defensive lineman, with his stature (6-5, 285 pounds) and length (34 1/2" arms). He can line up anywhere up front, and his long arms allow him punch offensive linemen off their spot while his size and first step can power himself into the pocket with ease. He can also stay low to the ground in the run game and then powerfully push back offensive linemen at the point of attack. Robinson needs to get comfortable with moves outside of relying on solely his length, and he can get out of control in the run game. The 40 time and tape lead to the question of if he can with speed, too. If Robinson can refine his game, he can be a player who is an edge on earlier downs and an interior rusher on passing downs in the NFL. 

Tier 1

Jer'Zhan Newton (Illinois)

  • Height: 6-2 | Weight: 304 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 Consensus All-America, 2023 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

 Pro comp: Retired four-year NFL vet DT Sharrif Floyd, retired nine-year NFL vet DT Sheldon Richardson, 49ers DT Javon Hargrave

"Undersized defensive tackle and a good athlete," Spielman said. "Missed time this year with foot fracture and had surgery. He is productive both versus the run and as a pass rusher. Plays with energy and effort. He plays with natural leverage at the point versus the run. Very good technique with his hands and can utilize his quickness to defeat run blocks at the point. Very good lateral range. He will get engulfed at times versuss combination blocks and double teams. Good quickness as an inline rusher. Good with his hands and can gain the edge off blockers with his quickness. Nonstop motor helps him get sack production as the play is extended. Should be a rookie starter that can develop into a very good three-tech."

  • Highest he could get drafted: Middle of first round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Top of second round

Final Thoughts: Jer'Zhan Newton is arguably the most productive defensive tackle in the entire 2024 NFL Draft: He was the only defensive tackle named as a 2023 Nagurski Award Finalist, which goes to the best defensive player in college football. His 102 quarterback pressures since 2022 are the most among defensive tackles and the seventh-most pressures (102) in all of college football. Newton's 43 quarterback pressures were the second-most among defensive tackles in 2023, trailing only the top player on this list: Texas Longhorn Byron Murphy II. 

Newton is undersized in terms of his height and arm length (32 3/8"), but he has a powerful lower body. The compact frame helps him routinely win with leverage and being lower than offensive linemen. Newton then explodes through the middle of the line to wreak havoc in the pocket. He is also top tier at using his hands when pass rushing to get off blocks, which leaves offensive linemen grasping at air. When Newton does get through the line, he makes sure the quarterback feels it by putting both hands or a forearm into their chest and then knocking them into the ground. He can get fooled by misdirection in the run game, but he is an elite interior pass rusher. Newton can be a solid starting defensive tackle in the NFL early on. 

Byron Murphy II (Texas)

  • Height: 6-0 1/2" | Weight: 297 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 AP Second Team All-America, Highest PFF pass rush grade (91.5) by FBS DT in 2023

 Pro comp: Atlanta Falcons two-time Pro Bowl DT Grady Jarrett/Buffalo Bills DT Ed Oliver

"Lacks ideal height, but he has a powerful, explosive lower build," Spielman said. "Three technique, best suited in an upfield, penetrating one-gap scheme. Surprising strength to anchor and hold the point versuss combination blocks and double teams but not an ideal two-gap player. Great effort as an inline pass rusher. He can defeat blocks with his hands and quickness. He shows natural leverage to bend and close to the quarterback.   

  • Highest he could get drafted: First 15 picks of 2024 NFL Draft
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Lower first round

Final Thoughts: The 2023 First Team All-Big 12 selection led all defensive tackles in quarterback pressures (45) in 2023 as well as quarterback pressure rate (17%, among those with at least 250 pass rushes). He is technically undersized, but his agility and quick burst off the line allows him to thrive. Murphy puts his arms to great use between his swim move and club technique to get underneath linemen to reach the quarterback or to simply drive them into their own quarterback. He can also use his leverage to dig in against the run and prevent blockers from advancing down the field, thus preventing a big play. The smaller height and arm length (32 3/8") are an issue, but as long as he maintains his strong motor in tandem with the smart leverage play, Murphy can be an impactful interior presence.