The work never seems to end in the NFL player evaluation world, which means front offices have already turned their attention toward the upcoming college football season in advance of the 2024 NFL Draft. With that in mind, let's continue our CBS Sports summer prospect series.
We've covered the offensive side of the ball with the quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, and offensive linemen. Now we enter our second installment on the defensive side of the ball after kicking it off with : defensive tackles.
Defensive tackles selected in first round of 2023 NFL Draft
|OVERALL PICK||DRAFT TEAM||PLAYER|
Jalen Carter (Georgia)
Calijah Kancey (Pittsburgh)
Mazi Smith (Michigan)
Bryan Bresee (Clemson)
Four players at the position were selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, tied for the second-most first-round picks for any position last April along with the cornerbacks. Yet the upcoming crop of defensive tackles as a collective could have a higher ceiling and more depth.
"[The 2024 class will] definitely be deeper and more athletic at defensive tackle [than the 2023 class]," former longtime Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Aug. 4 on an episode of the "With the First Pick" podcast.
Here's an in-depth look at the current top defensive tackles with some pro comparisons from Spielman and CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson, plus some names who could rise through the ranks in the season to come. The defensive tackles are ranked by their readiness for the NFL entering the 2023 college football season.
5. Ruke Orhorhoro (Clemson)
- Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 290 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 Honorable Mention All-ACC; career-high sacks (4.0) in 2022; tied career high in tackles for loss (8.0) in 2022
"This kid played all up and down the defensive line, but I think he's best inside at three-technique. He's still learning how to play the game. You can see all the traits that you're looking for, but he's only played football since his junior year of high school I believe. So, he has a lot of growing to do as a football player. He'll get better and better the more reps he gets."
Ryan Wilson's comp: DeMarvin Leal (Steelers)
"I think he's the most developmental prospect [in this group], but I think the upside he has to offer."
- Games to circle: vs. Notre Dame (Nov. 4), vs. North Carolina (Nov. 18)
- Draft range: Second or third round
Even though Ruke Orhorhoro doesn't currently come with a wide-ranging repertoire of moves, but he's a ferocious athlete with a high-motor. Those two will traits will get any player most of the way there, especially up front where there's only so many options of moves to choose from given how close contact the space is on the line of scrimmage. Orhorhoro is equally skilled when playing the run or the pass. He could be somebody who has an incredibly better professional career in comparison to his collegiate career.
4. Maason Smith (LSU)
- Height: 6-foot-6 | Weight: 315 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2021 Freshman All-SEC; injured tore his ACL in first quarter of 2022 season-opener versus Florida State (missed rest of season)
Rick Spielman's comp: Javon Kinlaw (49ers)
"Maason Smith to me is a unique size guy that has excellent athleticism and twitch. He could stand to improve his technique. I had to go back to 2021 to watch him because of the knee injury, but I really like his upside. This guy can bend and dip. He plays with leverage. He's very flexible through his lower body. He showed a lot of flashes in 2021, but he needs to be more consistent. He also has to show he's going to be durable. If he can play all the games this year, he will be considered for the first round. He has first-round traits written all over him."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Perrion Winfrey (Browns)
"Some of the concerns I had about his strength could be old concerns since a lot of time has passed between 2021 and now. I love the athleticism.
- Games to circle: vs.. Florida State (Sep. 3), at Alabama (Nov. 4)
- Draft range: First or second round
The primary reason Maason Smith isn't higher is because of durability concerns after tearing his ACL in LSU's first game of the season in 2022. If he can remain in the lineup all season, there's a lot to love about Smith. He has an incredible length and size, making it possible for him to make plays even if it looks like offensive linemen have him well within their grasp. Smith's pass-rush technique is strong and he has a tremendous bag of pass-rush tricks to pull from to bamboozle opposing linemen. If he stays healthy, Smith could be one of the nation's biggest risers from now until next April.
3. Jer'Zhan Newton (Illinois)
- Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 295 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 second-team All-American; 2022 first-team All-Big Ten; led the nation's FBS top-ranked scoring defense (12.8 PPG allowed) in TFLs (14.0), sacks (5.5), quarterback pressures (59, T-7th-most in FBS) and fumble recoveries (two)
Rick Spielman's comp: Sharrif Floyd (former Viking)
"I think he's strong against the point of attack when playing the run. He does drop his weight and anchor. I thought he wasn't as quick-twitched as an inline pass rusher. I think he relies on power and then a counter move. I don't know if he can be as finesse and athletic utilizing those finesse type of moves, but he can definitely rush the passer. It's just a different style. I thought this guy had upside as an inline rusher, and with another strong year, will be a first-round pick."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Geno Atkins (former Bengal)
"He was consistently quick off the ball, consistently active hands, very similar to what you saw in Leonard Taylor, but I think Newton is a little more polished and a little more consistent when making plays. He was consistently stout at the point of attack. I thought he held up against double teams really well.
- Games to circle: vs. Penn State (Sep. 16), vs. Wisconsin (Oct. 21)
- Draft range: Late first or early second round
Jer'Zhan Newton is the most productive defensive tackle returning to college football in the entire country. He led all Power 5 interior defensive linemen in quarterback pressures (59) and tackles for loss (14.0). Newton doesn't have the same eye-popping explosion as some of the others on this list, but he's fundamentally sound, strong, and downright mean in the run game. Newton easily projects as a Day 1 NFL starter, entering the pros with an incredibly high floor.
2. Leonard Taylor III (Miami)
- Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 305 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 Honorable Mention All-ACC; co-led team in tackles for loss (10.5) in 2022
Rick Spielman's comp: Calijah Kancey (Buccaneers)
"I think he has a unique combination of strength and athleticism. I think this guy has first-rounder written all over him because you can't find guys his size who move like that. He's bigger on tape to me than Michael Hall, but he has that same type of athleticism. I saw similar athletic traits between him and Kancey. I think Taylor is better than Kancey against the run. Taylor's pad level can get a little high, but Taylor is a little better against the run thank Kancey."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Javon Hargrave (49ers)
"Leonard Taylor is twitched up. He was consistently quick off the snap. He gave interior linemen all sorts of fits, whether it was the A or B gap. Active hands made it difficult for the interior offensive linemen to lock on to him because his hands are so active and strong. I thought he freelanced a little too much in an effort to make big plays, but that's an easy coaching fix when you have that athleticism and energy on every snap."
- Games to circle: at North Carolina (Oct. 14), vs. Clemson (Oct. 21), at Florida State (Nov. 11)
- Draft range: First round (Rick Spielman), early second round (Ryan Wilson)
Leonard Taylor III was one of the most efficient pass-rushing defensive tackles in the nation in 2022. His 16.2% quarterback pressure rate ranked inside the top 20 of the FBS in a lower number of snaps (321). If his technique can improve in terms of maintaining his leverage and staying to the ground when rushing the passer, he could potentially be the first defensive tackle drafted in 2024.
1. Michael Hall (Ohio State)
- Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 280 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: Co-led team in sacks (4.5) in 2022 despite only 141 pass-rush snaps
Rick Spielman's comp: Neville Gallimore (Cowboys)/Quinton Jefferson (Jets)
"There's no question about the athletic skillset. For a little bit of an undersized guy, he does play with surprising strength. Where he struggles a little bit is when he has to take on double teams and combo blocks at the point of attack, but this guy has good range. He's a wrap-up tackler. Quick first step off the snap. Best at using his strengths and athletic tools as an in-line rusher. I think he can increase to double-digit sacks this year with more opportunities. I really like this player. He was tremendous upside, and I think he's going to make a big jump this year."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Osa Odighizuwa (Cowboys)
"He just turned 20. I liked a lot of what he did. He's a high motor player. Incredibly strong given his size. I thought he did a lot of good things. His success rate against Michigan State [last year] was around 85% given his productivity and low number of snaps. I like him athletically. I think Hall has a chance to be better than Odighizuwa; he has better athletic traits."
- Games to circle: at Notre Dame (Sep. 23), vs. Penn State (Oct. 21), at Michigan (Nov. 25)
- Draft range: First round (Rick Spielman), late third round or early fourth round (Ryan Wilson)
Michael Hall is the projection pick of this class. He's only 20 years old and only played 257 defensive snaps last season. Yet, he was disruptive, totaling 7.5 tackles for loss in the limited opportunities. Hall is astute at utilizing leverage, getting lower than offensive linemen before powering forward and popping up just in time to fluster opposing quarterbacks. Given his age, he could easily pack on some power to his game and evolve into a much more productive player in 2023 when provided with a higher workload.