There are some blue-chip prospects along the defensive interior at the top of this draft, led by Georgia's Jalen Carter, who just might be the best overall prospect in the entire NFL Draft.
Overall it's a pretty diverse group of interior defenders with every body type and skillset teams might be looking to add this spring. Teams looking for a disruptive three-tech, versatile chess piece or stout nose tackle will be in business come April with this class.
Top 5 defensive tackles to watch at the Combine:
1. Jalen Carter, Georgia, 6-3, 310
Carter just might be the No. 1 overall prospect in this draft with his rare blend of size, explosiveness and production from the interior. He's athletic enough to line up all across the defensive front. He's got quick feet and terrific hands to be an especially disruptive force in the middle at the next level. Carter put up a 90.0 pass-rush grade last season by Pro Football Focus, second among all Power Five interior defenders.
View photos of the defensive line prospects who were invited to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
2. Bryan Bresee, Clemson, 6-5, 316
The medical exams at the Combine will be just as important for Bresee as his on-field work after he battled knee and shoulder injuries and a kidney infection in college. He was the No. 1 college prospect three years ago and is a versatile player who can fit a 3-4 or 4-3 front equally. He's broad, athletic and instinctive.
3. Mazi Smith, Michigan, 6-3, 335
Smith is a terrific athlete who was the No. 1 player on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List. He's got an impressive blend of power and agility. If he takes part in the bench press at the Combine it will be must-watch TV. He's going to crush all the Combine testing, actually. Once he refines some of his technique and pad level issues when he gets into an NFL system, he's got all the intangibles to be an immediate impact player.
4. Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin, 6-4, 312
He was one of the more consistent playmakers from the interior day in and day out at Senior Bowl practices. His game is more power than anything else and he racked up 10.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks for the Badgers this past season.
5. Siaki Ika, Baylor, 6-4, 354
Ika is a powerful interior defender with strong hands and a good anchor. He's hard to move around and eats up blocks. He didn't have a ton of sack production at Baylor but was credited with 51 pressures the last two seasons by PFF, so that's part of his game that could be unlocked more at the NFL level with technique work.
Combine sleeper to watch: Colby Wooden, Auburn, 6-5, 285
Wooden produced 20.0 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons for the Tigers. He lined up everywhere across Auburn's defensive front. He's kind of a tweener with his frame, but if he adds some muscle and weight, he could really give a team some interior pass rush.
View photos of the linebacker prospects who were invited to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
Lions' need at the position: High
Detroit likes what they have in the middle with Alim McNeill entering his third season in 2023, but veteran Isaiah Buggs, who started 13 games alongside McNeill this past season, is an unrestricted free agent. Buggs said after the season he'd like to return to Detroit, but even if he does, the Lions are pretty thin along the interior of their defensive front. Benito Jones, who was a key reserve, is an exclusive rights free agent, so he's expected to be back too.
The Lions could really use an impact difference maker along the interior of their front - A player who can not only hold up against the run (the Lions ranked 29th in rushing defense last season) but provide some push and pass-rush prowess to go along with the team's young, talented edge rushers. Any quarterback will tell you the worst pressure they face is the kind that comes right up the middle in their face. The Lions didn't have enough of that in 2022.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes could be on the lookout for a versatile interior defender who can be impactful both against the run and the pass. Carter isn't likely to make it all the way to No. 6 where the Lions have their first selection, but he might be an impactful enough player to see what it might take to potentially move up to get him on draft night.
Key stat: The Lions recorded just 3.5 sacks in 17 games from the traditional defensive tackle position this past season.