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2024 Combine preview: Defensive tackle

Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill came into his own this past season in his third year. He dedicated himself last offseason to improving flexibility and trimming body fat and the result was a quicker and more explosive McNeill. He set career marks in sacks and quarterback hits and played a big part in Detroit's No. 2 ranked run defense.

McNeill and edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson were Detroit's top two defenders upfront last season. The Lions could be on the lookout this offseason to give both players a running mate to complement their skillsets.

Benito Jones played in all 17 games and made 15 starts next to McNeill and contributed 26 tackles and a sack. Jones is a restricted free agent. Tyson Alualu was a late-season add and is also an unrestricted free agent.

How big of a step will last year's third-round pick Brodric Martin take in Year 2? The Lions are expecting him to be a contributor.

This isn't a loaded class of interior defenders, but there's some versatility and a few immediate impact players.

Top 5 defensive tackles to watch at the Combine:

1. Jer'Zhan Newton, Illinois, 6-2, 300

Newton has a really nice toolbox of pass-rush moves for an interior defender. He can win a lot of different ways and has the skillset to be a three-down player along the interior. He might have some of the best hands of any defensive lineman in this draft. He recorded 13.0 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss the last two seasons combined for the Illini.

View photos of the defensive line prospects who were invited to the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine.

2. Byron Murphy II, Texas, 6-1, 308

Murphy is an explosive and nimble-footed interior defender who plays with terrific strength and leverage. He's strong against the run but also has the first-step quickness to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. He notched 5.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss for the Longhorns this past season.

3. T'Vondre Sweat, Texas, 6-4, 362

Sweat is a mountain of a man inside who has the ability to eat up space and allow teammates around him to operate more freely. He has more athleticism than people might think for a player his size with a couple sacks and eight tackles for loss to his credit last season.

4. Kris Jenkins Jr., Michigan, 6-3, 305

Jenkins is a versatile defender with the ability to play inside and outside. He is expected to test very well in Indy. He comes from good football bloodlines with his dad, Kris Jenkins Sr., being a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle in Carolina. Jenkins is a physical freak that some teams will view as a prospect who can play up and down the line.

5. Michael Hall Jr., Ohio State, 6-2, 280

There's a lot of upside to Hall's game having only started 11 games for the Buckeyes. He tallied 45 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and six sacks while in Columbus. He's got quick feet and plays fast and hard.

Combine sleeper to watch: Braden Fiske, Florida State, 6-5, 295

Fiske started 30 games for Western Michigan before transferring to Florida State. He started all 13 games for the Seminoles this past season and was second-team All-ACC with six sacks and 28 quarterback pressures from the interior. He packs a punch with a motor that never quits.

View photos of the offensive line prospects who were invited to the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine.

Lions' need at the position: Moderate

The Lions value versatile defensive linemen that can play multiple spots. Hutchinson, Josh Paschal and John Cominsky can also play inside in some packages for example, but getting a true interior defender to pair with McNeill and also add some pass-rush prowess could go a long way to making Detroit's defensive front a much more consistently disruptive unit.

Martin is hoping to take a big step in his development, and former second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike has one year left on his rookie deal to prove he's past the injuries and can dependably contribute. Still, there's room to add to the interior of the defensive front.

Key stat: The Lions only allowed 100-or-more rushing yards in five games this season. This led the NFL and ranked second in franchise history in any season since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger. Detroit only surrendered five rushes of 20-or-more yards, tied for the second fewest in the NFL.

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