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2024 NFL Draft: 14 Defensive Linemen Prospects to Watch

2024 NFL Draft: 14 Defensive Linemen Prospects to Watch

With the college football season approaching, it’s time to take a deeper look at some of the top NFL Draft-eligible players at each position. This will help us assemble an early list of prospects to watch this fall.

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2024 NFL Draft: Defensive Line Prospects to Watch

Below are 14 Draft-eligible defensive linemen who I’ll be keeping an eye on this coming season.

DeWayne Carter (Duke)

DeWayne Carter rotated in for 301 snaps back in 2020 before totaling over 600 snaps played in each of the past two seasons, with a favorable trajectory. With 10 sacks over the past two years, it’s a bit surprising that he decided to return to school, so he should be regarded as one of the more polished linemen in the class. He has a quick first step to disrupt opposing offenses, is active with his hands, works his way into plays with a strong motor and holds up fairly well against contact. Though, he can be jolted at times. As a pro, he’ll likely fit best as a penetrating three-technique on the inside of an even front.

Dontay Corleone (Cincinnati)

The 6’2″, 320-pound Dontay Corleone was a force against the run over 329 snaps played last season, his first year of on-field action after redshirting in 2021. He’s added 60 pounds of bulk since being recruited and appears well-built to man the zero-technique nose tackle position at the pro level, as he does in college. He has impressive power to bull-rush opponents and reset the line of scrimmage. His range and short-area quickness are better than anticipated. Maintaining his efficiency with a higher workload would go a long way toward solidifying his status as one of the most productive interior players in the class.

Tyler Davis (Clemson)

A former four-star recruit, Tyler Davis was part of one of college football’s best defensive line rotations last year. With Bryan Bresee off to the NFL, he should have a chance to increase his output. Staying healthy has been a problem for Davis. Still, when he’s on the field, he is a capable two-gap nose tackle who can win when he plays with leverage, knee bend and the power to walk back opponents with his bull rush. If he can make it through the coming season, he’ll likely be one of the top handful of interior linemen.

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Brandon Dorlus (Oregon)

Brandon Dorlus primarily plays the five-technique in Oregon’s odd defensive front, but his 6’3″, 290-pound build may lead to him sliding inside as a pro, where he played more often in 2021. For a thick defender, he shows impressive suddenness and flexibility to threaten gaps and compete in the leverage battle, with an above-average range in pursuit. He may not have gaudy sack totals, but he has been an effective pressure generator as a starter. Improving his awareness and gap discipline this season in the run game should be priorities.

Michael Hall Jr. (Ohio State)

This is more of a projection-based pick, as the four-star recruit played just 266 snaps last season and saw his role diminish as the season went on. Still, over that limited playing time, Michael Jall Jr. managed 4.5 sacks. So with a bigger role in 2023, he could end up being among the top interior linemen in the class. He often lined up as an even-front nose tackle or odd-front five-technique for the Buckeyes, but his best trait is his ability to generate quick penetration with an explosive swim move out of his stance. Improving his balance and using his length more consistently would show important progress as a prospect.

Kris Jenkins (Michigan)

Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines program has produced several of the top defensive line prospects in recent years, and Kris Jenkins is another impressive Michigan product. Although he’s just 285 pounds, he’s actually a more impactful run defender than pass-rusher at this point, two-gapping with impressive discipline, technique, and lower-body strength for his size. He has upside on passing downs because of his solid first step, very active hand usage and a nonstop motor. Jenkins projects as either a three or five-technique.

Jer’Zhan Newton (Illinois)

Jer’Zhan Newton played over 900 snaps between the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Yet, his effectiveness was much more pronounced last season, so it’s somewhat surprising he didn’t capitalize by declaring for the draft. His first step covers a lot of ground, and his active hands allow him to slip past opponents, usually with a swim or swipe, and create disruption in the backfield. Illinois typically uses three down linemen, and he’s capable of lining up anywhere. He may project best as a one-gap three-tech at the next level due to his 6’2″, 295-pound frame and play style. Teammate Keith Randolph Jr. is also worth a look.

Ruke Orhorhoro (Clemson)

Alongside Davis, Clemson also boasts another highly-regarded interior lineman in Ruke Orhorhoro. He can play both the one- and three-techniques but is probably better suited to the latter because of his suddenness and ability to skinny through gaps and general penetration. For a sub-300-pounder, he has solid strength and contact balance to hold the point in the run game. I’d like to see him improve his overall awareness and hand usage to take the next step forward and establish himself as a top interior option.

Maason Smith (LSU)

Maason Smith tore his ACL early in the Tigers’ season opener last year and struggled over 354 freshman snaps back in 2021. However, having been a five-star recruit who was regarded as the top interior lineman in his class, it’s entirely possible he ends up as one of the most coveted defensive line prospects in 2024. A 6’5″ defender with a rocked-up frame, he can use his length and lower-body strength to hold the point of attack at the line when two-gapping. Despite weighing 300 pounds, he often lined up as a defensive end in the team’s even fronts. Staying healthy and improving his hand usage are priorities in 2023.

Nazir Stackhouse (Georgia)

With how deep Georgia’s roster is, even top prospects tend to rotate off the field regularly. In 473 snaps played in 2022, Nazir Stackhouse, a former four-star recruit, impressed. At 6’3″, 320 pounds, he doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher but has the length, knee-bend and anchor to hold the point of attack as an odd-front nose tackle. His ability to eat blocks and command attention allowed teammates like Jalen Carter to get favorable matchups last season. So two-gap, odd-front teams looking for an early-down run-stuffer should be interested in a battle-tested SEC defender like Stackhouse in 2024.

T’Vondre Sweat (Texas)

At 6’4″ and 340 pounds, they don’t come much bigger than T’Vondre Sweat. So teams that subscribe to the “world theory” should be interested in his rare size. He’s rotated into the Longhorns’ defense over the past four years, showing consistency from season to season while making 2022 his best campaign. Relatively flexible and light on his feet for his size, Sweat is primarily a two-gap space eater in the run game but can hunt for open lanes to the passer fairly well, too. At times, awareness and coordination issues can crop up.

Leonard Taylor III (Miami)

Rivals regarded Leonard Taylor III as the third-best defensive tackle in his recruiting class. Although he rotated out of the lineup frequently last season, totaling 329 snaps, he looks like a potential difference-maker. He carries his weight well and shows the ability to line up at different techniques with good balance and coordination. With strong hands and above-average quickness, Taylor III can generate penetration at the line of scrimmage to disrupt plays in the backfield. I’d like to see a little more discipline in his run fits and technique.

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

Tyleik Williams (Ohio State)

Tyleik Williams picked up five sacks over just 183 snaps as a freshman and had an effective season rotating into the defense last year, even if his numbers weren’t as gaudy. For a thickly-built 6’3″, 315-pounder, he has enough power in his hands to jolt opponents on contact. He can walk back blockers with active feet as a bull-rusher and shows impressive athleticism to generate pressure off of stunts. Like teammate Hall Jr., working his way into a more prominent defensive role will be the key to his 2023 season.

Mekhi Wingo (LSU)

Mekhi Wingo is the smallest defensive lineman on this list at 6’0″, 295 power. Yet, between 460 snaps at Missouri in 2021 and 821 for the Tigers last year, he’s also one of the most proven prospects. Despite his more limited frame, he can line up at either tackle spot on an even front and is at his most effective in the run game, with a high-intensity style of play and active, heavy hands. Playing with good leverage and discipline, he’s able to locate the football and discard opponents to work his way to the ball on early downs, but he hasn’t been a highly impactful pass-rusher so far.

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Notice any prospects I missed? Feel free to let me know on Twitter @draftexaminer!

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