Defensive tackle rankings for the 2024 NFL Draft

The 2024 NFL Draft is fast approaching. With the NFL Combine, Senior Bowl, and other major pre-draft events behind us, it’s time for our final rankings and grades on prospects to come together. We’ve assembled a panel of top draft experts from across the network here at SB Nation to present you with our consensus rankings for each position group.

Today, we’ll be focusing on the interior defensive line. While there aren’t likely to be any defensive tackles taken in the top 10 picks , there are two clear first-round prospects and a number of very intriguing Day 2 players. This is a more specialized and polarizing group than the edge rushers, but there’s talent to be had here—particularly for teams that are willing to take a bit of risk on some developmental players.

Read on for SB Nation’s consensus top-10 rankings for the defensive tackles in the 2024 NFL Draft.

10. Ruke Orhorhoro, Clemson

One of the most polarizing interior defenders in the class, Clemson’s Ruke Orhorhoro comes in at 10 on the rankings list. One expert voted him fifth while another had him 18th! Quite frankly, I’m surprised he’s not higher overall after an impressive Combine workout that saw Orhorhoro finish with an elite 9.92 RAS. Orhorhoro’s calling card is versatility, as he’s experienced and capable playing in a number of alignments along the defensive line. At 6’4, 294 and with 34” arms, Orhorhoro has the size and length to be an impact player—although he’s on the light side for 1T or 3T responsibilities in the NFL.

That being said, Orhorhoro’s strength at the point of attack is one of his best attributes. He’s a very good and technically advanced run defender who is excellent at holding the line and causing disruption. As a pass rusher, Orhorhoro has natural athletic gifts but needs to work on refining his pass rush repertoire and plan. He’s too often caught on blocks and unable to affect the play. Orhorhoro can contribute as a base package defender early in his career, but he needs work as a pass rusher to become a three-down player.

9. McKinnley Jackson, Texas A&M

Another polarizing player on the interior is Texas A&M’s McKinnley Jackson. (His spread in our voting went from six to 14.) Coming into the season, I thought 2023 would be a potential breakout year for the talented defensive tackle. He’s got a tantalizing size profile at 6’1.5, 326 with nearly 34” arms and moves well for his size on tape. However, a relatively quiet season and disappointing athletic testing (3.08 RAS) make Jackson more of a developmental prospect than an immediate impact player.

Jackson, despite his size and testing, has been an effective penetrator and pass rusher on the interior. He put up 4.0 sacks in 2023, but only 14 total pressures. Given his size, you’d expect Jackson to be a force against the run, but he struggles in that area. The biggest issue for Jackson appears to be balance, as he simply ends up on the ground and out of the play too often. He can’t hold up against double teams and will likely struggle with NFL strength. That puts him in a weird place: the size to play 0T/1T, but not the strength or technique. I think he’s a better athlete than the testing shows, and Jackson could develop into a potential starter, but it’ll just take patience and determination from the coaching staff.

8. Leonard Taylor III, Miami

Miami’s Leonard Taylor III has had quite the fall from the summer, beginning the college football season as a prospect getting consistent first-round hype. His 2022 season was outstanding, as Taylor looked like an elite athlete on the interior and turned in a productive and disruptive season as a pass rusher. The next step in 2023 never came, as Taylor regressed both in terms of tape and production. While Taylor possesses good size (6’3.5, 303) and length (33 7/8” arms), he didn’t test out as athletic as expected (7.34 RAS).

Taylor is a frustrating watch, especially if you pop on the 2022 tape. Taylor has explosive traits and plenty of strength, but the whole package rarely comes together. When it does, Taylor looks like a potential Pro Bowler. But too often, Taylor shows poor technique, leverage, and gap discipline, and finds himself out of the play. His tape in 2022 showed flashes of dominance and will probably still lead to him being drafted on Day 2, but Taylor is far more of a high-risk, high-reward player than initially anticipated.

7. Marshawn Kneeland, Western Michigan

Coming in at seven on this list is Western Michigan’s Marshawn Kneeland, who dominated his level of competition and continued that high level of play with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl and excellent testing at the NFL Combine (9.08 RAS). That being said, I evaluate Kneeland as an edge rusher who has some flexibility to kick inside. I think his playing weight is far too low to stick on the interior full-time in the NFL. At 6’3, 267 and with outstanding length (34.5” arms), Kneeland looks like the whole package from a physical standpoint.

Kneeland has great explosiveness and better-than-expected change-of-direction ability that will likely improve if he sticks at his Combine weight. He’s currently a bull rush and speed-to-power merchant who absolutely dominated his level of competition with his traits and red-hot motor. Kneeland is a high-level competitor with good strength at the point of attack, and I think he’s got the potential to be a three-down contributor at the NFL level. I just think he’s a much better fit as a full-time EDGE than on the interior.

6. T’Vondre Sweat, Texas

In case you haven’t noticed, the theme of these interior defensive line rankings is “polarizing players”. Sweat, third on one list and ninth on another, is an absolute unit of a defensive tackle at 6’4.5, 366. Sweat was an absolutely dominant player at Texas in 2023, putting up 31 total pressures and a 15.3% pass rush win rate (per PFF) along with outstanding play against the run. While his athletic testing may look a little lackluster on paper (4.28 RAS), many of those numbers are very impressive at his size.

The size is the beginning and the end of the discussion with Sweat. It’s what makes him unique—his presence essentially demands double-teams, even at the NFL level. It also could potentially be a hindrance to his ability to contribute. How many snaps can he realistically play at over 360? Sweat moves very well and has the potential to be the next elite nose tackle in the NFL…but he must find a way to get his weight down, possibly in the 340-350 range, and keep it down.

5. Michael Hall Jr., Ohio State

If you’re looking for a pass-rush specialist to boost your interior rotation, Ohio State’s Michael Hall Jr. is one of the best in the class. While he’s a tad undersized at 6’3, 300 and with 33.5” arms, Hall is an elite athlete at the position with exceptional explosiveness and movement skills (9.57 RAS).

Hall wins with a combination of his athleticism and technique, and he’s a handful for most interior defenders. He’s quick and elusive, with the ability to knife into the backfield and create disruption against the run and pass. Hall’s weakness is his strength, as he’s simply unable to hold the point of attack against the run. He’s a gap-shooter and penetrator and will be best served in that style of defense, where he can be a valuable pass rush specialist.

4. Kris Jenkins, Michigan

I’m glad Michigan’s Kris Jenkins is in the top 5, because I think he’s earned it. Jenkins is one of the most consistent and productive run defenders in the class, with an outstanding 12.6% run stop rate (per PFF). He’s a true 4-3 NT at 6’3, 300, and he actually measured in with better-than-expected arm length at 34”. Jenkins is an ox at the point of attack, winning with a combination of strength and technique. He’s good at eating double teams and possesses pretty good explosiveness.

Jenkins just isn’t an overly flashy player. He wins with consistency, strength, and technique but doesn’t produce a ton of splash plays. As a pass rusher, his ceiling is limited and he doesn’t have much of a plan or repertoire of moves. He’s a valuable and reliable early-down starter, but just how highly will NFL teams prioritize that in today’s era?

3. Braden Fiske, Florida State

Arguably the biggest overall winner of this draft cycle, Florida State’s Braden Fiske has had a meteoric rise over the course of the offseason and landed in the top four on all of our ballots. While Fiske had his flashes during the 2023 season and put up an impressive 6.0 sacks and 28 total pressures, he wasn’t consistently dominant. Things started to change at the Senior Bowl, where Fiske was nearly unblockable throughout the week of practice. An elite day at the NFL Combine (9.89 RAS) cemented Fiske as a big draft riser and one of the most interesting developmental prospects in the class.

Right off the bat, Fiske lacks ideal size at 6’3.5, 292 and with just 31” arms. That lack of length gives him limitations against the run, but Fiske has clearly learned to mitigate that with his explosive traits and hand usage. Put simply, Fiske is incredibly slippery and his first-step quickness simply overwhelms blockers. It’s tough for offensive linemen to get set and get hands on him because he’s by them in a flash. Fiske has outstanding lateral mobility for the interior, which gives him rare finishing ability. I’m not sure he’ll ever be an impact run defender (outside of some flashy TFL plays as a penetrator), but Fiske has a very high ceiling as an interior pass rush specialist.

2. Johnny Newton, Illinois

The top two defensive tackles in this class are incredibly close, as both are outstanding talents who should be immediate impact starters. In second place is Illinois’ Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton, who dominated college football over the past two seasons and has been near the top of the prospect rankings the whole time. He’s been remarkably consistent and just put together an 8-sack, 43-pressure season in 2023.

Newton lacks ideal size at 6’2, 304 and with 32 3/8” arms, but that’s the only deficiency in his game. He’s explosive off the snap, knows how to use his leverage, and has some of the most advanced hand usage in the class. Newton is experienced in a variety of alignments and can win in a number of ways against both the run and pass. He’s a ready-made NFL starter who will be an immediate boost to any team’s pass rush, and can contribute on early downs in a penetration-style defense.

1. Byron Murphy II, Texas

The near-unanimous choice at the top of the defensive tackle rankings is Texas’ Byron Murphy II. While Murphy is undersized at 6’0.5, 300 and with 32 3/8” arms, he is unquestionably one of the best athletes in the class. Murphy ran a 4.87s 40 at nearly 300 pounds, which is absolutely incredible, and managed a 4.5s short shuttle and 7.5s 3-cone. He turned in an elite workout at the NFL Combine (9.23 RAS) which solidified him as a first-round prospect.

While Murphy and second-place DT Johnny Newton share similar size constraints, Murphy wins more win his combination of athleticism and strength, while Newton relies more on his advanced technique. That leads to higher upside for Murphy, particularly against the run, while I think his floor is a bit lower. Murphy’s lack of technical polish and pass rush moves might lead to a slower start for him in the NFL, but his natural gifts make him a more imposing run defender. Either way, I think Murphy has impact starter potential, it just might take a little time.

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