NFL Draft DT rankings: Jer’Zhan Newton headlines top-10 prospect list

For all the focus on quarterbacks, receivers and edge rushers available in the 2024 NFL Draft, it is important to remember football remains a game won and lost in the trenches.

As such, it is a bit surprising that this year’s defensive tackle class has not generated much buzz, as there are several prospects worthy of first-round consideration, with quality depth extending throughout Day Two. And unlike most positional groups, this one boasts a near-consensus top talent in Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton.

Teams looking for traditional run-stuffers could also find pro-ready contributors from this class still on the board in the later rounds. Let’s break down the 10 best interior defensive linemen available in April.

2024 NFL Draft prospect rankings | Top 10 QB prospects | Top 10 RB prospects | Top 10 WR prospects | Top 10 TE prospects | Top 10 OT prospects | Top 10 IOL prospects | Top 10 Edge prospects | Joel Klatt’s mock draft

1. Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois — 6-foot-2, 304 pounds, Redshirt Junior

Overview: Former three-time NFL head coach Lovie Smith lured Newton out of the football-rich state of Florida to Illinois back in 2020, convincing the MaxPreps All-American to ignore offers from several prominent programs in the ACC and SEC. It didn’t take long for Newton to live up to the hype, earning starts as a true freshman and leaving Illinois as a three-time All-Big Ten selection and two-time All-American. Newton was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2023, recording 52 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks, while leading the country (and setting a school record) with four blocked kicks. His 18 career sacks tied College Football Hall of Famer Moe Gardner for the most sacks by an Illinois defensive tackle in program history.

Strengths

  • A bowling ball of butcher knives, slicing his way through would-be blockers with active, powerful hands and a dense frame perfectly suited to winning leverage battles.
  • Good initial quickness off the ball and varies his approach, capitalizing on would-be blockers lunging at him by smoothly sliding and swimming past them into the pocket.
  • Powerful short-stepper who is rarely off-balance, showing good lateral agility while fighting through contact to string runs out wide.
  • Has a plan as a rusher, setting up blockers to capitalize in crunch time with several of his team-leading 7.5 sacks in 2022 coming in the fourth quarter.
  • Led NCAA and broke school record with four blocked kicks in 2023.

Concerns

  • Powerful and tough but his impact can be mitigated by double-teams.
  • An instinctive, improving pass disruptor but ultimately has a stubby frame with just average arm length (32 3/8″) to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage.
  • Can get a little reckless when closing on the ballcarrier, coming in hot with flailing arms and leading with his helmet, getting penalized three times each of the past two seasons.

Summary: This year’s defensive tackle class, as a whole, is being slept on, with Newton the best player of the bunch. He has a shot to be the first defender off the board. A three-time All-Big Ten pick who ascended to the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2023, Newton is a Day One disruptor with Pro Bowl upside.

Grade: Top 20

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2. Byron Murphy II, Texas — 6-1, 297, Junior

Overview: Among this year’s biggest breakout stars, Murphy entered the 2023 campaign with just two career starts in 25 game appearances for the Longhorns but was recognized as the Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year to cap a junior season that saw him start all 14 games and register a career-high 29 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and five sacks — as well as two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) as the team’s goal-line fullback.

Strengths

  • Rare agility for a 300-pounder, springing off the ball, changing direction fluidly and possessing the core flexibility and coordination to “get skinny” while accelerating.
  • Stubby, powerful frame with thick thighs that can grow roots into the turf when anchoring.
  • Ascending player who already shows impressive variance of his attack with technically sound hand play.
  • Willing to sacrifice his body to create (or move) a pile.
  • Good effort through the play, fighting and pursuing even if initially beaten.
  • Effective goal-line fullback in 2023 (including catching a TD vs Wyoming) with the potential to continue in this role in the NFL.

Concerns:

  • Shorter than some teams would prefer, measuring in at just over 6-foot with average arm length (32 3/8″) for the position.
  • Powerful for his size and plays with tenacity but can be knocked back against quality double-teams.
  • One-year star who often operated against single blockers.

Summary: Literally and figuratively overshadowed by his larger and more celebrated teammate T’Vondre Sweat (No. 7 on this list) at Texas, Murphy projects better to the pro game, showing the agility, quick hands and high-revving motor that suggest his best football may still lie ahead of him.

Grade: First round

3. Ruke Orhorhoro, Clemson — 6-4, 294, Redshirt Senior

Overview: Orhorhoro immigrated to the United States from Nigeria at the age of nine and spent much of his childhood in Michigan, earning scholarship offers from both the Wolverines and MSU Spartans by the conclusion of his junior year, his first season of football. By the end of his senior campaign, every program in the country was interested. Orhorhoro (whose last name is pronounced O-row-row-row) had to wait behind a bevy of future NFL draft picks to start for Clemson but he first did so in 2021 and developed into an All-ACC honoree in 2023, collecting eight tackles for loss in each of the last three seasons, with his sack numbers steadily increasing each year.

Strengths

  • Looks the part of an NFL defensive tackle with an imposing, well-sculpted frame, including tree trunks for thighs and long arms (34″).
  • Excellent strength, with his 29 repetitions of 225 pounds (despite 34″ arms) registering as one of the most impressive athletic feats from any player at the 2024 Scouting Combine.
  • Explosive power to push the pocket.
  • Impressive change-of-direction skills for a big man, showing fluidity when turning laterally to string plays wide and track down ball-carriers.
  • Still learning the nuances of the position but shows good instincts in the passing game, batting down nine passes over his three years as a starter.
  • Highly mature and vocal team leader who graduated with a degree in Sociology in May, 2022 and earned his Master’s in Athletic Leadership in December, 2023 while serving internships at Synnex (2019) and Adobe (2022).

Concerns

  • More talented than technically refined at the moment.
  • Faster than quick, showing below-average snap anticipation and burst off the ball.
  • Fails to see the forest through the trees, at times, losing sight of the ball and wrestling with blockers.

Summary: I seem to be higher on Orhorhoro than most draft analysts and I’m comfortable with that. He has the size, power and athleticism to contribute immediately with the desired competitiveness and work ethic to continue improving.

Grade: First Round

Joel Klatt’s 2024 mock draft 2.0

Joel Klatt's 2024 mock draft 2.0

4. Kris Jenkins, Michigan — 6-3, 299, Senior

Overview: It isn’t often that a reigning national champion and prodigal son of a former NFL All-Pro is underrated in the build-up to the NFL draft, but Jenkins qualifies. He signed with Michigan as “just” a three-star recruit and was starting on a squad full of high-level pro prospects midway through his second season on campus. Jenkins ultimately started 33 games at Michigan, including all 15 in the Wolverines’ run to the national title this past season, generating 37 tackles, including a career-high 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. While his stats were far from overwhelming, Jenkins earned All-American honors and shared Team Defensive MVP honors in 2023.

Strengths

  • Quality combination of power, quickness and technique, showing the ability to beat blockers in multiple ways.
  • Terrific initial quickness for a 300-pounder, surging off the snap with the core flexibility to get skinny and squirt through gaps, as well as the leg drive and upper body strength to bull rush effectively.
  • Strong hands and accurate hand placement to break the wrists of blockers and separate when the ball is near.
  • Excellent weight room strength with 29 reps in the bench press despite disproportionately long arms (34″).
  • NFL bloodlines with his father of the same name appearing in four Pro Bowls as a member of the Carolina Panthers.

Concerns

  • Slightly undersized for the position, lacking both ideal height and width.
  • Struggles to anchor effectively against double teams.
  • Started for Michigan but played in a heavy rotation with other future NFL draft picks, rarely earning the blocking attention of others on this list with relatively pedestrian statistics.

Summary: I’m showing my age with this comment, but I remember evaluating Jenkins, Sr. at Maryland back in 2001 and wondering why he wasn’t earning more national attention. In much the same way, I see the junior Jenkins ranking as one of the nation’s more underrated prospects. Jenkins is more disruptive than his statistics suggest, with a top-50 selection all but guaranteed and a real shot at cracking the first round.

Grade: Top 50

5. Darius Robinson, Missouri — 6-5, 285, Redshirt Senior

Overview: A Michigan native, Robinson grew up playing basketball and baseball but recruiters quickly caught on to his upside when he switched to football as a junior in high school. He steadily improved over his first four seasons at Missouri, logging 18 starts in 35 games at defensive tackle before moving outside to defensive end in 2023, where his game took off. Robinson led a talented and tough Tigers defense with 14.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2023, earning First Team All-SEC honors and an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he stood out.

Strengths

  • A hulking, intimidating presence with rare height, wingspan, arm length and musculature for the position.
  • Quick off the ball with long, galloping strides to close quickly when stalking the ballcarrier from behind.
  • There are no jabs to his game, Robinson is all haymakers with the long arms (34 ½”) and large, heavy hands (10 5/8″) to batter would-be blockers and bruise ballcarriers.
  • Has only been playing organized football since his junior year of high school.
  • Steadily improved throughout his college career and seemingly is just scratching the surface of his potential.
  • Voted a team captain in 2023.

Concerns

  • A project whose production pales in comparison to his perceived potential.
  • Currently plays with a Hulk-smash mentality, with little use of technique or finesse.
  • Has a tweener high-cut frame and may struggle with the leverage battle inside against quality run blockers.
  • Hasn’t yet learned to use his arm length as a weapon, tipping just one pass and forcing just one fumble in 43 career games at Missouri.

Summary: All but one of Robinson’s career-high 8.5 sacks in 2023 came off the edge, but his unique frame and game should allow him to play up and down the defensive line in the NFL. He promises to be a polarizing prospect among scouts and coaches as some will see an ascending player with Pro Bowl upside and others a considerable project with no clear-cut positional fit.

Grade: Top 50

6. T’Vondre Sweat, Texas — 6-5, 366, Redshirt Senior

Overview: Football is a big man’s game and men simply don’t come much bigger than Sweat, who steadily improved over five years at Texas, ultimately leaving in 2023 as the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year and the Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s top lineman. Though he is a classic nose guard whose value is greater than his statistics would suggest, Sweat posted solid numbers over his career, leaving with 127 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, as well as an impressive 13 passes broken up — showing rare awareness of passing lanes for a position normally thought of as “just” for run defense.

Strengths

  • Mountainous frame with his weight well distributed over his frame.
  • Rarely gives up more than a step in the running game, even holding up to double-teams.
  • Long arms and powerful hands to simply latch and toss aside would-be blockers.
  • Better effort to the perimeter in the running game than you might think.
  • More effective as a pass-rusher than his size and position suggests, driving opponents into the pocket with effective bull rushes and clouding the vision of quarterbacks with his height and long arms (13 pass breakups).
  • No known injury issues over his career (52 game appearances, including the Senior Bowl).

Concerns

  • Built like a bus and is just as quick off the line.
  • Minimal pass-rush technique, generally relying on pure bull rushes.
  • Good effort laterally in pursuit but won’t make many tackles outside of the tackle box.

Summary: Sweat won’t be a fit for every defense, but he is unquestionably 2024’s top nose-tackle prospect. He is massive, powerful and surprisingly athletic, eating up would-be blockers and creating opportunities for his teammates to make splashy plays.

Grade: Second round

7. Braden Fiske, Florida State — 6-4, 292, Redshirt Senior

Overview: A Western Michigan transfer who excelled during his 2023 “call-up” to ACC competition, Fiske finished his college career as one of the hottest players in the country, terrorizing Louisville in the conference title game with a career-high nine tackles, including 4.5 for loss and three sacks before strong showings at both the Senior Bowl and Combine. He earned Second Team All-ACC honors in his only year in Tallahassee, joining the Seminoles as the most highly regarded transfer (among DL) in the portal after five years at WMU, where he started 30 games and earned Second Team All-MAC honors in 2022.

Strengths

  • Battle-tested brawler who understands the game and uses technique and savvy to complement his talent.
  • Anticipates the snap well, surprising opponents with his burst to split gaps and recognizing where the ball is headed, peeling away from blockers to get involved down the line.
  • Good agility for twists and stunts.
  • Plays low and hard, growing roots to anchor against double-teams.
  • Impressive straight-line speed and explosiveness in combine drills, including a 4.78-second 40-yard dash time that was faster than any other DT on this list.

Concerns

  • High-effort player who may already be maxed out
  • Stubby (31″) arms that leave him struggling to rip himself free from blockers once they latch on
  • Feasted on single blocks and opponents focusing their attention elsewhere.

Summary: Fiske is a classic low-ceiling, high-floor type who may not excite scouts but will win over coaches with his preparation and grit. He is light on his feet for a big, powerful man but despite his admittedly impressive workout in Indianapolis, the tape shows that Fiske is neither the type to consistently chase down quarterbacks or be a true battering ram against the run, projecting as more of a jack-of-all-trades who quietly carves out a solid NFL career than a future superstar.

Grade: Second-to-third round

8. Brandon Dorlus, Oregon, 6-3, 283, Redshirt Senior

Overview: Dorlus proved the opposite of most Ducks, flying north in the winter from his native state of Florida to hatch into an underrated NFL prospect, earning All-PAC-12 honors each of the past three seasons with two campaigns of First-Team honors (2021, 2023). Dorlus’ 12 career sacks may not look impressive on paper but he’s one of the true defensive linemen in this class who can both knock the quarterback to the turf, as well as passes when unable to get to his opponent in time, leading his position group across the country with nine tipped passes in 2023, alone.

Strengths

  • Proven positional versatility, sliding up and down the line of scrimmage the past three years.
  • Heavy hands with light feet and good coordination between his upper and lower body to squeeze and squirm his way through gaps.
  • Good initial quickness off the snap, showing anticipation and the ability to surprise opponents with his burst out of both the two and three-point stances.
  • Showed significant improvement in knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage, recording nine in 2023 (two each in 2022 and 2021) with the arm length (33 ¼”) and instincts to keep up this production at the next level.

Concerns

  • Possesses a tweener frame with just average agility for his size, suggesting that he’ll only get more sluggish with extra weight.
  • Gets too focused on ridding himself of the blocker and losing sight of the football, at times.
  • Lacks ideal balance and agility to break down and make secure tackles in space.
  • Runs hot and cold, seeming to play to his level of competition, at times.

Summary: Dorlus isn’t the flashiest athlete on this list but he offers the kind of versatility and pro-readiness that scouts will appreciate. His statistics in high profile matchups against Washington (five tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a sack), Utah (two tackles, one for loss) USC (two tackles, one sack), and Oregon State (two tackles, two PBUs) only hint at his actual disruption. Don’t be surprised when he contributes significant minutes as a rookie and a Day Two pick.

Grade: Second-to-third round

9. Michael Hall Jr., Ohio State — 6-3, 290, Redshirt Sophomore

Overview: With just 11 career starts at Ohio State, Hall surprised many with his decision to forgo his remaining eligibility and enter the 2024 NFL draft but there is no denying his talent. On a roster full of NFL prospects, Hall tied for the team lead with 4.5 sacks in 2023, enjoying one of his finest games against a quality Notre Dame offensive line. He also enjoyed a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl, which opened up its eligibility this year to underclassmen. He left college with “just” 45 career tackles (including 10 for loss and six sacks) over his career, but it is hard to fault his logic in leaving early given that his senior season of high school football was cut short due to a broken hand.

Strengths

  • Projectable frame with broad shoulders, long arms (33 ½”) and room for additional muscle mass.
  • Good initial quickness, core flexibility and balance to win in a phone booth, coordinating his upper and lower halves nicely to slide and swim through contact.
  • Effective bull rusher, consistently driving blockers deep into the pocket.
  • Turned heads during the Senior Bowl.
  • Among the youngest players in the 2024 NFL Draft with his 21st birthday not coming until June.

Concerns

  • Intriguing traits but is a bit of a project who needs more refining.
  • Currently lacks ideal girth and anchor and is too easily pushed off the ball in the running game, especially as he tires and his pad level rises.
  • Lacks awareness of passing lanes, failing to record a single tipped pass at Ohio State (26 games).
  • Explosive upfield but shows some stickiness to his hips, struggling to redirect laterally with enough speed to chase down in pursuit.

Summary: Hall may require a bit of patience, but a Day 2 investment in 2024 could pay off big a few years down the road.

Grade: Second-to-third round

10. Leonard Taylor III, Miami, 6-4, 303, Junior

Overview: A Miami native and five-star recruit who turned down every program in the country to sign with the Hurricanes, Taylor surprised some by heading into the NFL early following a disappointing third season at Miami, registering career-lows in tackles (19), tackles for loss (3.5) and sacks (one). While his career statistics are not eye-popping (64 tackles, including 22.5 for loss and six sacks), Taylor possesses undeniable talent and may very well prove a better player in the NFL than he ever was at The U.

Strengths

  • Prototypically built defensive tackle with good overall weight distribution, including long (33 7/8″) arms.
  • Highlight reels show a lot of flashes.
  • Powerful interior defender with the hand strength and arm length to rag-doll would-be blockers.
  • Quicker than his average 40-yard dash (5.12 seconds) and three-cone drill (7.81 seconds) suggest, showing the burst and core flexibility to slide through traffic.
  • Most of his plays are made on sheer talent, suggesting that he could develop into a true difference-maker with improved technique.

Concerns

  • Stands up at the snap, giving up the leverage battle and freelancing.
  • Too often fooled by the snap count and misdirection.
  • Questionable conditioning, often being the last player to line up and lacking much juice in lateral and downfield pursuit.
  • Shows little awareness of passing lanes, recording just one breakup during his college career.
  • Struggled with various injuries at Miami and NFL teams will pore over his medical grade.

Summary: Taylor signed with Miami amid great fanfare but hasn’t shown significant development since that time. He possesses the physical talent to develop into a legitimate NFL starter but might need some tough love to get there.

Grade: Third round

Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.


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