If you need something to take your mind off the debacle that happened in Green Bay on New Year’s Day, we have just the thing for you. Over the course of the past few weeks, we’ve been going through this 2023 NFL Draft Rankings series where we examine some of the top prospects at each position. The series has officially come to an end, and now, this is the full list of prospects from the defensive side of the ball.
If you need to go back and refresh yourself on the offensive side, we have the full list of those prospects here as well. In addition, consider this conclusion to the 2023 NFL Draft Rankings as an announcement for the upcoming Vikings Draft Thermometer series!
Beginning this January, we will be doing deep dives on a number of prospects, examining their strengths, weaknesses, where they might land in the draft, and whether or not the Vikings could land them or should be interested in them. For now, though, enjoy a look at some of the top defenders before we get into the next phase of NFL Draft coverage.
1. Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama)
All the praises that can be made for Will Anderson Jr. have already been said. Anderson, widely considered to be the very best prospect in the entire 2023 Draft class. He has all the tools of a top EDGE prospect in the league. The Alabama product is lightning quick, has ridiculous strength, and he glides on the field in his pass rush moves.
There’s certainly going to be the argument for a QB with the No. 1 pick, especially if the top pick goes to Houston. However, Anderson is the most NFL-ready player in this class.
2. Myles Murphy (Clemson)
If there’s any player that helped his draft stock due to his development throughout 2022, it’s Myles Murphy. The Clemson pass rusher always has had the physical traits of an NFL player with athleticism, length, and strength, but we truly saw him put it all together throughout this season.
He didn’t necessarily pile up massive stats in 2022, with 8.0 sacks, but he consistently found ways into the backfield, regardless of opponents. Murphy has seen an Aidan Hutchinson-esque rise in 2022, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he went in the top 5 picks come April.
3. Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech)
Tyree Wilson is yet another player in this class where we can point to excellent length as well as ridiculous strength. He’s burst onto the scene in 2022 with 61 tackles, 14 TFLs, 7.0 sacks, and a forced fumble in just 10 games.
Wilson is not the dominant presence with speed in the way that Will Anderson is, but he has all the power and strength in the world. He spent the entire season plowing over opposing offensive tackles in 2022, and he should be a first-round pick in April.
4. Isaiah Foskey (Notre Dame)
Had the 2022 Draft class not been a historic one for pass rushers, Isaiah Foskey would have been a first-round candidate in 2022. Instead, he decided to return back to Notre Dame for another year and further prove himself as worthy of first-round consideration.
He’s done just that, and his dense frame combined with violent power has been an anchor for a talented Irish defense. Moving into the 2023 Draft, he looks to be a mid-first-round talent, and he could go even higher depending on his measurements at the combine.
5. Andre Carter II (Army)
Andre Carter is a bit of a wild card, especially being ranked this highly in a talented EDGE class. That being said, he brings undeniable speed and athleticism to the defensive front, and his size should translate to the NFL very well.
Overall, he’s a very raw product at this point in time, but the skillset is there to be an NFL pass rusher. There’s still a question of if he’ll be allowed to enter the draft considering he plays for a military school and is obligated to perform military service. However, that seems to be on the way towards being cleared up as of now. Perhaps he won’t be a first-round pick, but it’d be very surprising to see him still on the board at the end of Day Two.
Interior Defensive Linemen
1. Jalen Carter (Georgia)
If Will Anderson isn’t your cup of tea in this upcoming draft class, let me introduce you to Jalen Carter. The Georgia Bulldog was hyped up as the best player on the 2021 Georgia defense that included players like Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Nakobe Dean, and Lewis Cine.
Carter lives up to the hype too. He’s a physical specimen to behold on the interior defensive line with all the strength you could ask for from a draft prospect. Combine that with some lightning-fast speed, and he’s a handful for any offensive line to handle.
Considering it’s harder to find stars in the middle of a defensive line rather than at EDGE, there’s certainly a case to be made for selecting Carter over Anderson this upcoming spring. That being said, Carter shouldn’t fall outside the top 5, regardless of how you value his position.
2. Bryan Bresee (Clemson)
The Clemson defense is chock-full of NFL Draft talent this year, and while Myles Murphy garners a lot of headlines on the defensive front, Bryan Bresee deserves just as much credit as the Tigers EDGE rusher. Bresee’s athletic ability pops off the screen every time he steps onto the field.
Even against some of the better teams in the country, Bresee holds up against opposing offensive lines, and he is a terrific pass rusher as well as run-stopper. Don’t be surprised if Bresee is off the board shortly after Carter. That being said, there’s an equally high chance that his injury history (torn ACL in 2021) causes him to fall down the board a bit.
3. Gervon Dexter Sr. (Florida)
After the top two players in this class, there’s a bit of a dropoff at the position, which is likely why we’re seeing Carter and Bresee go off the board so early in many mock drafts. Gervon Dexter is a terrific athlete, and at 6’6, 300 pounds, he brings ideal NFL size to the table.
However, consistency is the knock for Dexter right now. He struggles to create proper leverage at times, playing high on his bull rushes, and it allows opposing guards to throw him off-balance. If he improves his technical skillset, he will turn into a solid NFL starter.
4. Mazi Smith (Michigan)
There was some concern that Mazi Smith wouldn’t be as effective without Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo on the Michigan defense alongside him in 2022, but that wasn’t the case. He essentially replicated his 2021 season all over again. Despite limitations with his length and size, Smith continued finding ways to collapse pockets as a pass rusher.
Even still, that lack of length may be a concern moving into the NFL. There were matchups where he couldn’t find his same production due to offensive linemen simply outsizing him in the trenches. The NFL is full of massive interior offensive linemen, and this may limit Smith’s impact at the next level.
5. Tyler Davis (Clemson)
Tyler Davis missed about half of the 2021 season with a torn bicep tendon, but he bounced back wonderfully in 2022 with another strong campaign for Clemson. He was the beneficiary of both Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee on the defensive line with him, recording 8.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.
The talent is there for Davis as he has a terrific combination of power and speed on the interior. The biggest issue remains his health, though. Davis has had multiple injuries over the course of his collegiate career that have forced him to miss time in both 2020 and 2021. The problems with injury weren’t nearly as apparent in 2022, but we’ll see if he’s truly dodged the injury bug for good.
1. Trenton Simpson (Clemson)
Trenton Simpson remains one of my favorite prospects in this entire class, and if he’s still on the board in the late first round, I would hope the Minnesota Vikings jump on him with their selection. For those Vikings fans, think of him as this year’s version of Eric Kendricks. Everything you want from an off-ball linebacker, Simpson can do.
He’s terrific at finding lanes as a blitzer and run stopper, but he can also use his quick feet and ball skills in pass coverage. With Minnesota aging at this position with both Kendricks and Jordan Hicks past the age of 30, this is an area that the Vikings need to replenish sooner rather than later.
2. Noah Sewell (Oregon)
Noah Sewell is a tad smaller than Trenton Simpson, but his motor is unmatched at the linebacker position. It doesn’t hurt that his name carries serious weight with the NFL (his brother Penei was a top pick in 2021).
Sewell has the capability to line up all over the field, and he brings supreme athleticism to the linebacker position. That being said, he sometimes makes things more difficult on himself than he needs to with poor lane choices towards the ball. Depending on how he tests out at the combine, he could rise above Simpson given how similar they are in playstyles. For now, though, he’s LB2.
3. Henry To’oto’o (Alabama)
There’s a very clear top three in this linebacker class right now, and Alabama’s Henry To’oto’o rounds out them out. In his two years as a starter for Alabama, To’oto’o has been among the SEC’s top 10 in total tackles, and the Crimson Tide defense revolves around his ability to make plays in the middle.
To’oto’o is terrific in pass coverage, but his run defense is where he falls below both Simpson and Sewell. He doesn’t have the same length or strength as the prior two linebackers, which doesn’t allow him to shed blocks as easily. That may remain a problem throughout his NFL career, but the Alabama product should be highly valued because of his impact in the passing game.
4. Demarvion Overshown (Texas)
Demarvion Overshown certainly translates more as an OLB rather than the MIKE that the trio above him look to be. He’s an overpowering physical presence at linebacker, and he has a litany of pass rush moves that allow him to even step down to the EDGE spot at times.
He is a very violent tackler, but sometimes, he tends to overplay by trying to make big hits when simply wrapping ballhandlers up will do. He has a tendency to miss tackles at times, which will cause headaches for NFL defenses at the next level. However, his athleticism and desire for contact make him an intriguing prospect for any defense.
5. Mohamoud Diabate (Utah)
This Utah program is full of NFL-ready prospects that may not necessarily be stars, but they could prove to be contributors immediately. As for Mohamoud Diabate, he’s one of the few that could translate to stars at the NFL level.
Diabate is a speedy linebacker that covers ground in a hurry. Offenses will always need to keep an eye on him due to his ability to cover sideline-to-sideline. Like Overshown, he has some issues with tackling consistency, and he needs to be better in pass coverage to be a lockdown MIKE, but the physical traits are incredible.
1. Kelee Ringo (Georgia)
As a whole, the cornerback position is probably my favorite to talk about in this year’s draft class. They may not have anyone go in the top five like last year (Derek Stingley Jr., Sauce Gardner), but this class runs about 10 deep with player’s that could make an impact in the NFL as future starters.
Leading the way for this group, in my mind, has to be Kelee Ringo at Georgia. The Bulldogs CB1 has been incredible all season and is the full package as a CB prospect. He has ideal size at 6’2 and 205 pounds, but there’s also athleticism and fluidity in his movements while in coverage that makes him even more deadly.
Ringo is extremely fast, but he has the ability to overpower receivers at the line of scrimmage in press. That being said, he does have some issues recognizing routes at times. If he does fall down the board, it will be because of that lack of development at this point in his draft process.
2. Christian Gonzalez (Oregon)
After going under the radar for much of his career at Colorado, Christian Gonzalez went to Oregon to gain more national recognition against higher quality opponents. Well, he did just that. Since the debacle that was Oregon’s Week 1 blowout loss to Georgia, he’s done just that.
Gonzalez has intercepted 4 passes this year, which ranks third in the PAC-12. He was a big reason for the success that the Ducks found in 2022. Because of his size and big play potential, there are certainly rumblings that he will be the CB1 when the draft arrives in April.
3. Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State)
This may be higher than some other folks have Joey Porter at this point, but he seems like one of the most NFL-ready CBs in this entire class. He’s an extremely long corner and has just as much size as the others above him.
There’s also an aura around him that just exudes confidence and poise. He’s very physical in coverage, and while that can occasionally lead to some penalty issues, he sets the tone for every matchup. Combine that with some great ball skills, and he’s just as good a CB as any other in this class.
4. Cam Smith (South Carolina)
Cam Smith isn’t quite as long as the other CBs above him, standing at just 6’0, but he makes up for it with physicality. He’s another explosive athlete too with incredible closing speed that allows him to bait opposing QBs into throwing his way.
There are some glaring question marks in his game, though. Smith is not very good against the run and can be extremely inconsistent when trying to shed blocks. Despite his physical play at the top of routes, he doesn’t bring that same physicality to the line of scrimmage at times, and he doesn’t play press coverage.
These issues will impact how much Smith can immediately impact a defense at the NFL level, but assuming he sorts out some of the issues in run support as well as development in his coverage skills, there’s a path towards him being a starting CB as early as Year Two.
5. Clark Phillips III (Utah)
We discussed how this Utah defense was filled with playmakers this season in the linebackers rankings with Mohamoud Diabate, and Clark Phillips is another example at CB for the Utes. He’s easily the smallest player on this list today at 5’10 and under 200 pounds, but he’s always in the right place at the right time in his coverage.
Phillips is an aggressive player, and he thrives in zone coverage schemes. He’s another fluid mover, and his quick feet and smooth hips allow him to keep up with even the faster receivers in the NCAA. He excels at timing passes, and he was a massive playmaker for Utah, leading the PAC-12 with 6 INTs.
His aggressive coverage style can sometimes bite back, though, biting on fakes and being left vulnerable on go routes over the top. Overcommitting is the biggest concern for Phillips right now, but that can be fixed.
1. JL Skinner (Boise State)
Boise State has had a player selected in every draft since 2010, but it’s been since Leighton Vander Esch in 2019 that a Bronco has gone in the first round. If teams get safety-happy again this spring, that could very well change as JL Skinner is a physical specimen at the position.
At 6’4 and about 220 pounds, Skinner has the size of a linebacker, but the athleticism and speed of a true safety. Even better, he has a desire to deliver big hits as the clip above shows. He can still improve some of his pass coverage skills, but he is a massive playmaker and might be a starter the second he steps onto an NFL field.
2. Antonio Johnson (Texas A&M)
Antonio Johnson is far from a finished product at this point in time, but he shows flashes of greatness at safety for Texas A&M. Think of him as a less-polished version of Kyle Hamilton. There are struggles in coverage at times, but he steps into the box and is a terrific run-stopper at 6’3 and 200 pounds.
Johnson is a mismatch nightmare for slot receivers, and if he can become more efficient with his coverage, the path towards him becoming a starter is set. He may not go in the first round due to his established skillset, but if teams are intrigued by his potential, there’s certainly a chance he sneaks in.
3. Brian Branch (Alabama)
If a safety gets taken in the first round of this April’s draft, it likely will be Brian Branch. In a secondary that also featured Jordan Battle and Eli Ricks, it was Branch who truly shined for the Crimson Tide in 2022.
The Alabama safety has terrific coverage skills, and his movements are fluid out of the free safety position. He also proved himself to be a terrific playmaker in the box, racking up an incredible 14 TFLs and 3 sacks in 2022. Johnson may get more hype during this process for his potential and size, but if a team wants a polished safety, that leans more Branch’s way.
4. Jordan Battle (Alabama)
Jordan Battle is the epitome of what you like to see in a strong safety prospect. He has a sturdy frame at 6’1 and 210 pounds, and he uses that frame to be a wrecker in run support and safety blitzes. Alabama often used him essentially as a WILL linebacker in their defensive scheme, and it makes sense that he’d continue to be used in that linebacker/safety hybrid role moving forward.
However, there’s a very glaring problem with his game that doesn’t appear in the players before him. Battle is an inconsistent tackler. For a player that doesn’t have the speed necessary for the free safety position, he needs to shore up his ability to wrap players up when he steps down into the box.
5. Jammie Robinson (Florida State)
Jammie Robinson is a “jack of all trades” at the safety position. Like Battle, he may be best suited in run support and playing in the box, but Robinson can also play as a slot corner and step back into either man or zone coverage.
He plays very quickly, and his speed is shocking for a player over 200 pounds. However, while he’s decent at just about everything, he doesn’t excel at anything, especially in coverage. He’s a prototypical Day Two pick for the safety position.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.