After granting my millions of devout followers their wish by giving them my favorite offensive prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, I went on with my day in my multi-million dollar mansion.
I started by looking at my own chiseled abs and beautiful face in the mirror, chanting to myself, “you are not short. You are the perfectly average height for an American man. You are not ugly”. I then took my helicopter to the Playboy mansion, sipping champagne with several supermodels while I watch my stock portfolio flourish with my billions of dollars invested in the rare fish market.
Suddenly, I heard the returning cries of my legion of fans. “O Great Draft Boy,” they all shouted in unison. “Please share your ‘My Guys’ roster of defensive players in the 2023 NFL Draft! Oh, how we crave it so! You are so handsome.” I turned to the supermodels. “I’ll be back, ladies. Go ahead and get started in the hot tub; I’ll be back with chocolate-covered strawberries.”
These players aren’t necessarily the highest-rated players at each position on my board, but rather, players I tend to enjoy watching the most, regardless of where they’re ranked. I’ve already shared my favorite offensive prospects already, so now, here are my favorite defensive prospects in this year’s draft.
Oh, by the way: I won’t be picking Will Anderson or Jalen Carter. That would be too obvious and would therefore be cheating.
EDGE: Isaiah McGuire, Missouri; Keion White, Georgia Tech
The 2023 draft has a loaded group of edge rushers, so narrowing this down to two people was very tough. That said, I feel solid with the prospects I settled on.
McGuire has combined for 14.5 sacks and 28 tackles for a loss over the last two seasons. He’s a well-built defender with good burst off the line of scrimmage, and his flexibility turning the corner makes him a speed-rush threat along the outside. His hand usage has improved over the years, as he displayed a deeper arsenal as a pass-rusher in 2022 and looked to have quicker hands at the point of attack this year. His pad level and power rushing both need some improvement, but I think he has the tools to develop into a reliable starter at the next level.
A former tight end at Old Dominion with a super interesting route to where he is today, White finished with 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss for the Yellow Jackets this year. He’s a hybrid inside-outside defender with freakish athleticism, a quick first step and insane straight-line quickness for someone who’s pushing 290 pounds. His raw power is obvious in how he converts speed to power at the point of attack, churning his muscular legs to penetrate backfields. At this point, White wins way more with raw speed and power than he does with technique, but the tools are there for him to develop into a monster.
DL: Siaki Ika, Baylor; Karl Brooks, Bowling Green
I chose two different types of defensive tackles, yet two talented players I’m high on for different reasons.
Ika is a mammoth of a man whose 350-pound frame allows him to eat up gaps with ease in the run game. He can obviously play 1-technique or the nose, but he can kick out as a 2i, 2-tech or 3-tech defensive tackle. The raw power in his anchor shows up in how he churns his legs and pushes the pocket, and his quickness off the snap is much better than the average player his size. I get major Vita Vea vibes from Ika and think he should be a Round 1 player and an impact defender in the pros.
Like the aforementioned White, Brooks has some inside-outside versatility, but I like him best as an interior 3-tech at the next level. His quickness off the ball is impressive, as is his mobility on stunts and while chasing down ball-carriers in space. In his last two seasons at Bowling Green, he combined for 17.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for a loss. He still has some weight to gain and isn’t the best at plugging up running lanes, but for his value as a pass-rusher, I like him a lot early on Day 3.
LB: Owen Pappoe, Auburn; Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati; Carlton Martial, Troy
Pappoe is smaller and has a skinny frame, but he has very long arms and maximizes that length with how he uses his hands as a blitzing option. He has plenty of range as a tackler with very good burst in a straight line and good fluidity across the middle of the field in coverage and in pursuit. I’d like him to gain about 10 pounds at the next level, but if he does, I love him as a starting WILL who puts up big tackling production at the next level.
Pace has been one of the most productive linebackers at the collegiate level over the last few years, especially because of his ability to make plays in the backfield. In 2022 he tallied 9 sacks and 20.5 tackles for Cincinnati, and he had 4 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss the previous year for Miami (OH). His motor runs red-hot, his diagnoses process quickly, and his hands are active to try and shed blocks near the line of scrimmage. Length is an issue for him, but I’d take a shot on him very early on Day 3.
Logic indicates I shouldn’t be too high on a 5-foot-9, 210-pound linebacker, but that’s where I find myself with Martial. He’s the FBS all-time leader in career tackles, thanks largely in part to his impressive agility, his high motor in run support, and the precise angles he takes in pursuit. I don’t know if he starts at the next level, but with how quick he is and how well he gets to the ball, I absolutely love him on special teams as a Day 3 prospect.
CB: Devon Witherspoon, Illinois; Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU; Julius Brents, Kansas State
I haven’t decided yet whether Christian Gonzalez or Witherspoon will be my CB1 in the 2023 draft, but regardless of whatever I decide, I’ll be a massive fan of Witherspoon in this pre-draft process. He had 3 interceptions and 14 pass deflections for Illinois in 2022, and he showcases both a scrappy edge at the catch point and impressive coordination in the air attacking the ball. He has a quick mental trigger and plays with just enough aggression both in coverage and in run support. I see Witherspoon as an instant contributor in the NFL.
Hodges-Tomlinson is a guy I’ve been high on since the summer of 2021, and I’m excited for him to finally be entering the draft. LaDainian’s cousin is a super smart, super scrappy cornerback who plays outside but will likely kick inside due to a lack of size. His shorter stature will drop him down some boards, but he’s sticky like a magnet in coverage and competes hard through a receiver’s stems and at the catch point. Few corners were as analytically efficient as Tomlinson was this year, and I think he can be a steal for whoever drafts him.
Though Brents doesn’t have the tape or the instincts that the other two listed cornerbacks have, he certainly has the best measurements of the bunch. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, he’s one of the tallest and lengthiest cornerbacks I’ve ever watched. He can play both outside cornerback roles but projects best along the boundary. I love him in press quarters, as his length makes him a threat for teams to worry about near the line of scrimmage, but he’s also much more fluid and quick than you’d expect for his size. He’s stiff as a tackler and doesn’t have fantastic ball skills, but I’m betting on tools with Brents to develop into a quality player down the line.
S: Christopher Smith, Georgia; Sydney Brown, Illinois
With how much Smith accomplished in college for a back-to-back national championship school, I’m a bit surprised he hasn’t been hyped up more than he has to this point. Even if he’s a bit smaller, he’s a super rangy safety with loose hips, good explosiveness coming out of his breaks and very good downhill speed. His route-recognition abilities in zone coverage are encouraging, as is his reliability sticking inside a receiver’s hip pocket in man coverage. His run support inconsistencies hurt him a bit, but I think he’s a rock-solid target early on Day 2.
I just love Illinois’ secondary in general, and Brown is another player I really enjoyed watching this year. He finished with 6 interceptions and 7 pass deflections in 2022, and his ball skills on tape match that production. His fluidity in coverage, his coordination attacking the ball in the air, and his situational awareness makes him a reliable asset in coverage. Brown might not be super physical at the catch point or in run support, but the five-year collegiate starter could be a sleeper Day 3 prospect who outdoes his eventual draft positioning.