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2022 Preview: Top 8 Defensive Tackles

Bryan Bresee Defensive Tackle

Bryan Bresee Defensive Tackle

Now more than ever, having a dominant defensive tackle is paramount to having an elite defense. Here are the top eight nine players that will define the position in 2020.

#8 Jacob Slade - Michigan State

Abell Images for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

Abell Images for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

Stepping in for the current Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Naquan Jones in 2021, Jacob Slade settled in and made a name for himself as he earned All-Big Ten honors last season for the Spartans. Slade put up 40 tackles, 5 tackle for losses, 2.5 sacks with 40 quarterback pressures, the most for a Big Ten interior lineman, and 27 run stops in 651 snaps last season.

At 6’4” 315 pounds, Jacob Slade was a key cog in Mel Tucker’s defense last season and his workload with his frame is a major workload to carry him to the next level. When you watch him on film, he is incredibly strong with amazing upper body strength. He can occupy multiple blockers and is strong in penetration from a three technique.

What keeps Slade from advancing near the top is he often plays too high and tends to go get into strength battles. His playing game with leverage needs some work and when teams would gash Michigan State it would be when the offense stonewalled him.

#7 Tuli Tuipulotu - Southern California

John McGillen

John McGillen

Tuli Tuipulotu looks to continue his 2021 breakout season for new head coach Lincoln Riley. The junior defensive tackle put up 48 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, led the Trojans with 5.5 sacks, with 2 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. His efforts earned him recognition on the Pac-12 First-Team All-Conference team.

If there is a knock on Tuipulotu, howoever, it is that he is a bit of a tweener. At 6’4” and 290 pounds, Tuipulotu is a little big for the edge but lean for the interior. Furthermore, last season he played only 76 snaps from inside the tackles and 305 came outside the tackle box all together.

That being said, he has an elite ability to make the bear-hug tackle in the hole, he has a great knack of getting lower than most lineman and plugging holes, has good agility and ability to change direction. Look for Tuipulotu to be in a similar role at Southern California as Bryan Bresee is at Clemson.

#6 Gervon Dexter - Florida

Tim Casey

Tim Casey

Dexter has potentially the highest ceiling on this list, literally and figuratively.

His 6’6”, 300-pound frame gives Dexter the ability to occupy multiple blockers, cause havoc at the line of scrimmage, has amazing vertical to deflect passes, and has the athleticism to be an impact pass rusher.

During Dexter’s sophomore season in 2021, he logged 33 tackles, 12 quarterback pressures, 4 sacks, and 27 stops. He enters his junior season as one of the biggest projections to take that next step by the football talking heads including this one here.

What is there to like about Dexter’s game is his initial first step and burst for a man that is 6’6.” That is what gives offensive lineman fits. However, the hole in Dexter’s game is when offensive lineman can handle his step and burst, he tends to struggle with leverage and secondary moves to shed blockers and get to the next level.

#5 Siaki Ika - Baylor

Sic 'em 365

Sic 'em 365

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When you watch Ika, you can already see the NFL Draft prognosticators compare him to former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and current Pro Bowl nose tackle for Tampa Bay Vita Vea when you watch Ika play.

After transferring to Baylor from LSU in 2021, Ika played 505 snaps where he recorded 16 tackles, 18 stops, 6 sacks, 24 quarterback pressures, and 33 total pressures overall receiving a grade from Pro Football Focus of 85.7 in pass-rushing.

Ika’s calling card is his ability to cause disruption up the middle, consume bodies, and create piles that enables Baylor defenders to be free in Dave Aranda’s defense. Most of Ika’s penetration occurs when he is in the three technique, and his abilities in hand to hand combat with tackles and ability to maneuver in the middle of the line and interior gaps are very much like how Vita played.

#4 Maason Smith & Jacquelin Roy – LSU

Outkick Coverage

Outkick Coverage

If you are Brian Kelly, you got to be smiling every day when you watch the defensive line unit and see these two elite defensive tackles, and since they're so integral to what the other one does, we're going to look at them as one unit.

Roy is the upperclassman who is playing in the shadow of last season’s impact freshman Maason Smith. There is nothing about Roy’s game that should be overshadowed however, as his 6’4”, 315-pound frame possesses great power his generates from his upper body. Roy earned an 88.6 pass rushing grade from Pro Football Focus and was named their #3 Interior Defensive Lineman for their 2023 NFL Draft.

Smith is more the wunderkind who burst onto the scene a season ago as a true freshman. Against FCS McNeese in Week 2 last season, he had a coming out party with 3 sacks. While he was hampered by injuries last season, he seems to be fully healthy heading into the fall.

Kelly made a lofty comparison of Smith to On3, “He’s on path, he’s not there yet but he is making progress toward guys that I have had. The Stephon Tuitt’s — that is on his second huge contract with the Steelers. Jerry Tillery, second-round draft pick. He has those tools to be a big-time player. I think one of the things that is unique about him is he can pass rush for a big guy and if you can be on the field for all three downs, you start to get into that rarified area. Big future ahead of him. This is a big year and I really think he’s going to show himself.”

#3 Calijah Kancey – Pitt

University of Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh

Calijah Kancey burst onto the scene a year ago with a sensational sophomore season at Pitt that was a key cog in the Panther's surprise ACC Championship season. His dominance made Kancey a First-Team All-ACC and Third-Team All American. He recorded 22 tackles, 26 stops, 19 quarterback hurries and 10 quarterback hits with 9 sacks and 38 total pressures.

Kancey looks to continue his success and raise his draft stock in 2022 with All-ACC Defensive End Habakkuk Baldonado. When I watch Kancey  lacks the elite size, speed, and other high end tangibles that makes up a prototypical elite defensive tackle, Kancey makes up for it with his high effort on every single play, amazing hustle and gives amazing secondary efforts on every single play.

The other elite skills Kancey possesses is his ability to play with leverage on the inside or outside and keeps his eyes in the backfield. He demonstrates the ability to anchor, shed, or chase on the defensive line.

#2 Bryan Bresee – Clemson

Cory Fravel 24/7

Cory Fravel 24/7

From his days asan 5-star defensive tackle from Damascus HS to his time at Clemson, one word describes Bryan Bresee: Superstar. Bresee possesses a body at defensive tackle that is physical enough to get into battles in the trenches and is agile on his feet, as former Clemson Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables saw and used Bresee in stunt and slant situations and work off the tackles to create havoc.

Bresee possesses skills that live up to the billing, great footwork that compliments his agility and his foot quickness allows him to work sideline to sideline or chase plays down in the backfield. Has amazing body control, as mentioned equally good playing in space on stunt or slant situations as well as one-to-one combat.

Through all the superlatives I have for Bresee the only question is what does his recovery from his ACL injury look like because if  he plays to his ability he is legitimately up for all the honors a defensive tackle can win in college football.

#1 Jalen Carter – UGA

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

When you see a mass exodus of first round talent on a defensive line that was historic for Georgia during their national championship season a season ago, you might worry what is the depth behind 3 2022 NFL First Round Picks who left. Georgia is in a unique position however, where arguably one of the best defensive lineman on the team is back from a season ago.

With all the competition and scheme, Jalen Carter still managed 34 total pressures, 24 quarterback hurries, 4 sacks, and a 90 grade by Pro Football Focus, the highest of any defensive tackle in the nation.

The foundation to Carter’s game is his amazing strength, he uses it to anchor the line, and ability to shed, stack, and create piles in the line. Carter has good speed inside and possesses ability to chase ball carriers down the line. Assuming he stays healthy, he's a lock to be in the top-10 in next spring's draft.