The offseason is here for the Atlanta Falcons, and that means it’s time to go full-throttle into free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. With my colleagues taking the lead on the free agency front, I’m going to be focusing my efforts over the next few weeks on the draft. Atlanta secured the 8th overall pick for 2023, the second year in a row that the team will hold that selection.
The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the Reese’s Senior Bowl—a showcase of the top draft-eligible seniors (or players who graduated early) that takes place in Mobile right around the first week of February. To get everyone ready for the week to come, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Falcons and the league at large.
Next up in the positional previews is the interior defensive line, where the Falcons have a significant need to add pass rushers and run defenders alongside Grady Jarrett.
Interior defensive line
Looking back, we were extremely spoiled by the interior defensive line class at the 2022 Senior Bowl. 2023 can’t possibly match that legendary group (especially after top NT prospect Siaki Ika pulled out due to injury), but does have its fair share of quality prospects who could see their stock rise with a strong performance in Mobile. Here are some of the biggest names to watch.
Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin
The 2023 interior defensive line class is packed with good nose tackle prospects, and one of my favorites is Keeanu Benton. Benton is a bit of a late bloomer, but had a strong senior season at Wisconsin. A standout performance at the Senior Bowl could easily vault him into the Day 2 conversation, where I selected him in my first mock draft:
Benton is listed at 6’4, 317, but he looks like he’s in the 320s at least. He carries the weight extremely well and is an explosive mover off the snap. Benton has been incredibly disruptive in 2022, both as a run defender and pass rusher. He’s the rare nose tackle who creates penetration and production on his own: Benton has 10.0 TFL and 4.5 sacks already this season.
Zacch Pickens, South Carolina
Right off the bat, Zacch Pickens looks the part of an NFL defensive lineman. At 6’4, 305, he’s got the size and frame that will catch the eye of evaluators. He pairs that with plus athleticism as a former 5-star recruit, and has some truly dominant flashes on tape. Pickens is a vicious hand-fighter and is great at using his length to disengage from opposing blockers. For all his traits, Pickens never really put it all together into a dominant, productive package. The upside is clearly there, and he’ll have an opportunity to impress the scouting community in Mobile.
Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
A unique prospect on the defensive line, Jalen Redmond is a challenging evaluation. A former defensive end, Redmond was asked to bulk up and play all along the interior at Oklahoma. The result is a bit of an “in-between” frame at 6’2, 279 and a player who hasn’t gotten a ton of snaps at a single position. Redmond’s athleticism is exceptional, with a lethal combination of explosiveness and power that has led to some really impressive reps. I love his motor and he’s also got a fairly well-developed set of counters along with good hand usage against the run. However, Redmond has had some off-field issues (DUI in 2020) and will be 24 during his rookie season. This is clearly a high-upside player who could be an early-Day 3 pick if his pre-draft process goes smoothly.
Keion White, Georgia Tech
Another hybrid defensive lineman, Keion White has played both on the edge and the interior for Georgia Tech. At 6’4, 290, White looks the part of a 3-4 DE but plays with the athleticism and movement skills of an edge rusher. He’s a really impressive athlete who brings all the physical traits to the table: length, power, and explosiveness. White is still a very raw defensive lineman right now and needs a lot of technical work as both a run defender and pass rusher. His combination of size and athleticism will get him drafted on Day 2, and he could rise even higher with a strong Senior Bowl.
Other players to watch:
Nesta Jade Silvera, Arizona State
Byron Young, Alabama
D.J. Dale, Alabama
Jerrod Clark, Coastal Carolina
I hope you enjoyed this entry in our Senior Bowl 2023 preview series. I’ll be in Mobile to cover the Senior Bowl for The Falcoholic from Tuesday, January 31 through Thursday, February 2. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: linebacker.