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NFL Combine preview: Interior defensive linemen to watch for the Falcons

Our coverage of the upcoming 2023 NFL Combine continues with a look at some of the top interior defensive linemen to watch in Indianapolis. The on-field workouts for the Combine begin March 2.

With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is in full swing for all 32 teams as we rocket towards free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the NFL Combine: a week-long convention in Indianapolis that gives NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate a huge group of prospects up close and personal. While fans are most familiar with the on-field workouts—sometimes dubbed the “underwear olympics”—the medical checks and player interviews are just as important for teams.

Just like for the Senior Bowl, we’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Atlanta Falcons at every position group. We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way through the offense as we approach the start of the Combine on-field workouts on March 2. Speaking of, here’s the schedule for those workouts if you’re interested.

NFL Combine 2023 On-field Workouts Schedule

FRIDAY, March 3 at 3 PM ET: CB, S
SATURDAY, March 4 at 1 PM ET: QB, WR, TE
SUNDAY, March 5 at 1 PM ET: RB, OT, IOL

Workouts will be televised live on NFL Network and can also be watched on NFL+, if you have that subscription.


Next up is another big position of need for Atlanta: the interior defensive line.

Interior defensive line

The interior defensive line is still one of the weakest spots on Atlanta’s roster, with just star veteran Grady Jarrett and improving 2021 fifth-rounder Ta’Quon Graham as pieces you’d like to build around for the future. Unlike the EDGE group, the IDL class is quite thin with just two players listed in the top-50 and just seven in the top-100 of The Draft Network’s consensus rankings. The one spot with quite a bit of talent is at nose tackle, where there are a number of starting-caliber players scattered throughout the class.

Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern

A big standout from the Senior Bowl who came in as an edge rusher but played almost entirely on the interior while in Mobile, Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore lit it up as a pass rusher. I’m interested to see if he bulks up for the Combine and how he tests. Here’s a snippet on Adebawore’s game from my Senior Bowl preview:

Adebawore is a unique prospect. At first glance, he looks a little like Arnold Ebiketie, but he’s carrying about 15 more pounds on his frame. Adebawore is listed at 6’2, 265 and plays the run extremely well. He’s a high-effort player who plays with good leverage and possesses a lot of strength at the point of attack, and pairs it with excellent burst. However, Adebawore lacks flexibility on the outside and is actually at his best rushing from the interior. It’ll take a creative coaching staff willing to move Adebawore around depending on the situation, but I think he’s got a path to playing on all three downs and should look good in one-on-ones in Mobile

Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin

The biggest riser from the interior defensive line group at the Senior Bowl, Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton proved himself as more than just a nose tackle. Lining up everywhere on the interior, Benton consistently won with his unique combination of size and athleticism. He’s far more than just a 1T/OT and can help a defense on all three downs. Tremendous testing at the Combine could vault him into the late-first conversation, given the lack of high-end DTs in this class.

Bryan Bresee, Clemson

A top interior prospect who simply didn’t deliver on his potential, Clemson’s Bryan Bresee is a very tough evaluation. When popping on the tape, you can see why he was a consensus 5-star recruit: he just moves at a different level than anyone else around him. Bresee’s athleticism at his size (listed 6’5, 300) is absolutely special. However, he’s simply never developed into a consistent force on the field—and is often a liability against the run. The reasons for that are complicated, and I don’t want to pass any judgement on Bresee personally. I do expect Bresee to be one of the best testers at the Combine, and we’ll see where NFL teams wind up valuing his unique set of traits.

Jalen Carter, Georgia

My #1 overall player and the best defensive prospect in the class, Georgia’s Jalen Carter is one of the more impressive interior defensive linemen I’ve ever scouted. It’s rare enough to find a player with Carter’s size and athleticism, but his non-stop motor and hair-on-fire style of play is what separates him from other prototypical athletes. He’s just a joy to watch and is dominant against both the run and pass. I’m expecting incredible numbers from the Combine, and for Carter to be a top-4 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida

A top interior prospect prior to the 2022 season, Florida’s Gervon Dexter Sr. didn’t take the next step in his development that many were expecting. On tape, the size (6’6, 315), burst, and strength immediately stand out. Dexter looks like an NFL starter on the interior and has plenty of flashes. Consistency has been an issue due to poor leverage, hand usage, and a distinct lack of a pass rush plan. He really underwhelmed me on tape, despite the flashes. Still, this is a player with high-end traits, and his issues are very coachable. I’m very interested to see just how well Dexter tests out in Indianapolis.

Siaki Ika, Baylor

A top interior defensive line prospect with a sky-high ceiling who failed to live up to’s really a theme of the 2023 IDL class. Baylor’s Siaki Ika is yet another one, and he’s got some work to do to rehabilitate his draft stock. I do expect Ika to be an exceptional tester for his size, and I’d like to see him come in at a lower weight—maybe in the 330 range. Here’s what I had to say about Ika in my latest mock draft:

Heading into 2022, I thought Baylor’s Siaki Ika would establish himself as a late-first rounder thanks to his outstanding combination of size (6’4, 350), athleticism, and continued development as both a pass rusher and run defender. Instead, Ika took a step back as a run defender and is currently a massive projection. But make no mistake: Ika is that rare nose tackle who offers legitimate three-down upside. I’d even go so far as to say that Ika is currently a better pass rusher than run defender.

Calijah Kancey, Pitt

One of the biggest risers of the 2022 season, Pitt’s Calijah Kancey has drawn comparisons to both Grady Jarrett and another Pitt alumnus: Aaron Donald. Obviously, those are bold for any prospect to live up to, but you can see why: Kancey is an undersized but highly productive DT who wins with quickness and by using leverage to his advantage. Kancey is a really fun watch, with explosive athletic traits and an active, feisty style of play. I’m interested to see how well he tests out and what he measures in at, as he’s listed at 6’0, 275. Kancey has been mocked as high as the top half of the first round, but I see him as more likely to go in the early-Day 2 range.

Mazi Smith, Michigan

One of the more frustrating players to watch in this interior class, Michigan’s Mazi Smith is the epitome of a “hot and cold” prospect. Smith’s flashes from the nose tackle position are tremendous, and he has plays where he absolutely dominates as a run defender with his strength. Then he’ll just...go quiet for long stretches of games. The tackle production has been consistently high for Smith, but he’s got just 6.0 TFL and 0.5 sacks in three seasons with Michigan. Smith’s measurements at the Combine will be big, because I have concerns about what could be a lack of length and overall athleticism. He’s a good NT prospect, but if he can’t offer more than early down play, where do you draft him?

Tuli Tuipulotu, USC

One of the more productive interior defenders in college football, USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu played a versatile role at 6’4, 290 and put up 13.5 sacks and 17.0 TFL in 2022. Tuipulotu will be evaluated as an EDGE by some and as an IDL by others—in truth, he’s probably an inside/outside player who will need to be moved around to maximize his skillset. His combination of size, power, and athleticism is quite impressive and I could see a coach like Ryan Nielsen really coveting his versatility. A big riser this season, Tuipulotu’s Combine testing could determine how early he goes on Day 2.

Other players to watch:

Byron Young, Alabama
Zacch Pickens, South Carolina
Jerrod Clark, Coastal Carolina
Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
Keondre Coburn, Texas
Nesta Jade Silvera, Arizona State

I hope you enjoyed this entry in The Falcoholic’s NFL Combine preview series. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: linebacker.