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Triple Take: Defensive Tackles

The "Triple Take" continues its look at the 2024 NFL Draft with a breakdown of the defensive tackles. The Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the position.

The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.

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Dale's Take …

This is not a great year for interior defensive linemen, especially if you're looking for players who have length. That being said, there are still expected to be a handful taken in the first couple of rounds of the draft, as every team could use a talented big man in the middle.

Sleeper - Gabe Hall, Baylor (6-6, 292 lbs.) - Hall looked unblockable at times at the Senior Bowl and then showed off some nice athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 5.03-second 40-yard dash and solid shuttles. Unfortunately, his production didn't necessarily match that, particularly in 2023. In the previous two seasons, however, he did have 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss. The talent is there, but Hall needs to be much more consistent.

#5 - Maason Smith, LSU (6-5, 306 lbs.) - Long, strong and fast for his size, Smith had four sacks in seven games as a freshman before suffering a shoulder injury.. But he played just one game as a sophomore due to an ACL before playing 12 games in 2023 when he had 28 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Smith was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school and has plenty of talent. The best is yet to come for this young man, who is still just 21.

#4 - Ruke Orhorhoro, Clemson (6-4, 294 lbs.) - A very good athlete, Orhorohoro ran a 4.89-second 40-yard dash at the Combine at 294 pounds while also posting 29 reps on the bench press and looking good in position drills. Had to wait his turn at Clemson, but the former 5-star recruit had 9 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss the past two seasons. He explodes into his pass rush and uses his hands well. The best is yet to come for this still-developing big man.

#3 - Johnny Newton, Illinois (6-2, 304 lbs.) - Newton, whose given name is Jer'Zahn, is lightning quick off the snap and gets to the edge on guards quickly. But he's better suited to play on the interior in a 4-3 defense rather than play in a 3-4, where he's not quite stout enough to play the nose and not long enough to play end. A good player with a strong motor.

#2 - Darius Robinson, Missouri (6-5, 285 lbs.) - An interior defender early in his career, Robinson kicked outside to work the edge in 2023, though he still worked inside, as well. He has the size and athleticism to do either, which makes him a unicorn in this draft. Given his limited work outside, he's still a work in progress in terms of his pass rushing on the edge, but he's built like a Greek god with long arms and a muscled-up physique.

#1 - Byron Murphy, Texas (6-0 ½, 297 lbs) - Murphy teamed with 360-pound T'Vondre Sweat, who just missed making my top-5, to give Texas a formidable defensive tackle duo. Murphy is built like a linebacker and if he were an inch or two taller would be talked about as a top-10 pick. As it is, he'll still go early, but his lack of height and overall bulk won't make him a fit for everyone. But 4-3 teams will love adding his athleticism.

Matt's Take …

The depth of this interior defensive line class is worrisome, and it is not loaded with top end talent. It appears to be an underwhelming group overall. Most years, the big people on defense are usually more impressive than their incoming big men counterparts on offense. That just isn't the case in this draft.

Sleeper - Mekhi Wingo, LSU (6-0, 284 lbs.) - Wingo is very undersized, but also extremely explosive. His Combine testing numbers backed up the athletic ability that is evident on tape. But at Wingo's size, he won't fit every defensive scheme and potentially could only be a part time player at the next level. Wingo was injured this year but did everything he could to return for LSU's bowl game. He has high football character which shows up on the field as well. Wingo is a ball of upfield compact energy. LSU should have three defensive tackles drafted this year.

#5 - Braden Fiske, Florida State (6-4, 294 lbs.) - Fiske is all energy. And he is a fantastic athlete. He very well could have been the most impressive defensive tackle at the Combine this year. And wow, does he play hard. Fiske has a very quick first step and sudden violent hands as he attacks gaps. He will add a jolt to his new team without question as a tone setter. He is a little overaged after playing five years at Western Michigan before his season with the Seminoles, where he was very productive. Fiske isn't a power player and has short arms for the position. He can get swallowed up in the run game at times.

#4 - T'Vondre Sweat, Texas (6-4 1/2, 366 lbs.) - What's Sweat true playing weight? Let's just say that it is clearly over 350 pounds. Sweat is a huge human being and can bully offensive linemen just based off that natural size and power. He has played 62 games at the college level and is coming off his best season. Sweat took a step forward in 2023 because he didn't simply rely on his size and power. His hand usage really improved, and he now shows more than just a bull rush in the passing game. His feet are very light for such a large man and Sweat offers more than just acting as a block eater in the middle of the defense. Sweat's pad level can become a problem at times, and it is very fair to question how many plays in row he can stay effective in the NFL.

#3 - Ruke Orhorhoro, Clemson (6-4, 294 lbs.) - There is a lot to work with here and Orhorhoro's best days very much look to be ahead of him. He has added good weight and size since getting to Clemson and has a great long build with little excess baggage. And he is strong for his frame. Orhorhoro can play all over the line of scrimmage. He is a very steady run defender and a good tackler. Orhorhoro is already a force in the passing game, but this is where he might really take a step forward over the next few years if he gets a better feel for stringing together pass-rush moves and refines his technique. He now relies a bit too much on his natural gifts.

#2 - Johnny Newton, Illinois (6-2, 304 lbs.) - Newton really gets off the ball and is very difficult to block. This is a very active interior defender that wrecked games in the Big 10. He wins quickly because of his quickness and suddenness, but also had a strong pass-rush plan with counter moves. He often shocks offensive linemen in the run game, but if his initial surge fails, Newton can be controlled in this phase. He is more of a gap shooter in the run game instead of a hold-the-point defender, but his feet never stop moving. It was very rare for Newton to align in the A Gap at the college level.

#1 - Byron Murphy, Texas (6-0 ½, 297 lbs) - Murphy is a rare athlete for a man his size and is extremely powerful. He consistently wins the leverage game and defeats his opponent often right off the snap. Murphy covers a lot of ground as a pursuit player and plays with great effort. He has powerful quick hands to go along with excellent lower body strength to handle double teams. Even though his massive teammate, Sweat, was on the same defensive line, Murphy usually played nose tackle instead of Sweat-which attests to his power. Murphy has great balance and is violent on the field. You wish Murphy had longer arms and his pass-rush package could become more expansive, but he should make an impact on all three downs.

Mike's Take …

The retirement of Aaron Donald provided a reminder of the impact a defensive tackle can have when the position is played at the highest level imaginable. And while it's unlikely another Donald will be identified and acquired in this year's NFL Draft, teams will nonetheless be on the lookout for two-way defensive tackles, those capable of stuffing the run and pressuring the passer. And there are a few of those guys are out there waiting to be taken.

Sleeper - DeWayne Carter, Duke (6-2, 302 lbs) - His potential was evident when he pancaked Wisconsin center Tannor Bortolini during Senior Bowl week. And Carter may yet be destined for bigger and better things. "He's gonna have a nice NFL career," the NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano assessed. "I've also had people at Duke say he's going to be president of the United States one day." Carter is already the first three-time captain in Duke history. Make the defensive line great again.

#5 - Kris Jenkins, Michigan (6-3, 299 lbs.) - Jenkins' impact playing in the teeth of one of the nation's most formidable defenses the last couple of seasons isn't accurately reflected by his stats (4.5 career sacks, 8.5 career tackles for a loss). He's got the goods. "A physical freak," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah maintained. "When your nickname is 'The Mutant,' you're pretty darn athletic." The NFL Network's height/weight/speed comparison is Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike. Jenkins also has the bloodlines as the son of former Panthers second-round pick and 10-year NFL defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.

#4 - Johnny Newton, Illinois (6-2, 304 lbs.) - He's a penetrator who shows up equally well against the run and the pass. Must be why Newton, who is going by "Johnny" these days, was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2023. A rose by any other name. Newton didn't run or drill at the NFL Scouting Combine after playing through a Jones fracture in 2023. "It sounds like it's going to be fine," NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport said of Newton's prognosis. "Fine" doesn't begin to describe how well Newton played the last two seasons at Illinois, when he registered a combined 22.5 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks, five passes defensed and three forced fumbles.

#3 - Braden Fiske, Florida State (6-4, 294 lbs.) - After four years at Western Michigan and one at Florida State, Fiske's best season might have been this year's pre-draft season. He took over and dominated at the Senior Bowl and tested exceptionally well at the Combine, including a 4.78 40-yard dash that was the best among defensive tackles in Indianapolis. Fiske's broad jump of 9-9 was also the best in his position group. "The get-off he has, the quickness, he looks different than everybody else, just how fast he gets off the line of scrimmage," Jeremiah noted during the Senior Bowl. "He's got some twitch, some power. He's played a lot of snaps today, too, so he's got a tank."

#2 - Darius Robinson, Missouri (6-5, 285 lbs.) - Some evaluators consider him an Edge, where he played last season. But in the three seasons prior to that Robinson was as disruptive as they come inside. Robinson is of the opinion he'd be effective anywhere along the defensive line. "I'm long and physical," he told The Draft Network prior to the Senior Bowl. "I have a high motor. I'm extremely violent. I'm a mixture of Chris Jones and Maxx Crosby. I'm the best defensive lineman in this draft." Robinson has also been compared to J.J. Watt and Cam Jordan, according to Rapoport. The best line of all might belong to Jeremiah regarding Robinson: "He wins getting off the bus."

#1 - Byron Murphy, Texas (6-0 ½, 297 lbs) - He plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. And Murphy's technique for beating double-teams is as intriguing as it is effective. "He'll drop down to a knee, uncoil, take on that double-team, get off and make plays," Jeremiah explained. It's a Texas thing, apparently. "Stack, peak and shed," Jeremiah continued. "Let him attack. Let him get up field. That's what he does at his absolute best." Murphy's athleticism was on display at the Combine. "He told me he wanted to showcase violence on the bags, change of direction and quick feet," NFL Network reporter Stacey Dales said. "Accomplished."

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