Daniels' Draft Top 5's: Defense

The 2023 NFL Draft is around the corner and we have just enough time to squeeze in my top 5 rankings. I’m sure there will be plenty you disagree on but I have included some of my reasoning underneath. 

Defensive Tackle

Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports
  1. Jalen Carter, Georgia
  2. Bryan Bresee, Clemson
  3. Keannu Benton, Wisconsin
  4. Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
  5. Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern

In a weak class, the top 2 seem fairly straightforward. As long as Carter avoids further off-field issue, his play is not a question mark. Bresee had a lot to deal with and I think he takes a real leap in the NFL. Tough, hard-working and physical, don’t be surprised if someone gets a steal with him.

After that, it’s murky. Wisconsin’s Keannu Benton has the size to play nose tackle but I thought he had the juice also to play 3-tech. He gets plenty of pressure and push for a big man. I get the Kancey hype, but he would be a massive outlier. He struggles against the run and a chunk of his production last year came against a poor Virginia o-line. The burst and flash plays keep him in the top 5.

The athletic testing of Adebawore means he fends off the likes of Mazi Smith for the fifth spot. At the next level I think the Northwestern defensive end can be a really good interior pass rusher.

Edge Rusher

Photo Credit: Alabama Athletics
  1. Will Anderson, Alabama
  2. Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
  3. Nolan Smith, Georgia
  4. Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
  5. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State

Do not overthink Will Anderson. Just because he isn’t a Bosa brother or Myles Garrett, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the first defensive player off the board. He is more of the finished product than Tyree Wilson, who has plenty to work on despite his hulking size.

It took me a second watch to land Nolan Smith ahead of Lukas Van Ness but after being hesitant that someone undersized like Smith could get serious production in the NFL, I changed my mind. His speed and bend offer something different to the rest of the rushers at the top of the class. I predict the right defensive coordinator can get his sack total up.

I loved Felix Anudike-Uzomah from pre-season watches last year. His size, motor and physicality give him the edge over Myles Murphy, who just doesn’t seem to convert his athleticism into top tier play. BJ Ojulari pushed hard and my other favourite to watch is Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey who feels very overlooked.


Photo Credit: Draft Network
  1. Drew Sanders, Arkansas
  2. Trenton Simpson, Clemson
  3. Jack Campbell, Iowa
  4. Daiyan Henley, Washington State
  5. Jeremy Banks, Tennessee

It’s a bad year to need a linebacker. That said, Drew Sanders is my favourite player in the draft. Watch the first half of the Alabama game if you want proof. Sanders played his first year as a true off-ball linebacker and while he needs to improve his vision, he absolutely flies around the field. That pass rush versatility is an added bonus.

Trenton Simpson is athletic enough but needs to get his head around the nuance of the position, someone will always gamble on the traits at linebacker though. Jack Campbell could be the safest of this bunch, but where’s the ceiling on a guy like that?

I round the group off with Jeremy Banks, which is likely a shock. This class though is full of undersized guys who can play in the slot, who are getting away with too much relying on their athleticism. Banks can be a true 3-down linebacker. He has enough juice to spot drop and track tight ends and I love him as a thumper coming downhill. I’d take a punt on that over some of the other prospects with question marks.


Photo Credit: ESPN
  1. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
  2. Joey Porter Jr, Penn State
  3. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
  4. Deonte Banks, Maryland
  5. Darius Rush, South Carolina

The speed and stickiness of Christian Gonzalez cemented him at the top of my rankings. A little skinny but I think he can eventually lock down a lot of number 1 threats in the league. Joey Porter’s aggression will need to be tamed to avoid penalties, but those vine-like arms give him a chance to recover even when he appears beat.

I am a tad lower on Witherspoon than others, I thought he looked slower on tape than he tested. I thought he looked easily beat on some routes and that paired with his size knocked him down a bit for me personally. 

Darius Rush snuck in ahead of teammate Cam Smith. Smith may be the flashier player but he is handsy and that will get called more aggressively in the NFL. Rush is well rounded, has good anticipation and aced the eye-test at the Senior Bowl, he is a deserved riser and someone who could sneak in the first round.


Photo Credit: Alabama Athletics
  1. Brian Branch, Alabama
  2. Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
  3. Christopher Smith, Georgia
  4. Kaevon Merriweather, Iowa
  5. Ronnie Hickman, Ohio State

You are going to have to think outside the box with this safety class. It lacks a guy that ticks all the boxes. If Antonio Johnson had out-tested Brian Branch significantly, then he may have leapfrogged him for top spot. That said, Branch is an awesome tackler, like a heat seeking missile. He can play multiple spots and will be a solid addition to any secondary. Johnson does a lot of the same stuff in a bigger body and to some that may appeal more but he doesn’t have the highlight plays of Branch.

Chris Smith is another favourite of mine. He is small and not overly athletic but he has an excellent football brain. He knows exactly where to be to impact a play and it happened over and over at Georgia. 

I round the group off with a couple of flyers just because this class is so weak, there is probably around 10 safeties who could fill these last two spots. All had 3rd to 5th round grades for me. Merriweather isn’t discussed much but he doesn’t do much wrong. He has the speed sideline-to-sideline, his coverage is solid and his wrap-up tackling on the money. Just a well-rounded player who could unseat a veteran at the next level.

Hickman can also move around formations well, dropping down into the box to apply big hits while also being able to survive in two deep coverage. Like Merriweather, they aren’t the flashiest guys but I have them down as potential long-term starters at the next level.

Mock Draft

Rory-Joe Daniels

Cfb contributor

formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com