2023 NFL Draft breakout candidates at DT include Omari Thomas, Alfred Collins

Tennessee's Omari Thomas and Texas' Alfred Collins lead the way in this group of 2023 NFL Draft breakout candidates at defensive tackle.

The year is 2022, and interior defensive linemen still have the quickest path to the quarterback. Thus, the potential breakout candidates at defensive tackle in the 2023 NFL Draft should field plenty of interest. No breakout is certain, but these five DT prospects might be primed to see an increase in buzz over the course of the next seven months.

2023 NFL Draft breakout candidates to watch at DT

Alfred Collins, Texas

There were times in 2021 when a 6’5″, 292-pound defender lined up on the edge for the Texas Longhorns. That defender was Alfred Collins. Due to a lack of depth, at times, Collins played reps at JACK linebacker. He looked out of place with his outrageously long frame, but his first step still looked natural. Now, in 2022, he’s projected to get more interior reps, where he should fit best.

Collins is a phenomenal athlete with an explosive get-off. That initial burst, combined with his length and frame density, gives him terrific power capacity. Collins’ projected versatility will remain an asset, but as a disruptive 3-technique, his high-end physical traits and hot motor can be maximized.

Omari Thomas, Tennessee

After losing Matthew Butler to the 2022 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Volunteers will be replacing 8½ tackles for loss and five sacks on defense this coming season. The top candidate to fill that void should be Omari Thomas, a lineman in a similar mold with his athleticism and physical makeup. In 2021, Thomas provided a glimpse with five tackles for loss, a sack, and four forced fumbles. Now, it’s his time to shine.

Thomas has impressive size, standing at 6’4″, 316 pounds, with extremely long arms. His frame is a bit high-cut, so pad level can be an issue at times. He’ll have to avoid bending at the waist when exerting power, but Thomas is an explosive athlete who can surge through lanes and use his length to rip past blockers. All the talent is there for him to emerge.

Mazi Smith, Michigan

After losing several players to the 2022 NFL Draft, including early-round picks Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, there’s room for a new star on the Michigan defensive line. Naturally, one looks to the edge, where Ojabo himself broke out in 2021. But there might be a breakout candidate going overlooked on the interior: Defensive tackle Mazi Smith.

Smith is a bowling ball at 6’3″, 326 pounds. His frame is extremely strong and compact, and with that frame, Smith carries excellent power capacity and play strength. He both has the ability to clog lanes and bulldoze paths in run defense. But Smith also has legitimate pass-rushing chops, flashing underrated burst and twitch. He’ll be relied upon by the Wolverines to set the tone. He has the tools to do it.

Deandre Jules, Pittsburgh

It’s always a safe bet to look at the Pittsburgh Panthers’ defensive line when prospecting for future NFL talent. Calijah Kancey is the top prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, but an under-the-radar name to watch is redshirt junior Deandre Jules.

Jules has competition in the mix at Pitt, but especially against Tennessee last year, he flashed the tools to potentially break out with increased reps.

Jules is listed at 6’3″, 300 pounds, but he has great proportional length. He’s also visibly explosive and twitchy, and can cover eye-catching amounts of ground with his lateral explosions. He didn’t play much in 2021, but with Keyshon Camp having departed, Jules may find his way up the conveyor belt.

Jacob Sykes, UCLA

Every year, there’s at least one or two transfers who come from the FCS and find notoriety at the Power Five level. Among others, UCLA acquisition Jacob Sykes is a candidate to follow that path.

In 2021, Sykes was a standout at Harvard, putting up seven sacks and eight tackles for loss. Now, he comes to UCLA, intent on compounding his momentum in 2022.

Sykes’ frame is a bit lighter and leaner than you’d expect for a defensive tackle. Nevertheless, he has great length and brings a lot of good traits along with that.

Sykes has solid initial burst and a hot motor. He also has good agility, which he uses to levy spins and swims. Sykes can work on his leverage, but he has an in-progress hand usage arsenal, and some time with the Bruins could help him break through on the national stage.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.


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