The 2023 NFL Draft defensive tackle class quietly has layers of depth, and there are countless sleepers roaming under the top group. Beyond prospects like Jalen Carter, Bryan Bresee, and Gervon Dexter, who are some under-the-radar names to know at defensive tackle in the 2023 cycle?
2023 NFL Draft sleepers at DT
The list of 2023 NFL Draft sleepers at defensive tackle takes us from the AAC to the Big Ten and even the ACC. There’s no shortage of skilled interior defenders, but these five are perhaps the most deserving of sleeper recognition.
DeVere Levelston, SMU
It remains to be seen what his exact NFL projection will look like, as SMU’s DeVere Levelston isn’t the first kind of player that comes to mind upon hearing the term “defensive tackle.” Levelston looks more like an edge defender at times, listed at 6’5″, 266 pounds. Then you see him not only line up on the interior but also disrupt there, and you know that’s where he belongs.
After accruing 6 1/2 sacks and 10 1/2 tackles for loss in 2021, Levelston is a preseason All-AAC selection and a notable 2023 NFL Draft sleeper. He likely projects best in odd and hybrid fronts, where his unique frame can be used to its advantage. Levelston may be lean, but he’s very long and sinks his pads naturally into contact. He’s also a good accelerator whose motor runs hot on each snap.
Akheem Mesidor, Miami (FL)
Quietly, Akheem Mesidor was one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the Big 12 over the past two seasons. The 6’2″, 272-pound lineman totaled 9 1/2 sacks and 14 1/2 tackles for loss through 2020 and 2021 at West Virginia. Now, he’s transferred to Miami, where he aims to learn under Mario Cristobal’s staff and take another step up.
Mesidor, like Levelston, is a unique mold of interior defender. At his size, he likely projects best as a versatile 3-technique who can rotate outside. His size can be an issue at times, but his frame affords him natural leverage, and he also has good proportional length, which grants power capacity. Going further, Mesidor is explosive, flexible, and relentless in pursuit.
Brandon Dorlus, Oregon
Brandon Dorlus only had 2 1/2 sacks in 2021, but he was a much more consistent pressure generator in 2021 than that figure implies. He also tacked on seven tackles for loss, and the tape mirrors the production. In both run and pass defense, Dorlus has visible utility. It’s what makes him a prime 2023 NFL Draft sleeper, especially with Kayvon Thibodeaux now out of the picture.
At 6’3″, 285 pounds, Dorlus has fast, energetic feet, along with stellar lateral agility. On top of that, he flashes precise and forceful hands and stores immense power within his dense frame. Dorlus also has alignment versatility. He can hold the edge at 5-technique on early downs, but in passing situations, his pass-rushing ability is maximized inside.
Branson Deen, Purdue
Even after a breakout 2021 season that saw him put up three sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for loss, Purdue defensive lineman Branson Deen isn’t quite on the 2023 NFL Draft radar. Perhaps that will change with another strong campaign. And with George Karlaftis off to the NFL, the Boilermakers will need someone new to step up on the defensive line. Deen can be that guy.
Deen is undersized at 6’2″, 275 pounds, but he’s dense, compact, and an amped-up mover. He features good burst, lateral agility, a hot motor, and shows off tangible hand usage. Deen can levy quick swipes and has the ankle flexion to finish around blocks. Moreover, he’s able to stack counters like cross-chops, clubs, and rips in rapid succession.
Jacob Slade, Michigan State
While size is a knock for most of the defensive tackles on this 2023 NFL Draft sleepers list, it’s a strength for Michigan State’s Jacob Slade. Slade has a strong frame at 6’4″, 316 pounds. Moreover, he brings great length, enabling him to be a playmaker in multiple phases. Slade led all Big Ten interior defenders in pressures last season. His dual-sided run and pass utility figures to be an appealing part of his game once again in 2022.
At his size, Slade has the strength to wrench open lanes in run defense. And in pursuit, he brings constant energy and effort. As a pass rusher, while his athletic profile might not be elite, Slade has enough get-off to supplement and sustain power. And when he has a lane to the QB, he hits it with urgency. A strong final season can land Slade firmly on the 2023 NFL Draft radar.