One of the biggest needs for the New Orleans Saints as they turn their attention to the start of the 2023 NFL Draft on April 27th is defensive tackle. The Saints depth chart at the position will be tested in the offseason as David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach are set to become free agents on March 15th when the new league year begins.
New Orleans’ pass rush is in need of adding more bodies and there are some quality defensive tackle prospects in this year’s draft class. Whether the Saints use the 29th overall pick or not, finding an interior defender has to be a high priority for the black and gold. Here are some of the prospects that the Saints can turn their attention to for the 2023 NFL Draft at defensive tackle:
Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh:
Calijah Kancey is projected to land in the first round of the draft and a lot of teams will be vying for the dynamic defensive tackle out of Pittsburgh. During his first year at Pittsburgh, Kancey saw limited action on the field as his lone appearance was in the Quick Lane Bowl against Eastern Michigan. Kancey decided to preserve his redshirt, since he wasn’t much of a factor during his freshman campaign.
He would start to become more active on the Panthers defensive line as he played in all 11 games during the 2020 season. Kancey finished the year with 27 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. The Miami, Florida native would be named to the Freshman All-American list after his performance in 2020. Kancey would continue to be a difference maker for Pittsburgh heading into his third year with the program.
In 2021, Kancey started in all 14 games at defensive tackle. He racked up 35 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, seven sacks and added a forced fumble on the year. Kancey would continue to haul in the accolades as he was named to the first team All-ACC list and a third team All-American. In his final season with the Panthers, Kancey would earn All-America status as he finished the year with 31 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He would lead the nation with 14.5 tackles for loss for interior defenders.
Siaki Ika, Baylor:
Siaki Ika started his collegiate career at LSU before transferring to Baylor prior to the start of the 2021 season. Ika was a member of the 2019 national championship team with the Tigers and he played in 13 games as a true freshman at nose tackle. In those 13 games, Ika recorded 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
He would see limited action on the field during the 2020 season that ultimately led him to entering his name into the transfer portal. Ika would end up in Baylor and would become a difference maker on the Bears defensive front. The Salt Lake City, Utah native would be named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and All-Big 12 Second Team defensive lineman. Ika would register four sacks and 6.0 tackles for loss during the 2021 season.
He would continue to shine during the 2022 season as he would start in 11 games at nose tackle. Ika totaled 24 tackles, including two for a loss, five quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. He would be named to the first-team All-Big 12 list and was a finalist for the Polynesian Player of the Year Award.
Mazi Smith, Michigan:
Mazi Smith would step onto the scene with Michigan heading into the 2019 season as a freshman. During his freshman season, Smith would appear in two games on the defensive line. Smith would earn his first collegiate start against Maryland and would see action against Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. He would continue to see more time on the field heading into his sophomore season.
In 2020, Smith would appear in five games during his sophomore campaign. He registered three tackles with one for loss during his second year with the program. Smith elevated his status in 2021 as he started in all 14 games along the defensive line. The Grand Rapids, Michigan native registered 37 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and four quarterback hurries. He was named to the All-Big Ten list and was a recipient of the team’s Richard Katcher Award.
Heading into his final season with the Wolverines, Smith would start in all 14 games for Michigan at nose tackle. Smith recorded 48 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. The star defensive tackle would be an All-Big Ten selection and named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Gervon Dexter, Florida:
Gervon Dexter spent three season with Florida and had his debut season in 2020. During the 2020 season, Dexter appeared in all 12 games of the season and would start in two of those appearances. Dexter finished his freshman campaign with 19 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one interception. He would continue to be a factor for the Gators defensive front heading into his second year with the program.
Dexter would make nine starts with Florida during his sophomore season. He would have team-high nine tackles in the Gasparilla Bowl against UCF. The Lake Wales, Florida native appeared in 13 games on the defensive line in 2021. Heading into the 2022 season, Dexter would continue to be vital in the pass rush for Florida.
Dexter started at defensive tackle in all thirteen games during the 2022 season. He finished the year with 55 tackles, four tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries, one interception and a pass breakup.
Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin:
Keeanu Benton made his debut for Wisconsin during the 2019 season as he played in 13 games for the Badgers at defensive tackle. Benton would make six starts during the year as he went on to record 12 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and two quarterback hurries. He would make his season debut against South Florida where he recorded two tackles and 1.0 tackles for loss.
Heading into the 2020 season, Benton would start in five games for Wisconsin at nose tackle. Benton recorded nine tackles, two fumbles. He would have a season-high in tackles (4) against Illinois in the season opener. Benton would continue to be a difference maker on the Badger defensive front as he started in all 13 games at nose tackle in 2021.
During the 2021 season, Benton registered 25 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two fumbles and a pass breakup. He would have a career-high in tackles (6) against Minnesota. The Janesville, Wisconsin native would be named to the All-Big Ten second team list and was a All-Big Ten honorable mention. Benton continued to excel during the 2022 season as he started in all 12 games for Wisconsin,
In 2022, Benton recorded 36 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks during the season. For his performance on the field, Benton would be named to the All-Big Ten third team list.
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